Rees Jones was born into the game of golf. He learned to play as a youngster, competing as a junior golfer, in college and while in the arm and grew up traveling with his family to golf courses all over the world and worked in the summers for his father, renowned golf course architect Robert Trent Jones. After college at Yale and graduate studies at Harvard, he went to work in 1965 as a principal in Robert Trent Jones, Inc. Ten years later in 1974, he founded his own design firm, Rees Jones, Inc — located in Montclair, NJ.
Jones has designed or redesigned more than 170 golf courses in his career and earned the moniker “The Open Doctor” for his redesign of courses in preparation for major championships. His remodeling skills have been applied to seven U.S. Open venues, eight PGA Championship courses, five Ryder Cup and two Walker Cup sites as well as the President’s Cup. Rees has been recognized many times for his contributions to the game. Among these awards, he has received the ASGCA’s 2013 Donald Ross Award, the GCBAA’s 2014 Don Rossi Award, and the GCSAA’s 2004 Old Tom Morris Award, as well as being inducted into both the New Jersey Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame in 2012 and the Northern California Golf Association Hall of Fame in 2015.
Among his notable recent designs and remodels are East Lake Golf Club, City Park Golf Course, Jack Clark South Course at Chuck Corica Golf Complex, Echo Lake Country Club, Playa Grande Golf Club and Atlanta Athletic Club (Highlands Course), and Danzante Bay, with future master plans being developed for The Breakers Ocean Course, The South Course at BallenIsles Country Club, Old Oaks Country Club, Urbana Country Club and the Monster Golf Couse at Montreign Resort Casino.
MATT WARD: What makes golf architecture compelling for you?
REES JONES: The creative challenge of making a space that people can actively enjoy.
MW: If you had one design mulligan you wish you could take — what would the circumstances be and what would you do differently the second time around?
RJ: I would not respond to trends in design. In hindsight, I didn’t know they were only short-lived.[slideshow_deploy id=’22536′]
MW: The person who had the greatest influence on your professional development was who?
RJ: Bill Baldwin, a talented construction supervisor, who worked for both my father and me, taught me you have to know how to build a golf course before you can effectively design one.
MW: The most misunderstood aspect by regular golfers concerning golf course design is what?
RJ: The technical process: drainage issues, responsibility to environmental stewardship, the composition of the soil – those sorts of site considerations and restrictions.
MW: The best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
RJ: My father told me that if I ever got into golf course design for championships — I’d have to have a thick skin.
MW: Is it truly possible to design a course able to challenge the world’s best players and at the same time provide a comparable challenge to those among the broader golf masses? If so — what course you originally designed best represents that capability?
RJ: Playa Grande in the Dominican Republic — a total redesign of one of my father’s original courses — is one of the best examples of a world-class championship course that can be challenging for the best golfers and still playable for the average golfer. This is possible because of shot options and the numerous alternate routes to avoid or to flirt with the ocean on the ten holes that have greens on the cliffs.
MW: What makes Danzante in Loreto, Mexico stand apart when compared to all the other courses you’ve designed?
RJ: It has the most diverse terrain of any course I’ve ever seen. It has dunes, cliffs, desert, canyons, and mountains. There’s a memorable par 3 — the 17th. And did I mention spectacular views of the Sea of Cortez?
MW: How much of your original design work is outside of the USA now? Is the golf architecture business for new designs essentially over for the foreseeable future in America?
RJ: Probably half of our design work now is outside the United States. The majority of the work in golf course architecture in the U.S. these days is in remodeling – either partial or complete.
MW: You can change thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be?
RJ: We need to emphasize all the wonderfully positive reasons to play the game, especially when it comes to kids learning to love golf.
MW: Given your years of experience in golf course architecture — what do you now know versus the person you were when you started to branch out and create your own identify separate from that of your legendary father?
RJ: You often hear people say experience builds confidence and conviction. For me, that was certainly true – and has given me a stronger instinct when making design decisions as well.WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?