Hansen (First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, 2005, etc.) returns with the complicated story of the celebrated golf course architect Robert Trent Jones Sr. (1906-2000).
The author has clearly inhaled the extensive Jones archive at Cornell (which he attended and where he designed nine holes of the university course) and delivers a narrative rich in detail (sometimes over-rich) about a transformational figure in the history of golf. There are really several stories here. Hansen relates the biography of Jones (no relation to golfing legend Bobby Jones, though the two were friends and sometimes worked together), the cultural and social histories of golf in the United States and beyond, the processes of designing and building a golf course and, sadly, the internecine warfare that erupted between his two sons, Bobby and Rees, both of whom entered the business, as well. Young Jones' interest in golf began in mercenary fashion (he was caddying for cash); then he discovered he could play well but not well enough to prosper. He got interested in design, went to Cornell for some courses in landscape architecture and then embarked on a career in golf course design and construction. He made and lost fortunes but by the 1960s was generally acknowledged as the best in the world. Players weren't always happy, however, since his courses were/are demanding. Hansen tells us about the construction of some of his great courses-and redesigns-including Baltusrol, Oak Hill, Firestone and myriads of others. (The author appends a list of them all.) Golf aficionados will appreciate the detail about the courses and about some of the key matches he recounts. Those interested in the business aspects of Jones' enterprises will sigh about his questionable judgment at key points in his career, and those interested in family dynamics will find much to ponder-e.g., a bitter filial rivalry and an embittered mother whose will caused problems for everyone.
Hansen ably shows us a life filled with unrivaled success and deep end-of-life disappointment.
Ask any golfer to name the premier architect of today’s modern golf course and the name Robert Trent Jones, Sr. is sure to be the first name on the list. His innovative approach to course design is unrivaled in the history of American golf, and his influence truly stretches around the globe.
In this fascinating biography, A Difficult Par: Robert Trent Jones Sr. and the Making of Modern Golf best selling author, James R. Hansen describes a man passionate about the game of golf and determined to make the game not only accessible to everyone but a thoroughly enjoyable experience for every golfer, amateur to professional.
Hansen has meticulously researched Jones career (1930-2000) from his first efforts at Midvale Golf and Country Club in Penfield, NY to his final designs as the head of his own major golf architectural firm. Jones was full of confidence and a determination that impressed not only his clients but also fellow golf architects. Leading Canadian golf course architect, Stanley Thompson was Jones’ early mentor at Midvale and for a time, his business partner.
World Golf Wire Summer Reading Roundup:
Modern golf-course architecture arguably owes more to Robert Trent Jones Sr. than to any other person. Jones designed or redesigned more than 400 courses across the US and in 28 other countries. "A Difficult Par" is an expansive study of Jones' life and work, and it is authoritative and meticulously researched. Yes, it's perhaps a bit dense for the casual golf reader, but for the course architecture aficionado, it is a revelatory dissertation.
Among Jones' innovations are some of the very aspects of modern golf-course design that we take for granted today: long tee boxes that allow a second (or third, fourth, fifth and sixth) set of tees, contoured greens with multiple possible pin placement positions, tree-lined fairways, elevation changes, and bunkers and fairways positioned and shaped to challenge better golfers but to leave the lesser-skilled player relatively unmolested.
Over the Green:
Golfers generally have several things in common starting with a love of the game but in my experience every one of them is also an armchair course architect. There are lots of books about design and even architects but James Hansen in his new book detailing the life of Robert Trent Jones Sr. provides readers with the best of both.
Jones (no relation to Robert Tyre “Bobby” Jones Jr.) is one of the true pioneers of modern course design and architecture with in the range of 400 to his credit over a career spanning seven decades. Jones designed or redesigned layouts are host to professional tournaments around the world.
This really is a compelling story and particularly interesting to me since after his family immigrated to this country from England when Jones was six they settled within a few miles of where I was raised outside Rochester, New York. I have played many of the courses he designed early in his career. From that experience and subsequently playing many other of his layouts it’s clear to me the characteristics Jones believed were inherent in the design of good golf hole…making it a “difficult par” and an easy bogey.
The A Position:
When the review copy of A Difficult Par arrived, my first reaction was, Uh-oh. Subtitled Robert Trent Jones Sr. and the Making of Modern Golf, the fear was that at nearly 500 pages, the tome would prove the literary equivalent of a dozen fellow golf architecture geeks with an open bar tab debating shot values and the best par 3s in the world.
Not to worry. As told by James R. Hansen, a history professor at Auburn and authorized biographer of astronaut Neil Armstrong, A Difficult Par works on multiple levels. As Hansen pointed out in a post-publication phone interview, it’s a classic “American story.”
What do you get if you take an accomplished amateur golfer who is an internationally known expert on golf course architecture – not to mention a New York Times-bestselling author and professor of history at Auburn University – and turn him loose on the story of one of the most widely renowned golf course architects of the 20th Century? You get James Hansen, and his outstanding new book, A Difficult Par: Robert Trent Jones Sr. and the Making of Modern Golf.
The name Robert Trent Jones is probably familiar to all but the most casual of golf fans. The “other Bob Jones” of American golf is known as the architect of hundreds of golf course in the United States and abroad, and as the founder of a golf-design dynasty, embodied in his two sons, Robert Trent Jones Jr and Rees Jones. What even quite ardent golf history and course architecture enthusiasts might not be aware of are the seminal achievements in the field of golf course design that can be credited to this son of working-class English immigrants.
Jones (who used the given name “Trent” starting in the 1930s, to avoid confusion with Robert Tyre Jones Jr, the golfer, who was a contemporary) was the first to widely employ the concept of the strategic golf hole – an approach that allowed a course to be enjoyed by high-handicappers and better golfers alike; his belief that every golf hole should be “…a difficult par but an easy bogey” is the source of the title of the book.