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- Rees Jones
Rees was educated at Montclair High School in New Jersey, two years behind his brother Robert Trent Jones Junior. He graduated from Yale University with a Batchelor of Arts degree in 1963 then enrolled for a landscape architecture course at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.
He became friendly with Cabell Robinson, a recent graduate in history from Princeton University, who convinced him they should leave Harvard a year into their studies and enter another degree program in landscape architecture at the University of California in Berkeley.
Whilst studying on the West Coast, Rees was due to be drafted into the US Army but chose instead to enlist with the Army Reserves. Following a year of military training, he returned home to Montclair in New Jersey to take over the running of his father’s East Coast office.
Cabell, meanwhile, graduated from the Berkeley program in 1967 then joined Rees for a short time until he was posted overseas to Spain to set up a base for overseeing Trent Jones projects in Britain, Europe and North Africa. He’d be there for seventeen years in total.
Rees worked alongside construction foreman Bill Baldwin and design associate Roger Rulewich, who was five years older. Rees and Roger were both Yale graduates and got on very well together, while Bill became virtually a second father to Rees, teaching him all the practical aspects of golf course design.
Collectively, they worked on more than twenty projects over a ten-year period across thirteen states, before Rees left his father’s company in October of 1974. Disputes between Jones Sr. and his sons on running the business came to a head and Rees felt he had to bail out.
In James R. Hansen’s book A Difficult Par , Robert Trent Jones Sr. had this to say about the parting of the ways: “Bobby had been working in the burgeoning Pacific Basin, while I had been spending time in Europe. Rees was doing great work from Texas to Massachusetts.
Each designed some magnificent courses with my firm, and each would get even better after they left. In retrospect, it was good they left. Otherwise they would have had to wait until I died to establish their reputations.”
Over the years, a number of trusted associates have worked with the man who inherited his father’s moniker as the ‘Open Doctor’ – thanks to his redesign of courses in preparation for major championships which include eight PGA Championships, seven US Opens and five Ryder Cups – and these men have more than a century of experience between them.
Keith Evans was Rees’s right hand man from 1979 until he retired in 2011. Indianapolis-born Greg Muirhead joined the company after a short spell with Pete Dye in 1984; Texan Steve Weisser worked briefly with Dick Nugent and Martin Hawtree before signing on with Rees in 1991; and Bryce Swanson, from Illinois – a graduate from Iowa State University – has been with Rees since 2000.
As a group of architects, the Rees Jones design team has been responsible for more than 200 golf courses, with most of them located in the Mid-Atlantic states of New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania (49 in total) and the South Atlantic region which includes Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia (72 in total).
The firm’s overseas portfolio isn’t quite as prolific, with twenty-two projects in thirteen countries. Half of these are located in Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean and the rest are spread far and wide around the globe; a handful in Asia; a couple in Europe; with two outliers in Namibia and New Zealand.
Rees has been a member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects since 1967, becoming secretary in 1976 then president two years later. He’s also been a member of the United States Golf Association since 1967, serving on the Green Section Committee 1979-1980 and 2008-2013.
A Rees Jones comment, from the book A Difficult Par by James R. Hansen in 2014:
“We design course generally for people who play golf, not only for golfers. Why take this great form of recreation and turn it into torture? The battle should be fun and fair.”
Another comment, from the same book, attributed to Rees’s father in the late 1980s:
“Rees does not believe so much in length as I do but in smaller, well-fortified targets surrounded by various features. He leaves a lot of his greens open in front, believing that hazards to the side penalize the good player more than the higher handicapper.
He uses grassy hollows and swales around the green, trying to penalize the shot to the degree it is missed, retaining the ball closer to the putting surface if it is only slightly off-line. Many of the greens Rees build sweep up in the front, like those at St Andrews.
His greens are marked by more gentle transitions as opposed to abrupt terraces. Long putts will break, but putts from close around the hole will be relatively easy.
Rees considers himself a multi-themed architect, which means he is constantly seeking variety, trying to give the player a new experience on every hole, not just on every course. As a result, his later courses have become more visually exciting.
He also classifies himself as an ‘architect of definition’ rather than deception. He wants the golfer to know what he has to contend with, and Rees works very hard at showing him the intended target, both off the tee and into the green.”
Keith Cutten, in his book The Evolution of Golf Course Design comments as follows:
“Numerous industry voices have seen fit to cite the damaging effect that Jones’s work has had on many classic golf courses; in his effort to toughen the layouts ahead of visitations by the world’s best players. Sadly, this finger-pointing often lands on a specific individual; whereas historic perspective would indicate that evolving modern design principles dictated these changes in golf course architecture, not the vision of one man.
In the same way, Rees Jones’s original designs attempt to set new standards for visual clarity and playability. Clearly influenced by modern design principles and the work of his father, Rees believes that golf holes should clearly dictate to the player where to direct his or her shotmaking; and that bunkers should be visible and indicative of the ideal line-of-play.”
From the Rees Jones Inc. website:
“The best advice I've ever received is that you have to know how to build a golf course before you can design one. This came from Bill Baldwin, my father's construction manager, who knew how critical understanding the land was. When, as a young man, I would come up with an idea, he would say, ‘That's a good idea, but have you ever thought about doing it this way...’ and I knew I was learning from a master.”
Golf Course Developments by Rees Jones, published by the Urban Land Institute, Washington, D.C. in 1974