Three founders and one architect at Lookaway Golf Club’s 1999 grand opening:
(from left) Harry Ferguson, Rees Jones, Bruce McKissock and Bill Waldman.
Do you design courses differently than in the past, with the advanced technology and athleticism now in the game?
RJ: Yes. For championships, we’re adding length. We have to expand courses to 7,500 yards for the Mike Davises of the world. But these courses are usually never intended to play that long: they need the extra length to give them the flexibility to have drivable par 4’s and shorter par 5’s. Most of the courses that get bumped up to 7,500 yards really only play 7,200-7,300 yards—it’s all about having setup options within the big number.
When redesigning a course, do you have a type of player in mind? Do you start at the pro-level?
RJ: One of the things I’m most proud of is all of the U.S. Open, PGA and Ryder Cup courses I worked on are playable for the golfers who pay for their rounds, yet can be transitioned to championship play with the height of the rough, speed of the greens and narrowing of the fairways.
You’ve earned every accolade and award in the business. What’s next for you?
RJ: Well, as golf is being questioned for its long-term viability, I think my next phase will be to design courses that are more playable—smaller bunkers and larger chipping areas. I want to bring young players to a game where they can enjoy it.
So will golf still be viable?
RJ: We just did a redesign of Galloping Hill Park and Golf Course, and this is the first time a public course will host the New Jersey State Open Championship in 2016. Over Memorial Day weekend I wanted to get a tee time, so I called and they said, “I am sorry Mr. Jones, we can’t accommodate your group; we have over 1,400 tee times over the three- to four-day weekend.” So what does that tell you?
Do you think having golf in the Olympics will give the game a boost?
RJ: We will have to wait and see if NBC gives it a lot of airtime. It is sort of like the marathon coverage where you just see the finish—seems like they prefer covering the faster sport. I think it all comes down to how much coverage NBC gives it.
If you could only play two golf courses for all eternity, which would you choose?
RJ: I’d only have to choose one: the Old Course at St. Andrews. I’d return to the roots of the game—I played there with my father as a youngster. I also shot a 74 there, after bogeying the last two holes, both three-putts.
Have you ever thought how different your life might have been if it weren’t for golf?
RJ: I was a pretty good baseball player. In my freshman year of high school, we were state champions and I hit 200 points higher than anyone on my team. But my dad made me quit to play on the golf team and, boy, was my baseball coach upset. But dad made the right call I guess—things worked out pretty well. Baseball is really the love of my life. My mother used to take my brother and me to all the Dodgers-Giants games. It’s a great game for me to bond with my grandkids, as well.
Lookaway Golf Club
Broad Run Golfer’s Club (West Chester, Pa.) has been a very successful public course. The elevation changes are what make that design, and I think we worked that in very well.
Wilmington Country Club South (Wilmington, Del.) is my father’s design, and we just did some tightening there. It has hosted some big events, a U.S. Amateur, and it was built during that period of big greens. It seems like for every one of my father’s designs, there is a Dick Wilson design side-by-side (Wilmington Country Club North), so you had the best of the arch-itects from that era in one place. My designs often seem to be side-by-side with Fazio in that respect.
Lookaway Golf Club (Buckingham, Pa.) is a beautiful site, with good movement of topography, and lots of wetlands. The 18th hole up the hill was influenced by the 18th hole at Pine Valley, and the seventh hole with the stream is sort of like the 11th hole at Merion. It has been extremely successful with a full membership from the outset. There is great camaraderie—people seem to bond at that place, and everyone is invested there like it’s part of their being.
LedgeRock Golf Club (Mohnton, Pa.) is a group of three men who put that together, and Chip Lutz was the major guy behind it. It’s a great piece of ground, and was sort of like a gift to that community from all involved.
Hunstville Golf Club (Dallas, Pa.) is one of the best design experiences I have had, and Dick Maslow, Huntsville’s founder, is one of the finest people I have ever worked for. When I told him I needed more space, he went out and got me the land for 11, 12, 13 and 14—just a great combo of holes. When we were laying out the 11th hole, we debated to play the hole from a right fairway or a left setup, and he said let’s do both. It’s what every architect loves to hear—more options! They have a lot of Philadelphia golfers as non-resident members there.