Ryder Cup 2016: Keep Up with the Joneses at Hazeltine
Courtesy of James Masters
If you want to play the perfect round at the Ryder Cup, then there are few people better placed to share the secrets of this year’s host venue than Rees Jones.
The son of one of golf’s most influential course designers, he has built and renovated over 170 layouts — and he’s spent 25 years getting to grips with Hazeltine in Chaska, Minnesota.
Jones has tended the course — originally designed by his father, Robert Trent Jones Sr. — since 1991 when it hosted the US Open for the second time.
“It’s special — going back and finishing what my father started,” the 75-year-old, whose older brother Robert Trent Jones Jr. is also a course architect, told CNN.
Jones Sr., who designed or revamped around 400 courses during his illustrious career, brought Hazeltine to life.
After arriving in 1959, he unveiled the course three years later before making adjustments over the next decade.
At his side, Rees would often offer assistance by measuring distances on the course.
The youngest Jones went out on his own in 1974, and eventually took over his father’s mantle as “Open Doctor” — a recognition for his work in preparing courses to host major tournaments.
Rees’ resume includes seven US Open venues and eight PGA Championship courses, while the Bethpage Black Course in New York will be his fifth Ryder Cup affiliation when it stages the 2024 competition.
This week, Hazeltine will become his fourth Ryder Cup course — it has been laid out in accordance with the wishes of home-team captain Davis Love.
“When you set up a course for the Ryder Cup it is completely different to a PGA Tour event,” Jones says.
“I did Medinah four years ago, and Davis Love III is setting up the same way — long hitters won’t be penalized by the rough.
“How the course is set up is up to Davis, and he’ll work with the club. The bunkers have had new sand and there’s better drainage.
“There will be four birdie opportunities on the final four holes but 12 and 13 are tough. “Davis will learn from four years ago and hopefully get the course he wants.”
The US has lost the past three Ryder Cups — two of them in Europe — and has managed just one win in the past seven editions.
In 2012 it suffered a heartbreaking defeat on home soil as Europe came from nowhere to secure a 141⁄2-131⁄2 win at Medinah, Illinois.
This time around the feeling is that the US can break its losing streak — but Jones is wary of making any predictions.
“I really believe there is so much pressure on US. It’s in their heads,” he says.
“It’s the pressure. They don’t have next week to come back — they have to wait two years.
“It all comes down to the mental approach. It’s more mental than physical in the Ryder Cup.”
Ryder Cup spirit
For all the golf Jones has played and watched, the Ryder Cup retains a certain feel which few other other sporting events can match.
While at Medinah he witnessed Europe’s improbable comeback, Jones also experienced another incident away from the on-course action that highlights the “special” nature of the 89-year-old contest.
“I was heading towards the store to get a sweatshirt, but at the Ryder Cup the merchandise has gone before you look around,” he recalls.
“There were none left, so I started walking back when I saw a European fan wearing a lovely sweater.
“I asked him where he got it from and whether I could order one online. “But he just took it off and said, ‘Here, you can have it.’
“That’s the Ryder Cup — there’s just something special about it.”
‘Golf is going to survive’
Jones may have turned 75 this month but he has no plans to retire — indeed, his father’s last credited sole work was in 1996, four years before he passed away at the age of 93.
Courses such as Torrey Pines and East Lake — host of last weekend’s Tour Championship — have become an integral part of the US golf scene, while three of his other venues will hold major tournaments over the next few years.
While the work shows no sign of drying up, he’s still had time to pass his love of golf onto the next generations of the family.
“I caddy for my eight-year-old grandson — he’s very competitive,” Jones says, laughing. “I look at him and I see why golf is going to survive and be a sport for a lifetime.
“It’s more affordable and accessible now, and you get to go to different sites and enjoy different experiences.
“People play a lot of golf, the rates are being lowered and I’m working on several public courses, which is great.”
As for future projects, Jones refuses to rest on his laurels.
“People always ask me which my favorite course I’ve worked on is,” he says.
“And I always give the same answer — the next one, it’s always the next one.”