For the Love of the Fairway
From the Print Edition:
Steve Wynn, Jan/Feb 03
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Jones is a member of Pine Valley in New Jersey, Seminole in Florida, Maidstone and National on Long Island, and a course his father designed, Spyglass Hill on the Monterey Peninsula of California. His home course is the Montclair Country Club, not far from his New Jersey office. At age 61, he holds a nine handicap at Montclair and has been as low as a four. He recently won an invitational at the Redstick Country Club in Vero Beach, Florida, one of his newer designs.
It's his work on U.S. Open golf courses that has earned him the nickname "Open Doctor" and has fueled his reputation. Before he ever worked on an Open course, he had designed nationally prominent courses -- Haig Point on Daufuskie Island, South Carolina, and the No. 7 Course at Pinehurst. He had written a book that was well received and used extensively within his field -- Golf Course Developments. But his rise to prominence was his restoration and rejuvenation of The Country Club at Brookline, a storied old championship tract in a wealthy suburb hard against the Boston city line. It has been popular with the USGA as a host for U.S. Opens, but its members felt that it had become a little threadbare.
The club interviewed four architects for the job. "Ken Burns was the club's Open chairman, a real knowledgeable guy about the game," recalls Jones. "When he asked me why I should get the job, I said because I know the history of the game of golf. And they said, When can you start?"
Jones remodeled the course in advance of the 1988 Open won by Curtis Strange. Strange paid the course, and by extension Jones, the ultimate compliment when he said that it was the kind of course that could host a U.S. Open and the next day host its members.
"That job catapulted my career," says Jones. "That helped me get jobs at Atlantic, Hazeltine [in Pennsylvania], Baltusrol [in New Jersey], Atlanta Athletic Club, Sahalee [near Seattle], Pinehurst No. 2 and Bethpage. I think I am so well regarded as a remodeler because I've seen all the great courses, I've grown up playing them. I know how to work the angles, the shot options. I know how to work the ground game because when I was a kid, there was no fairway irrigation."
His work on U.S. Open courses has been under the employ of the host clubs. It is clubs' wishes that he attempts to fulfill, though he also works with the USGA when rendering a championship course. He says every course is a labor of love, but Open courses especially get the juices going. Last summer, the world saw for the first time the Black Course at Bethpage as host of the U.S. Open, which was won by Tiger Woods. Bethpage Black is a New York State Parks Department course, one of five in the complex about 30 miles east of Manhattan. It was the dream of USGA executive director David Fay to bring the Open to a truly public course and it was Fay's idea to bring Jones in to rejuvenate a course that has almost a mythical quality to players in the New York area.
Jones understood. For the first time, he worked for the USGA for nothing. Pro bono. Free.
"This was a very special opportunity," says Jones. "The Open was coming to a public course for the first time. It's a classic A. W. Tillinghast design. It was a great design that needed to be cleaned up, aligned, made whole again. We redid all the tees, the bunkers, and added some lost greens space in a few spots. This was my chance to give something back to the game."
Over a six-year period starting in 1996, Jones thinks he made more than 100 visits to the Black. It's not that far away from his Montclair office, and he has a home in the Hamptons, so overseeing the renovation was easy. "You have to visit renovations frequently because they go so fast," says Jones. "When you are building a course, you could spend six months clearing some properties, but when you redo an existing course, things happen quickly."
The course was closed in the summer of 1997 and reopened the following summer. The deep, gorge-like bunkers had been pushed closer to the greens. Some fairway bunkers that had been abandoned over the years were restored. The tees were redone with new back tees built on a few holes. Using his knowledge of the game and of Tillinghast courses, Jones remained true to Tilly's form while creating the ultimate championship test for the twenty-first century. The pros were awed by the course, both for its strength and conditioning. As proud as Jones was for what he had done, he was just as proud for Fay.
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