Warm reception

Every artist appreciates validation, and prominent course designer Robert Trent Jones Jr. is no different. He's certainly getting his share this week at CordeValle, where players and fans alike are raving about the PGA Cup's host venue.


Some of the marks of a good course design, said Robert Tent Jones Jr., is that it makes players think and is fun to play. (Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America)

By John Kim, Coordinating Producer

SAN MARTIN, Calif. -- Just a proud parent enjoys watching a child excel at a Little League game, Robert Trent Jones Jr. beams at the accolades and praises heaped on his course designs. This week is no exception at the 2011 PGA Cup as the top PGA Club Professionals from the United States and Great Britain & Ireland compete against each other but uniformly praise the layout at CordeValle, a Jones Jr. design.

“Every artist needs affirmation,” the famed architect noted as play wound down on Friday. “Musicians, fine artists, golf course architects -- all artists want and need that feedback. And basically, the thing we’re looking for as an architect is for players, good players (defined as single-digit handicap players) to come up to us and say ‘1.) I had to think. 2.) There are no weak holes.  3.) “The course is fun to play when I’m playing well and when I’m not, it doesn’t yield.’ 

“If I hear those things, that’s the reward, that’s the affirmation I want,” he added. “That and if they are smiling and say they want to come back and play.  If I hear, ‘Oh, that’s a nice course,’ I know I’ve failed.  ‘Nice’ is another word for ordinary.”

But no one feels that Jones’s work here at CordeValle is ordinary by any means. The players, captains and fans have glowingly talked about the routing, scenery and conditions for the PGA Cup.

“I first came out here in the late 60s and when we first walked into this beautiful Golden State valley, we just knew this was golf land,” he said. “Sometimes you just recognize a place as a golf land. What we meant by that was that it had all the elements of a great golf course, particularly for that era. It had low-lying bottom land, particularly around the creek, beautiful mature oaks and sycamores and water. And those are the critical components of great golf land.

“Over time, people tried to do different things. The county, Santa Clara County, kept saying no. Finally, they relented upon some conditions,” he explained. “That it be limited in housing and open to the public at least some of the time. So this is a California-style response to the game of golf.”

But permission wasn’t the only thing the architect had to get in order to create the masterpiece.

“When we began building it, it was at the height of the Silicon Valley boom and there was a lot of money in town.  So we basically had the two things a golf architect needs to build a great facility – ‘long green’ for short greens and great land.” 

When asked if that meant the golf design business was not as inviting an opportunity as it was a generation ago, Jones merely said that it was a business to enter due to the love of the game, not the financial reward. “Golf has been around 500 years and it’s going to be fine, but no, it’s not a great time to be entering the business,” he said.

Jones, who is eager to watch the PGA Tour come to town in a few weeks for the Open that will be held at the same venue, said he hoped that the course as a design didn’t favor a particular style of play, but the course set-up might, thus explaining the U.S. dominance on the first day of the PGA Cup.

“As I get older, I become more and more a fan of the links game. We tried to make people off the tee think, rather than just bomb away,” he said. “But I don’t think there’s any inherent advantage for a particular style of play here, not in the design. Some of the holes have American parkland style defended by face bunkers. But most of the holes have ways to run the ball up on the side, which is very British ground game.”

Jones thought for a moment before continuing. “Maybe the soft conditions right now may not allow for that as much. So if there is an advantage, I’d think it’d be with the set up, not the design. That and the perfect weather -- maybe the European players need a sideways rain to feel more comfortable,” he laughed.

And not even the best architects can plan when that can occur. But as far as CordeValle goes, it’s definitely raining praise from all over for this prolific course designer.