‘Doctor’ Jones Made Pros Take His Medicine

By John Coyne

Copyright © John Coyne. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

(Another installment in a series on Hall of Fame golf course architect Robert Trent Jones, Sr.)

'Doctor' Jones Made Pros Take His Medicine 1
Robert Trent Jones, Sr.

NOT ALL PLAYERS, ESPECIALLY PGA PROS, appreciated Robert Trent Jones, Sr.’s “doctoring” of golf courses. Beginning in the 1950s, the USGA and PGA asked Jones to make the sites for their championships true competitive tests. And he did!

Jones’s most famous confrontation with professionals over his doctoring came in the remodeling of Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, for the 1951 U.S. Open. Jones rebuilt the bunkers, reshaped the greens and narrowed the fairways to such an extent that Sam Snead complained the players had to play the course Indian file.

So difficult was the new layout that only two rounds were below par, one being a final round of 67 by Ben Hogan, which even today is considered one of the greatest single rounds of competitive golf ever played. Immediately after winning the Open, Hogan, still angry at the toughness of the course, complained to Jones’s wife, Ione, “if your husband had to play this course for a living, he’d be in the poorhouse.”

Four years later, however, Ben Hogan was praising Jones, saying at a luncheon in Dallas, “You know, if I played more of your courses, I’d probably be the only man in history to win five Open Championships.”

What Jones did to bring the Oakland Hills club up to competitive standards was as simple as it was ingenious. Oakland Hills, built in 1916, had been overrun by modern golfers with their better equipment. Hazards, such as fairway bunkers, no longer came into play. Jones had studied the driving distances of golf professionals from previous Opens and saw that all the pros, with only one exception, drove the ball in the air at least 230 yards, and, therefore, carried over the existing fairway bunkers. (Remember, we are talking early 1950 players and golf equipment.)

Jones constructed new traps on both sides of the fairways between 230 and 260 yards from the tees, forcing the long hitting pros to drive with accuracy.

While Jones penalized good players, he watched out for the average golfer. Most good players when they hit a bad shot will pull the ball, or hook it to the left, while the average golfer tends to slice the ball to the right. Whenever possible, Jones set his water hazards and out-of-bounds to the left, leaving the duffers plenty of room on the right.

He also helped out the average players in other ways. There was no rough between the tee and the fairway, or bunkers 150 yards out to catch short drives, slices or hooks. Nor did he have any long carries over water.

“In building a course,” Jones said, “I worry more about the average golfer’s game than making it tough. It’s easy to make a course tough, but where will the average player drive the ball with his limited ability?”

Not all average players would agree with Jones either. Even members of a famous club, and where Jones played often, had plenty to grumble about until Robert Trent Jones, Sr. showed the membership that not only could he design golf courses, he could play them.


Robert Trent Jones, Sr. on Heroic Golf

Bobby Jones, Robert Trent Jones and Peachtree Golf Club

The College-Educated Golf Course Architect

PGA Returns to Home of Robert Trent Jones, Sr.

John Coyne is a bestselling author whose latest golf novel is The Caddie Who Won the Masters. Learn more at John Coyne Books.

Photo of author
Neil Sagebiel

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