Rees Jones

REES JONES is definitely on the side of pure. "That's the way I grew up," he says. "There is real amateurism left. I think that golf would be chaos without the USGA. And volunteers? I think it's amazing that so many people are willing to devote so much to difficult tasks. It's not all that exciting; it's work."

Volunteerism certainly qualifies as purity. To that end, Rees, a course architect with redesigns of four Open sites, dozens of highly respected tracks nationwide, and about six new projects a year, is certainly willing to put his time and effort where his mouth is. He currently serves on two USGA committees, the Environmental Research and Turfgrass Research; between the two, he has to take from seven to 10 days out of that already busy schedule. That's no sweat, he says; in fact, it's rather appropriate. "We meet three times a year and go over all possible programs and studies. It's a tedious job; we spend three or four days in a row meeting from eight in the morning till five at night. What we're trying to do is allocate the money where it's most needed, by determining what areas we have to study and learn more about environmentally.

"I think it's very valuable. They wanted an architect in the group because we're sort of on the cutting edge of environmental law -- we're the ones affected by it most directly initially -- so we know what's practical. We're out in the field all the time; we know what people are anxious about, both facts and new products."

It's a labor of love, however, for the 53-year-old Jones. "I really enjoy it. It's my giving back to a game that's done so much for me. Now, in many areas, we're going to have factual information. The environmental laws have probably helped the design of golf courses, in that we've now taken the harmful products off the market. The golf course industry has really, for many, many years, improved on its management practices, whereas other industries haven't done much."

Rees Lee Jones was, you might say, born with a shovel in his hand. His father, legendary architect Robert Trent Jones, was establishing his reputation as Rees grew up. Rees's first memory of golf centered on another Jones, though, Robert Tyre Jones Jr., or Bobby. "It came up about the time Dad was working with him on the course at Peachtree [in Atlanta]. I was too young, I was told, to go see him play an exhibition; I wanted to go because he was the person talked about in the house all the time."

His first exposure to the game was an early one indeed. "Sure, I had a cut-down club, with a wooden shaft. I got to be a pretty good player by the time I was 15, but I was a baseball player, so I didn't devote all my time. I played on the Montclair [N.J.] high school team; we won the state championship."

From the diamond to golf course architecture he went. "It wasn't until my junior year in college, at Yale, that I decided it was a pretty good avenue, because I enjoyed the game so much. My mother didn't really want me to; my dad wanted me to follow in his footsteps. I mean, it's a heck of a way to make a living."

Rees worked for his dad, Trent, until 1974, then took the plunge and formed Montclair, N.J.-based Rees Jones, Inc. His resume over the past 20 years, in addition to his restoration and remodeling of the four Open courses, includes some beauties, too numerous to list here. To name a few, though, Atlantic GC in New York, Sandpines GC in Oregon, Pinehurst No. 7, and Haig Point Club in South Carolina are must-plays, according to many of the knowledgeable.

Among the projects currently on Rees's plate is Ocean Forest on Sea Island, Ga. "There, we're cooperating to do both the best thing for the environment and the best thing for the golf course," he says proudly. "It's enjoyable when all the entities work together, with a common purpose.

"I think the best feeling is while a course is happening. It's almost a letdown when it's time, when it's opened. Clearing Ocean Forest, where we cleared to the river, cleared to the ocean, cleared to the saltwater marshes; the golf course would unfold to me as a designer as I went along, just as it unfolds to the golfer when he plays it."

What does it take to be a golf course architect? "Well, golf course design is a craft -- you learn by doing, and by seeing other golf courses. Every year, when I go to Scotland [he's a member of the Royal and Ancient], I try to play other golf courses. And, working on the U.S. Open venues has helped me a lot, because I had to study the original designs and why they were revered. You need to have some references."

Is there any turf left unturned? "I'd love to build a golf course," he says, eyes looking into the distance, "in the middle of the British Isles, on some of that dunesland that just goes on forever." You have to think that someday, Rees Lee Jones might just get that pure chance.

-- David Earl