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- Robert Trent Jones Jr.
Robert Trent Jones Jr.
Robert was educated at Montclair High School, taking golf lessons as a teenager from both Tommy Armour and Claud Harmon Sr. and playing in competitions under the auspices of the New Jersey State Golf Association and the Metropolitan Golf Association of New York.
Jones also spent some time with his father’s company, working under John Schmeisser, the RTJ construction superintendent, to learn how to run a bulldozer. His father paid him the union rate for the job and he used the money for flying lessons, obtaining his federal pilot’s license at sixteen, a year before he could apply to drive a car in New Jersey.
He enrolled at Yale in 1957, where he made the university golf team. Four of the other players on the team were their state junior champions so it was no mean feat to represent Yale at golf back then. Jones followed a new degree program called “American Studies,” which encompassed literature, history, the arts, and social sciences, with a view to go on to study at law school.
He worked in the summer of 1959 as an intern in the office of U.S. Senator Stuart Symington, a Democrat from Missouri and a 1923 Yale graduate. The senator was a keen golfer and had previously met Robert’s father in the company of Laurance Rockefellar so family golf connections had certainly helped get him his temporary appointment.
After graduating in 1961, Robert headed off to Stanford University Law School in California but he quit after a year to set up a west coast office for the family business at Palo Alto with the intention of expanding his father’s interests into new markets throughout the Pacific Northwest, the desert Southwest and across the Pacific to Hawaii and beyond.
Soon, he’d enter into partnerships with local companies to assist with the planning, engineering and economical support for the projects he was working on. It didn’t take long for him to develop his own design ideas and his work at Silverado Country Club in the Napa Valley and West Delta Park in Oregon during the mid-1960s was when he made the step up from acting as his father’s apprentice to designing courses by himself.
Disputes between Robert Trent Jones Sr. and his sons on how to run the business became more frequent and more severe, causing his brother Rees Jones to leave the east coast office and branch out on his own at the end of 1974. Robert wasn’t long behind, forming Robert Trent Jones II two years later.
Some of the courses completed between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s will be found listed in both the father’s portfolio and his son Robert’s website because, although constructed under contract to Robert Sr.’s company, they were actually designed and built by his son. The new RTJ II company would bring such organizational ambiguity to an end.
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.”
Gary Baird was an early addition to Robert’s architectural staff and he’d be the first of several well-respected architects on the payroll. Kyle Phillips joined the firm in 1981 and he remained in post for sixteen years before forming his own practise. Ty Butler was recruited in 1990 and he lasted twenty years until he moved in. Bruce Charlton, who was recruited around the same time as Kyle, remains as President and Chief Design Officer for the company.
For half a century now, Robert has done more than his fair share of keeping the Jones name to the forefront of golf design in the United States and beyond. Still working from an office in Palo Alto, he has worked in forty states within the United States – much of his effort has taken place in California and Hawaii – and another forty countries around the world.
Jones has had a big impact in the Far East, with dozens of designs to his name in China, Japan, Philippines, South Korea and Taiwan. He has also completed one-off projects in countries as diverse as India, South Africa, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates. Closer to home, there are more than a dozen RTJII courses in operation in Mexico and the Caribbean.
In Europe, Robert is probably best known as the man who finally laid out the Prince de Provence course in France (after many years of permitting wrangles) but more recent assignments include highly-rated Nordic courses such as Scandinavian (Old) and (New) in Denmark, Bro Hoff Slott (Stadium) and (Castle) in Sweden, and Miklagard in Norway.
He’s also moved into newer European golf markets, fashioning the Bay course at the Costa Navarino resort in Greece in 2011 and the 18-hole layout at the Zala Springs resort in Hungary (2016). His Hogs Head course at Waterville in Ireland opened in 2018 and this first design in the Emerald Isle is one to watch in times to come.
Robert is a long standing member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, serving as the organization’s president in 1989, eleven years after his brother Rees had held the same position.
Golf by Design by Robert Trent Jones Jr. (1994)