I originally considered him for the top 25 on the merits of his career, but when I really thought about all the sites and projects he had, his best work does not holf up against the best of other architects. I could not include him because I came to the conclusion that he was an exceleent businessman but a very average golf architect.
Best Course: Spyglass Hill
Other notable work: Valderamma, Peachtree, Cragburn, Montauk Downs, Dorado Beach,
Notable Renovations: Augusta National and Oakland Hills
Overview: The 1951 US Open made Trent Jones’s famous because he had done the renovation to Oakland Hills. Ben Hogan’s famous remark “that I brought the monster to its knees,” and the attention he had through a series of articles about his work, made Trent the most famous and recognizable architect in golf. At Oakland Hills, Trent created what he called target golf by pinching most landing areas on both sides with bunkers and heavily bunkering the greens to create difficulty. He ushered in the tactics that the USGA still embrace as the way to conduct a US Open.
Trent Jones claims to have originated a new school of design called the heroic school of architecture, which was a blend of the penal school and the strategic school. While he points to Tillinghast and Thompson as inspiration I feel there is a lot of William Flynn in his work too. Trent often used a combination of carry bunkers and target bunkers to emphasis the strategy of many landing areas. He also used flanking bunkering on occasion and even fronting bunkers at greens to mix things up. His architecture was very visual and he tended to fully define all the target areas from tee to green and make the course easy to understand and challenging to play.
Praise for the work: There is no question that Robert Trent Jones was the champion for the average player. The variety in yardages and the mantra of a hard par and an easy bogie was something the public liked and the media embraced as good design. Trent Jones employed a common sense approach and a visual flair to create a “new” standard for golf design that was easy to understand and clear right from the very first play.
His courses featured huge tees and greens that were easy for maintenance. His designs had huge flexibility in set up that offered seemingly endless variety. He kept the challenge by building well defined pin positions into very large greens, but the real secret was the flexibility in the set up from long to short and from hard to easy depending on tee markers and pin positions that made the game much more enjoyable for the average player.
Criticisms: Trent Jones introduced the idea of creating ponds right up against greens to add beauty and challenge. He was particularly fond of this idea for par threes where the hole was all carry from tee to green. He believed this particular heroic shot made the holes memorable with the water heightening the excitement. The only problem with this was he overused the technique to deal with holes without natural features. As he used it more and more so that it became almost a standard on the green sites of most of the par fives, when you add in the similar use by other architects of that era and you get an awful lot of work that looks and plays very similar. This technique is still overused by many architects today.
The other criticism is he took on too much work and ended up turning too much to a formula where all his work looks and plays the same. Any art done to a formula is no longer art. While his work is very solid with few mistakes anywhere, it is too predictable and safe to really compete with the great work by the architects to come.
Great Quotes: “a hard par and an easy bogie."
My favourite: Spyglass Hill, despite the fact that you begin on the best stretch of land and finish with the remainder of the holes in the trees, the golf course is rock solid from start to finish. Some of the interior holes, like the 16th are some of the best on the course. I personally think that the 4th hole at Spyglass is the very best hole I have seen of his work.
What I take from him: To be very frank it’s his marketing skills. He turned the coverage from the Oakland Hills renovation into a sales pitch. Once Herbert Warren Wind wrote a very flattering piece in The New Yorker about Trent and the Open he recognized the value of all the attention and coveted it for the rest of his career. He brought us the idea of the signature architect and made his own name a brand name.