Chapter Five: A Modern Theory of Golf Course Architecture


95    “distinctly American in character” RTJ, GCA, (New York, 1938), p. 7.

95    “a production of Thompson & Jones”  ibid., pp. 4-9.

96    “lost its thrill for him”  ibid., p. 16.

97    “the circumstances of the match”  ibid., pp. 16-17.

97    “the finesse of one badly missed”  ibid., p. 18.

98    “play of the hole through strategy”  ibid., p. 24 and pp. 25-26.

98    “more apparent than in this artwork”  ibid., p. 18.

98    “rather than an artificial appearance”  ibid.

99    “artificially created features”  ibid., pp. 16-17.

99    “alter the yardage of the course”  To illustrate his point, the brochure showed a picture of the downhill par-3 fourth hole at Durand-Eastman: “With the pin placed just behind the trap at left and the markers on the back tee, the hole requires an extremely accurate shot of 150 yards. With the pin in the green center and markers on the lower tee the hole is an interesting yet relatively easy pitch shot.” Ibid., p. 11.

99    “infinite variety”  ibid., pp. 21-22.

99    “judge his distance from tee to green”  ibid., p. 22.

101    “one of the finest I have seen”  ibid., p. 30 and p. 32. 

101    “among the world’s finest”  RTJ, “Comment” section, in GCA, p. 30.

102    “should be featured more prominently” ST, T-J&Co., 57 Queen St. West, Toronto, to RTJ, T-J&Co, 45 West 45th St., NYC, 18 Mar. 1938; RTJ to ST, n.d. [shortly after 18 Mar. 1938], a fragment of a letter that apparently did not get mailed to Toronto; Ann Ball “for Mr. Thompson,” T-J&Co., Toronto, 4 Apr. 1938; RTJ to ST, 13 Apr. 1938. All four of these documents are in the STF, JP, CUA.

103    “he wasn’t afraid to take it”  RTJ Jr., to author, Palo Alto, CA, 15 Feb. 2009.

104    “the newspaper is running a coupon”  RTJ to Messrs. Herb & Joe Graffis, c/o GOLFDOM Magazine, 14 E. Jackson Boulevard, Chicago, IL, 17 Aug. 1936, in Amsterdam Muni Files, JP, CUA.

104    “feature of all WPA courses”  Herb Graffis, Editor, Golfdom, 14 E. Jackson Blvd., Chicago, IL, to RTJ, 45 W. 45th St., NYC, 10 Oct. 1936, JP, CUA. Jones’s concept is somewhat similar to today’s “First Tee” initiative. The First Tee is “an international youth organization, established in 1997, introducing the game of golf and its inherent values to young people.” On golf courses, in elementary schools, and on military installations, the organization helps “shape the lives of young people from all walks of life by reinforcing values like integrity, respect and perseverance through the game of golf.” Information about the organization and its history can be found on the First Tee’s website:

104    “lost in a close match”  Losing did not dampen Sarazen’s enthusiasm for Jones’s splendid staging of the Amsterdam Muni exhibition. “Gene was telling me the other day,” Herb Graffis wrote to Jones, “that he was at the official opening of the Amsterdam course and that it was one of the greatest public jobs he had ever seen. He said, among other things, that the course had a $24,000 Cyclone Fence around it.” Herb Graffis to RTJ, 29 July 1938, Graffis Files, JP, CUA.

          As for the design of the Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course, Jones made sure that it lived up to his strategic philosophy, blending many of the features that would become signature features of many of his golf courses. Among them were his strategic clustering of fairway bunkers near prime landing areas and the use of large, elongated teeing areas. No doubt, the creation of such versatile tees was a function of the layout’s length. At a whopping 6,934 yards that played to a par 71, Amsterdam Muni was the longest golf course that Jones had built in his career up to that time.[1] But golfers could always choose to hit from the forward tee markers, shortening the course by 600 to 700 yards for men and 1,500 to 1,600 yards for women, and still enjoy the strategic character of the overall course. That was a fundamental precept of Robert’s theory of modern golf architecture, making sure that Amsterdam Muni could be enjoyed by golfers of every skill level.

          Over the years, the original design of Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course has been shortened to a maximum distance of 6,702 yards. From the regular men’s tees, the length of the course is 6,328 yards. From the forward tees—used by women, children, and some seniors—the yardage is 5,333 and plays to a par 74.

104    “plenty of work to keep himself busy”  One public project of “modern golf architecture” that Jones desperately wanted as his own in the mid-1930s, but did not get despite some seriously pugnacious efforts, was the final design and construction of the new Ohio State University golf course in Columbus, which also was funded as a WPA project. If he had gotten to take on this prestigious assignment, one can be sure that Robert would have featured it in his 1938 brochure as one of his most prominent accomplishments. Indeed, if he had gotten to design the Ohio State golf course, based on the proposal he submitted to the university, the result would likely have been Jones’s very best pre-World War II golf course—and one of the finest designs of his entire career. A separate essay on Jones’s unsuccessful efforts to secure the job to design the golf course at Ohio State University in the mid-1930s can be found on this website by clicking the “Extras” link.

105    “prefer public projects very strongly over private ones”  RTJ to Professor George H. McClure, Department of Agronomy, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, 31 July 1936, Ohio State Files, JP, CUA.

105    “advent of the country club in America” On the role of golf in the history of the country club in the United States, see Richard J. Moss, Golf and the American Country Club (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2001.

105    “and so it goes on” Alister MacKenzie, The Spirit of St. Andrews (Chelsea, MI: Sleeping Bear Press, 1995), pp. 202-03.

106    “the saddest mess of it”  Bernard Darwin, “Adventures with an Architect,” quoted in RTJ, GCA, p. 36.

106    “complete command of those subtleties”  RTJ, GCA, p. 37.

107    “by the name of Robert Trent Jones”  Lester J. Norris, Norris Estate, St. Charles, IL, to Herb Graffis, c/o Golfdom, 14 E. Jackson Blvd., Chicago, IL, 8 Apr. 1936, St. Charles (IL) Files, JP, CUA.

107    “multimillionaire in her own right”  RTJ, GMC, p. 85.

107    “Illinois Park Act of 1911”  The Pottawatomie park development was part of a larger Works Progress Administration (WPA) project, one that also included the construction of an amphitheater, baseball diamond, improved tennis courts, a swimming pool complex, and the installation of water pipes for stone drinking fountains. See Natalie Gacek, Director, St. Charles Heritage Center, “Another St. Charles First: Pottawatomie Park, the First Public Park in the State,” accessed on 4 Aug. 2012, at

108    “an inlet of the river”  RTJ to Herb Graffis, c/o Golfdom, 14 E. Jackson Blvd., Chicago, IL, 17 Aug. 1936; and Herb Graffis to RTJ, 21 Aug. 1936. On Pottawatomie, see also RTJ to Herb Graffis, 3 Aug. 1937 and Herb Graffis to RTJ, 28 July and 5 Aug. 1937. All the above letters are in the St. Charles Files, JP, CUA.108 “designed a better island green” Robert Trent Jones Jr. related this story about his father’s island green at Pottawatomie Park Golf Course in a telephone interview with the author, 4 Aug. 2012.

108    “designed a better island green”  Robert Trent Jones Jr. related this story about his father’s island green at Pottawatomie Park Golf Course in a telephone interview with the author, 4 Aug. 2012.

109    “best nine-hole courses in America”  Ron Whitten, “Small Wonders,” Golf Digest, originally published 8 Feb. 2010, accessed on 5 Aug. 2012, at

109    “much earlier island green” Jones would go on to build two other notable island greens on his golf courses: the 169-yard par-3 16th hole at the Golden Horseshoe in Williamsburg, Virginia, built in 1957, and the 182-yard par-3 15th hole (the far back tee makes the hole 230 yards!) on the Lakes Course at Grand National in Opelika, Alabama, built in 1994 as part of Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Trail. Ron Whitten in his June 2000 tribute to Robert Trent Jones published in Golf Digest wrote that Robert Trent Jones “invented the island green in 1957 at the Golden Horseshoe (, accessed on 5 Aug. 2012). Jones himself considered his island green at thefourth hole on Pottawatomie Golf Course his first island green.

109    “used only by the Norris family and their friends” A caretaker of the Norris Estate named Einar Danielson lived on the property with his wife and family and took care of the golf course for nearly 40 years. The Norris Estate Golf Course survived into the late 1960s when some of its property was donated by the Norris family for preservation as Delnor Woods Park; other parts of the golf course were developed as residential lots. The author wishes to thank Jim Wheeler, the long-time pro of the Pottawatomie Golf Course, for uncovering information about the fate of the Norris Estate course.

109    “by building a golf course for Cornell”  Serious discussions about building a golf course began at the Ithaca campus in the spring of 1936. Initially, the plan was to secure WPA funds for the construction —a plan that Jones favored, not only because he already had a great deal of experience making proposals to the WPA and taking advantage of public relief projects but also because it was the best shot at having enough money to build a complete 18-hole course. In the draft of the proposal that Robert prepared for Cornell, he estimated the cost of the course to be $100,000 to $120,000. Of that estimated cost, Cornell’s contribution was to be $15,000, with the university also paying Jones’s architect fees. “The WPA is still interested in recreational projects and therefore I am still of the opinion that there would be no difficulty in obtaining their cooperation,” Robert wrote to James Lynah, Cornell’s Director of Physical Education, in August 1937. “But since they are definitely cutting down their expenditures throughout the country I should like to get started as soon as possible if that is at all possible.” As the WPA would “in all probability require a number of preliminary sketches and plans so that they may have a more concrete idea of the general aspects of the proposed course,” which would take him “considerable time to complete,” Robert felt that he “should be paid for them [by Cornell] in the event that the plans should fall through or should be turned down” (RTJ to Mr. James Lynch, Director of Physical Education, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, 4 Aug. 1937, Cornell University Files, JP, CUA.) For eighteen holes based on the 18-hole layout he had in mind, he also needed Cornell to acquire “approximately 50 more acres of land.” RTJ to Mr. James Lynch, Director of Physical Education, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, 4 Aug. 1937, Cornell University Files, JP, CUA. According to the WPA proposal that Jones drafted: “The property chosen for the proposed Cornell University golf course consists of parcels now owned by the Ithaca Country Club (90 acres, Hattie Cornelius (4 acres), and property now owned by Cornell University on what was previously the Warren Farm. Approximately 50 more acres of land will also be needed.” RTJ, T&J, 45th West 45th St., NYC, “Report on Proposed New Course for Cornell University,” n.d. (ca. Sept. 1937, Cornell University Files, JP, CUA.

109    “every variety of golf shot”  ibid. So similar was the proposal that Jones prepared for Cornell in the summer of 1937 to the text that would appear a year later in his advertising brochure of 1938 that the former clearly represents the template for the latter. All of the essential elements were there: “a course of interest both to the high and low handicapper;” “an interesting sequence of holes;” “double sets of tees;” “the elimination of fairway traps to make play for the amateur less punishing without spoiling the character of the course or the playing value for the sport golfer;” “the dune-type of green molding;” “diagonal green design to tighten the hole;” “framing the greens with long, well-formed mounds, placed strategically, thus presenting a definite problem to the hole;” “white sea sand for the traps to make them stand out and therefore render a more attractive appearance to the greens;” and “certain greenside traps with real penal value and others only having a psychological effect.” Jones did not forget the technological systems required for such a modern golf course, including a “complete fairway watering system” and “a thorough drainage system.” One point that Jones’s proposal made that the brochure didn’t make was how much modern golf architecture would cost. A golf course truly adhering to its principles could be “created only through the expenditure of many thousands of dollars.” Ibid.

110    “President Farrand”  Bob Hutch, The Country Club of Ithaca, NY, to RTJ, 16 Feb. 1937, Cornell University Files, JP, CUA. In this letter, Hutch related to Jones that the president of Cornell University, Livingston Farrand, after talking it over with his athletic director and his comptroller, had concluded that “Cornell University is a private corporation while the New York State College of Agriculture is the state institution attached to Cornell, and it might just this technicality would stop WPA aid on such a project as a golf course.”

110    “Colgate’s proposed WPA golf course in mind” Jones got the news in May 1938 from George F. Rogalsky, the Cornell University comptroller, informing Robert that “It now looks as though we may proceed with the project without any WPA help” (George F. Rogalsky, Office of the Comptroller, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, to RTJ, 25 May 1938, Cornell University Files, JP, CUA). The university sought to replace that funding with donations from its alumni, but the gifts did not turn to be so generous. In the end, only one of Jones’s nine-hole circuits could be built: the 300-yard-shorter back nine lying west of Warren Road where more of the designated property was already owned by Cornell. Although Jones employed his own foreman to supervise the construction, Cornell’s superintendent of the Department of Buildings and Grounds, Hugh E. Weatherlow, directed the overall project. (See Hugh E. Weatherlow, Superintendent, Department of Buildings and Grounds, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, to RTJ, 7 and 11 Nov. 1939, Cornell University Files, JP, CUA.) Cornell’s first-ever golf coach, George Hall, who had been hired in 1934, also contributed some ideas to the course’s finishing touches.

110    “It’s even better!”  Story told to author by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., Palo Alto, CA, 15 Feb. 2008.

110    “a dollar in his pocket he would call his own”  In January 1939, Jones purchased $1,803.57 in common stocks from a Philadelphia investment broker; that amount equates to nearly $30,000 today. The companies in which he invested were Texas Corp., General Electric, Bristol-Myers, General Motors, Caterpillar Tractor, Philip Morris, and Diamond Match, the U.S. largest manufacturer of matches to light cigarettes and cigars. E. C. Stratton, Secretary-Treasurer, Lewis C. Dick Co., Investment Securities, 1420 Walnut St., Philadelphia, PA, 4 Jan. 1939, Stock Investment Files, JP, CUA.

111    “best public relations man in America”  Herb Graffis quoted in GMC, p. 85