In the field of golf course design, it seems unlikely that any family could keep up with the Joneses. The passing of patriarch Robert Trent Jones, Sr. eight years ago left the golf landscape to his highly accomplished sons, R.T. Jones, Jr. and Rees.
Of the two scions, Rees has been more the industry insider, doing more to shape and set up courses for major championships than any other architect. Being born into the world of golf course design has also kept Rees Jones focused on the long view and resistant to mere fashions and trends. His training as an undergraduate at Yale and in graduate studies at Harvard reinforced his inclination toward classic design.
NORTH CAROLINA: Sea Trail Plantation
At a course like Sea Trail Plantation, for example, it’s easy to see the controlled beauty and well-framed fairways that Jones is known for. Known to vary his bunkering styles according to the region and the type of terrain he is working in, Jones went for an eclectic array at Sea Trail, using pot bunkers and large expanse bunkers to vary the shot values. This course represents a liberal use of water by Rees—some form of water hazard is featured on 11 of the 18 holes.
FLORIDA: Hammock Dunes Creek Course
Playing the Rees Jones-designed Creek Course at Hammock Dunes Private Community, you can see that Jones was asked to produce a layout challenging enough that it might even suggest U.S. Open difficulty in spots. Played from the back tees, this marsh- and creekside beauty stretches to 7,355 yards on a 450-acre expanse of lovely Lowcountry. The design firm’s long commitment to sustainability is evidenced by the Creek Course’s designation as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.
GEORGIA: Reynolds Plantation
Jones was at the top of his game and working under ideal conditions when he designed the Oconee Course at Reynolds Plantation, which opened in 2002. This dramatic, challenging and playable layout has captured the attention of the golfing industry, hosting highly visible tournaments like the 2007 PGA Cup, the 2007 Chick-Fil-A Bowl Alma Mater, and serving as the future site of the 2008 PGA Professional National championships. The Oconee layout “may actually be the resort's crown jewel," wrote Gary Van Sickle in Travel & Leisure Golf.
All three designing Joneses had independent streaks. Before setting off on his own in 1974, second son Rees, who grew up traveling with his family to courses all over the world, became a partner in his father’s firm. During that time he served an apprenticeship and absorbed the master’s teachings. In fact, his mantle of U.S. Open “doctor” was passed down to him by Trent Jones, Sr., who had first ascended to fame in part through the renovation of Oakland Hills C.C. for the 1951 Open.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Woodside Plantation
The career of Rees Jones has unfolded during a time of important changes to the theory of American golf course design. While favor has fallen on a more British, rough-hewn look, Rees has generally kept to a recognizably American parkland style. His emphasis has been on playability and the psychology of a risk and reward. “Golf holes that unfold with a variety of shot options requiring intelligent management of the game,” says Jones, in describing his design goals.
Staying on top of multiple projects and directing his design and administrative staff leaves little time for outside projects. Jones has always been keen to contribute to the literature of his profession, however, with two book co-authorships to his credit and surely more to come. In 2005, he teamed with Chris Millard to write the copy for a knee-buckling coffee table book, “Golf’s 100 Toughest Holes.” Several years earlier he teamed with writer Joel Zuckerman to pen “Golf in the Lowcountry: An Extraordinary Journey Through Hilton Head Island & Savannah.”
He put his thorough understanding of Lowcountry terrain and “ground movement” to work in designing one of the two the well-received championship courses at Woodside Plantation Country Club, in Aiken, SC.
Throughout the game and industry of golf, Rees Jones is known for almost as much for his fellowship and easy nature as for his design skills. Some of his 50-plus golf club memberships are honorary, but many others are testimony to his true love of the golfing life.
VIRGINIA: Viniterra at New Kent Vineyards
In a Golf Digest profile article, Jones admitted to playing in a member-guest tournament at a club he forgot he belonged to. “The whole time, I thought I was the guest,” he admitted sheepishly.
One club where Rees’s affection for fellowship would be well indulged is Viniterra at New Kent Vineyards, a newer club in the Virginia countryside where a Jones original marked by gorgeous green complexes and bold bunkering shares the spotlight with a 12,000- square-foot winery that is already producing some impressive vintage varietals.
VIRGINIA: RoseWood Village at Wintergreen
Expressing the core fundamentals of his approach to architecture, Rees has said that his team “aims to provide variety and interest to the layouts we design. But innovation for the sake of innovation alone is not our style. We [favor] creating a strategic bunker complex to achieve a certain shot value rather than creating ‘window dressing’”.
In designing the 27-hole Stoney Creek course at Wintergreen Resort, a golf amenity of RoseWood Village at Wintergreen, Jones used the angles of play from tee to green to frame distant Blue Ridge Mountain peaks. On the ground, he brought the natural elements of the landscape into play: meandering streams, hardwood forests and pristine wetlands. In the end, the resort had a lower- elevation golf course that offered mountain beauty but remains playable basically all year round.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Briar's Creek
“The only effective way to get a feel for the land is to walk it,” says Jones. “We are hands-on designers, and our routing plans are always confirmed on the ground.” At times the U.S. golf media has praised a younger cohort of architects for hand- crafting their courses while forgetting that the Rees Jones design group has honored this principle from the beginning.
The acclaim that greeted Briar’s Creek was thrilling even for an industry luminary. Golf Digest editors proclaimed it the “Best New Private Course” of 2003, and that honor paved the way for a litany of awards and rankings that have followed. The list is too long to include in a brief summary of Rees Jones courses—suffice to say that any list of the most artful and challenging courses in the Carolinas has to include this five-year-old jewel.
Looking back over Rees Jones’ important and prestigious role in U.S. golf as the Open Doctor—his renovation resume includes six PGA Championship courses, three Ryder Cup sites and one Walker Cup golf course—Jones would still be acclaimed for his design instincts and for the craftsmanship that lends his 100-plus original golf course designs, such as Briar’s Creek and Reynolds Plantation’s Oconee Course, such memorable flow and symmetry. His father, Jones Sr., would certainly be proud.