Robert Trent Jones Jr. has been designing golf courses around the world for more than fifty years now. His ambition is still in full swing, because he loves both the sport and the chance to be creative—a combination that has made him one of the leading lights in the field.
His nickname is Bobby. His passion is golf courses. And his profession is golf course architect. Robert Trent Jones Jr., now seventy-eight, is one of the most sought-after worldwide. He has designed new courses and redesigned existing ones in more than forty countries. What goes into planning and constructing a golf course? “Each one is different,” he says, and illustrates the general approach with one of his latest projects, the Hogs Head course in Waterville, Ireland. “It always depends on where you are,” says Jones, who has a great fondness for poetry and painting, about his philosophy. “The light, the wind, the lakes, or the coastline—you have to recognize what’s relevant.” Technical aids like computer-aided designs can help, but Jones develops most of his solutions at the sites themselves.
That’s because nature has a way of thwarting plans. Take Hogs Head. Many projects go on for years. But this course, which is located on the windy southwestern tip of Ireland, had to be completed within a single summer. “That was the only option, because the winter brings powerful storms that would blow the freshly sown grass seeds into the sea. So we sometimes had fifty people at a time working to lay the drainage and shape the bunkers and fairways with bulldozers.”
According to this American architect, the quality of a golf course derives not only from the existing landscape but also from the highly specialized work done by his employees. Shapers, for example, are responsible for building the bunkers with bulldozers. Others are charged with constructing the greens. “They work like sculptors,” explains Jones, who doesn’t hesitate to reference Michelangelo. “Without the right marble he wasn’t able to create anything, either.” It’s quickly evident that each task is very specialized. And that each individual is an expert in his or her field. Jones sets everything into motion and keeps an eye on the big picture.