Robert Trent Jones Sr., Golf Course Architect Who Made Mark on U.S. Open, Is Dead at 93

Published: June 16, 2000


Robert Trent Jones Sr., the golf architect who designed or remodeled more than 500 courses, and who once made a hole in one to justify his redesign of a hole, died on Wednesday night at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He was 93.

Mr. Jones, who had been in poor health since having a stroke last summer, had retired to Florida. But for most of his career he worked out of offices in Montclair, N.J.

In his seven decades as golf's most prolific architect, Mr. Jones logged an estimated 8 million miles in creating more than 350 courses and remodeling more than 150 others, including 79 that were used for the United States Open or other national championships. His courses endure in 45 states and 35 foreign countries on every continent except Antarctica.

''The sun never sets,'' he enjoyed saying, ''on a Robert Trent Jones golf course.''

His death came on the eve of the United States Open, which began yesterday in Pebble Beach, Calif.

He had become connected with that championship because so many were played on courses he either designed or remodeled.

Known as ''Trent,'' he was a small, cherub-faced man, but his sometimes sadistic use of huge bunkers, ponds, creeks and undulating greens often angered the touring pros, especially during the United States Open. Mr. Jones believed he was merely defending par against the evolution of golf equipment and the golf ball.

''The shattering of par without a proper challenge is a fraud,'' he often said. ''I make them play par.''

When Mr. Jones redesigned the fourth hole at the Baltusrol Golf Club's Lower Course in Springfield, N.J., before the 1954 United States Open, some members thought the par 3 over a pond was unfair. He offered to play the hole along with Johnny Farrell, the club pro, and two members while other members watched.

Playing from the 165-yard members tee, Mr. Farrell and the two members each hit balls on the green. Mr. Jones stepped up and swung his 4-iron. His ball landed on the green and rolled into the cup for a hole in one. Turning to the assembled members, he said: ''Gentlemen, the hole is fair. Eminently fair.''

Over the years, Mr. Jones worked on 21 courses that would hold the United States Open, notably Oakland Hills in Birmingham, Mich., in 1951. None of the world's best golfers broke par 70 that year until the final day when Ben Hogan, the winner, shot 67 and Clayton Haefner shot 69.

At the presentation ceremony, Hogan said, ''I'm glad I brought this course, this monster, to its knees.''

At a reception later, Hogan turned to Mr. Jones's wife, Ione, and said, ''If your husband had to play this course for a living, he'd be on the bread line.'' Mr. Jones relished retelling both of Hogan's comments.

At the 1970 United States Open at Hazeltine National in Minnesota, the touring pro Dave Hill, who had shot 75 and 69, publicly criticized Mr. Jones's design. Asked what the course lacked, Hill said, ''Eighty acres of corn and a few cows.''

Asked what should be done to correct the course, Hill said, ''Plow it up and start over.''

High winds had created high scores. When the winds eased, Tony Jacklin won that Open with 281, seven under par. Hill was second at 288, even par.

''Golf is a form of attack and counterattack,'' Mr. Jones often said. ''It offers a golfer his personal challenge of combat. He attacks the course and par; the architect creates fair pitfalls to defend its easy conquest. The architect calls on his ingenuity to create a hole that will reward only achievement.''

Mr. Jones collaborated with the late Bobby Jones, the legendary golfer (no relation), in designing Peachtree in Atlanta. At Bobby Jones's request, he also redesigned the 11th and 16th holes at Augusta National, the site of the Masters.

In addition to his 21 United States Open courses, Mr. Jones worked on 12 courses that have held the Professional Golfers Association Championship and six that held the World Cup. He designed Valderrama in Spain, the site of the 1997 Ryder Cup matches, and the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club course in Manassas, Va., the site of the 1994 and 1996 President's Cup matches.

He created a putting green at the White House for President Eisenhower, as well as a hole with three different tees at Camp David, the president's weekend retreat in Maryland.

Mr. Jones's clients included the Rockefeller family, the Aga Khan and King Hassan II of Morocco. But among his last designs were 18 public layouts in Alabama, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.

''You look at a piece of ground,'' he said, ''and you know instinctively what makes a great hole. There is a flow and rhythm that you can feel. You think how to stake it out, then use logic to make the right choice. It's like a jigsaw puzzle. But you have to play golf well, too.

''You have to know the value of shots, how far the ball will go and what it will do.''

Mr. Jones is survived by his two sons, Robert Trent Jr. and Rees, both prominent golf architects who have been involved in more than 250 courses. His wife died in 1987.

Born in Ince, England, on June 20, 1906, he was 6 when he accompanied his parents to East Rochester, N.Y., where he later caddied at The Country Club of Rochester. He soon developed into a scratch golfer, and was the low amateur in the 1927 Canadian Open.

Around that time, Mr. Jones met and was inspired by Donald Ross, the Scottish golf architect who was designing Oak Hill in Rochester. At Cornell, Mr. Jones studied surveying, agronomy, landscaping, horticulture, architecture and sketching.

He was the first architect inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. He was a founding member and a former president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects and the first recipient of its Donald Ross Award. He was the author of ''Golf's Magnificent Challenge'' and edited ''Great Golf Stories,'' an anthology.

Golf was always in his thoughts. After having one stroke, he awakened in his hospital bed to see his two sons at his bedside.

''What are you doing here?'' he asked.

''You had a little setback,'' he was told. ''You had a stroke.''

''Do I have to count it?'' he said.