Rees Jones - Interview with an Architect

Legendary golf course architect Rees Jones has left his mark on some of the most famous places in the game. He has either designed or redesigned the host course for 14 major championships and 4 Ryder Cups. He also happened to design the Waldorf Astoria Golf Club, site of the final round of Deej's Florida Swing.

The Waldorf Astoria is also the site for round two of the summer grudge match between me and my brother. Down two shots after round one, I decided I needed an edge if I was to mount a comeback. Who better to help give me that advantage than the man who designed the golf course. Mr. Jones must have felt the desperation in my voice, when he agreed to answer a few questions.

Deej - Thank you for taking the time from your busy schedule to work with me today. What sort of challenges did you face in the design of W=A, especially given the relatively small area of land available for the project?

R.J. - The land we selected for the W=A was quite good for what we had in mind for the golf course. Our intention was to create an old style, classic, core golf course. It angles along a large preserve and runs the length of the adjacent W=A and Hilton Bonnet Creek hotels. The other side is Walt Disney World property. It’s like an oasis of golf.
Waldorf Astoria Orlando Golf
An oasis of golf indeed...

Deej - How do you approach designing a resort course versus a traditional golf club? 

R.J. - You certainly have all different kinds of golfers almost everywhere. They have a wide range of abilities and expectations. With a private club we have more latitude for a blind shot here or there because once you’ve played the hole it isn’t blind any more. I particularly like to try to give the resort golfer much definition; to give them an idea of what is expected from them and what the possibilities are.

Deej - My brother and I chose W=A as the site of our annual summer grudge match. Do you have an annual sibling or buddies outing?

R.J. - I do have an annual match with my lifelong friend Gene Goodwillie at Nantucket Golf Club each year.

Deej - Every architect seems to have a signature element that works its way into each design, be it a short par 4, elevated tees, etc. What element would you say is classic Rees Jones?

R.J. - I believe in defining the shot from the tee and from the landing area. I prefer to give the golfer options and allow him or her to choose their own way based on their ability and how aggressive they want to be.
Waldorf Astoria Orlando Golf
But here is what happens when one is too aggressive...

Deej - Golf course design is obviously the “family business.” How has that influenced your work over the years?

R.J. - I was certainly born into the game of golf. I was able to learn from my father, Robert Trent Jones and had the time to develop my own ideas about golf course design.

Deej - You’ve long been an advocate for environmentally friendly golf courses. To many, that phrase would seem to be an oxymoron. How do you strike a balance between the two?

R.J. - Having been at the forefront of the sustainability movement, we have seen the golf course industry make great strides in research and management. They have proven that golf courses can be maintained and operated at a high standard while protecting the natural environment.  I think you will see in the future that golf courses will get their proper respect for the function they serve as stewards of the land.

Deej - You’ve worked on some of the greatest courses on the planet – Torrey Pines, Oakland Hills, and Congressional to name a few. Do you have a favorite?

R.J. - I like to say the next one.

Deej - Last question…any tips on how to tackle W=A, and more importantly, defeat my brother?

R.J. - I would say that you can follow the advice one is usually given for playing the classic era golf courses.  Length is not as important as accuracy and it’s better to be short than long on the approaches to the greens.

Special thanks to Rees Jones for taking the time to answer my questions, and provide a glimpse into his approach to golf course architecture. Find out if his advice helped me defeat my brother on Friday, as we take on the Waldorf Astoria Golf Club.

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