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By Design


he term ‘championship course’

is used reverently in golf circles,

and most golf clubs aspire to

such a distinction. For more than

four decades, ASGCA Past President

Rees Jones, ASGCA Fellow (known

to many as the ‘Open Doctor’), has

been designing courses that are of the

utmost championship quality. He has

worked on numerous famed courses,

which collectively have hosted 23

major championships, five Ryder Cups,

as well as other premiere events.

This coming year, 13 courses

originally designed or renovated

by Jones will be in the limelight as

venues for: 2016 PGA Championship

(Baltusrol Golf Club—Lower Course);

2016 Ryder Cup (Hazeltine National

Golf Club); and six PGA Tour events

including the annual hosting of

the Tour Championship (East Lake

Golf Club), 2016 Women’s PGA

Championship (Sahalee Country

Club), Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic

(Lake Merced Golf Club) and the

2016 U.S. Amateur (Oakland Hills

Country Club).

“The way we view championship

golf courses is changing,” says Jones.

“It’s no longer just about distance.

True, there are plenty of professionals

who now drive the ball over 300

yards, but there are also still plenty

of tour players who don’t. Making

courses even longer is not the sole

solution, even if it’s desirable for

other reasons.”

Jones believes course designers

today need to be innovative; they

need to figure out ways to make

golf courses challenging but not

overly favoring the longest hitters.

“Even today, when courses tip-out at

7,500-7,600 yards, the entirety of that

length is not really intended to be

used on the same day,” he says. “It’s

to also give flexibility in course setup.

Mixing up the setup with shorter

holes as well as long ones is a good

thing, giving balance between longer

and shorter hitters.”

Jones knows the style of a course is

often dictated by the landform, but

when it comes to designing green

complexes he believes it requires

both a meticulous mind, and one that

is creative, yet in subtle ways.

“In the past, we used to think

that front hole locations were more

difficult when they were protected

by hazards,” he says. “But today,

players hit the ball so high and they

impart so much spin, getting the ball

to those locations is not so difficult

for them unless the green is elevated

with a slope in front like many greens

at Augusta or the Valley of Sin in

front of the eighteenth green at St


“Often, it is hole locations at the

back or the corners of the greens that

are most difficult because players

want to fly the ball, even beyond the

flag, and spin it back. This encourages

the pros to use driver off the tee, even

though this gives the player less of a

chance to hit the fairway from which

they can spin the ball. An errant

shot over the green will be harder to

recover from because most greens

are pitched from back to front. We’ve

seen this often. Tournament setup

folks have recognized it too.”

According to Jones, today’s golf

ball technology also comes into

play. “These days, golf balls are

constructed to allow stopping shots

on a dime, so even when greens

are firm the players can still aim

at flags from the fairway,” he says.

“This makes creatively crafted

green contours more important

for championship play than ever

before. But of course, championship

organizers generally want extremely

fast greens and so you have to have

pinnable areas that are flatter than

in the past. So, in short, we are

concentrating more on the transition

areas in greens.”

Jones reminds us that hazards also

need to be revaluated, and the rough

is more significant now than in years

prior. It is, he notes, significant that

the deep, small revetted pot bunkers

Design debate


Rees Jones, ASGCA Past President

Testing the best


ASGCA Past President Rees Jones, ASGCA Fellow, tells Adam Lawrence

that the future of golf will require a new kind of championship course

Throughout the

game’s history the

approach shot with

a wood or long iron

to a well-protected

green has been

regarded as the

supreme test of the

very best players”