‘The Open Doctor’ Showing Off His Work At Mass. Open
Courtesy of Keith Pearson
As the son of Robert Trent Jones, building golf courses is in the blood of Rees Jones.
In New England alone, he has created some of the best new layouts of the past 40 years, ranging from the exclusive Nantucket Golf Club to one of the two courses at the public Pinehills Golf Club in Plymouth.
Courses like those give the feel they have been around for much longer than 19 and 16 years, respectively.
“Your old classic golf courses that most people love are ones that reward you with a good shot and penalize you with a bad shot, don’t penalize you for a good shot,” Jones said.
Next month, Jones’ work at The Golf Club at Sacconnesset in Falmouth will be on display when it hosts the 108th Massachusetts Open. While his TGC design has only been open for 10 years, he thinks it has the potential to be one of those classics.
“A lot of the older golf courses really didn’t have the opportunity to move much dirt, and that’s why this is similar to those because we didn’t have to move a lot,” Jones said. “We had to grade some, pushing some dirt around to other places.”
He said he had good, natural sites at Pinehills and Nantucket, while at places like Blackstone National in Sutton and Baker Hill in Newbury, N.H., he was able to work with the more rugged terrain. They are all in stark contrast to the two Foxwoods Lake of Isles courses he built for the Mashantucket Pequots in Connecticut, which required extensive blasting.
Things certainly have changed in the way courses have been designed since he was part of Robert Trent Jones Inc. with his father, Robert Trent Jones Sr., and older brother, Robert Trent Jones Jr., before creating his own firm in 1974.
“I think for many, many years we were overreacting to the way the ball was going and how far it was going because we were thinking of the best players,” said Jones, who spoke last week at the Falmouth course. “I think now since golf has really started to slow down as far as the growth is concerned — although it’s a lot stronger than many people talk about, there’s still a great interest and popularity in the game — I think we’re now emphasizing the finesse more than the length, and that’s why here at The Golf Club it’s going to be really well-received because this is a finesse golf course.
“I think that’s best for every caliber player, even the best players, to tell you the truth. I think a shorter golf course will really challenge a longer hitter more than a long golf course, and the shorter golf course you really need for the people who don’t hit it very far.”
He certainly enjoys creating his own designs but loves renovating. His work on major championship venues such as Baltusrol in New Jersey, Bethpage Black in New York and The Country Club in Brookline has earned him the nickname of “Open Doctor.” He also completely remade East Lake in Atlanta in the mid-90s. East Lake has hosted the Tour Championship since 2005.
Jones spoke just as enthusiastically about finding a place for a 300-yard driving range at Essex Fells in New Jersey as he did about turning a forest into a championship-caliber layout at TGC.
“When you make good, solid changes, not wholesale changes, it really helps the club and increases the interest,” he said.
Jones said he doesn’t have any new designs in the works around here at the moment, but he is doing some renovations to Marshfield and Nashawtuc and potentially some minor work at Nantucket.