Richard Simmons caught up with golf course architect Robert Trent Jones II
Costa Navarino is one of your latest
European projects – I understand
there's an impressive family connection
My grandfather, Howard Lee Davis
competed in the 1896 Olympic Games
staged at the Panathenaic stadium in
Athens. He was a sprinter – 200 &
400. In those days you paid your own
way, and he shovelled coal on a
steamship to get there. So yes, there’s
a little family connection going on.
And I have enjoyed finding out about
the history – in October 1827 the allied
armada of Britain, France and
Russia defeated the Ottoman fleet in
the Bay, a decisive turning point in the
Greek Revolution that led to Greece’s
independence nearly 200 years ago.
My view is that great golf happens
when great land meets a great body of
water, which is certainly true of this
site. It’s a prime site in the Mediterranean.
Another of my designs, at
Chambers Bay, in Washington State,
bears that out, too. That's a links on
steroids, and this summer hosts the
Environmental issues seem at the forefront
of Costa Navarino – is this something
that features strongly in your
Most certainly. At Navarino the Bay
Course is very much integrated into
the landscape – we work with what
we have. For example, the bunker design
here is intended to give the impression
they are more like natural
dunes – when you look at them you'll
get the feeling the sand just blew into
them, rather than us organising them.
There’s a wide variation in elevation
and holes woven in among olive trees,
and then back down to the sea and
the bay itself. The course will feature
three distinct playing areas – Seaside,
Canyon and Grove – which will make
for a wonderful playing experience.
What are the stand-out features of this
property for you?
I am a great fan of Harry Colt and I
like to create golf courses for shot makers.
So it’s not long in today’s
sense. I call this a player’s course;
anyone with a handicap all the way
down from 18 to 3 will find this place
exciting and never get bored by it.
The over-riding architectural ethos
behind the development of the entire
property I just love – the clubhouse is
situated on a little hill overlooking the
course and the bay, and from what I
understand there's even talk of a
grass roof – anyone for high tee?
How has technology helped your professional
– presumably you can take a
video tour any time?
That’s a very good question, and the
answer is we are a small team of people
who work worldwide and are very
grateful for the advent of Skype calls,
video streaming and so on. We are
constantly sending images back and forth and critiquing them. I believe I
have my father’s gift of being able to
visualise things vividly on a property
and in a three-dimensional view that
enables me to conceptualise a golf
hole or vista on a golf course. So I can
be there without being there, if you
know what I mean. At Navarino I have
one of my top guys living on site,
Doug Ingram, who gets on the bulldozer
and shapes fairways and
greens. Interestingly enough, right
now we are working hard on the latest
3D technology which will be a
massive help to both clients and the
end-user – the golfers who visit. My
son, Trent Jones III, just finished
working on Avatar and is a genius at
3-D modelling and video technology,
and you can experience some of this
potential on our website.
You describe a golf course as “18 little
puzzles and you get to enjoy a little
dance with each one”
In the case of most golf courses you
don’t want holes that are repetitive of
each other. To create a shot-making
challenge, one hole may reward a draw
shape, the next may ask you to hit a
nice fade. I see fairways wide in some
places, pinched-in on others. Even
within the fairway itself, being in the
wrong side of the fairway can be like
being in a hazard. That way you never
get bored. You have to work with and adapt to the climate, too, the prevailing
wind the air and so on. If the wind on a
hole is predominantly from right to left,
you don’t want a bunker pattern that
goes left to right.
At Navarino you used a strain of grass
that requires 30% less water. Clearly
that’s an environmental advantage?
Water management is not only a cost
issue but a big discussion worldwide,
for obvious reasons. Fortunately there
is a huge reservoir in the hills around
Navarino which captures all of the
water we need. Water recycles itself: it
falls, then goes back up into the air,
forms a cloud and falls again. And
turf grass is a beautiful filter, consuming
only what it needs. Research
has proved that a golf course is great
for the environment. It’s more of a
Co2 retainer, absorbs more than a
hectare of trees. So golf courses are
good for the environment!
Of all the courses you have designed,
give me the five that stand out in your
mind as exceptional?
Well, that’s tough: I will say that I’ma
sportsman first, I ama golfer first and
an architect second. Do I play golf?
Does a chef eat? If you’re a player, you
remember moments. As a designer I
remember the experience, or the challenge
of building certain golf courses.
Sometimes they are aesthetic, sometimes
they are political – like the Soviet
Golf Club (the first in Russia). Sometimes
they are difficult, like children.
Having said all that, Moscow County
Club would be right up there, Seddiner
Country Club, Berlin; Brohof Slog –
which will host the Scandinavian Masters
this July; the Mines in Malaysia;
Princeville – I am very proud of the 45
holes there in Hawaii; Spanish Bay at
Pebble Beach (with Tom Watson collaborating),
and of course The Wisley
in the UK. We are currently updating
that one and it’s taking shape beautifully.
I’m also very proud of my association
with Celtic Manor. My father was
a great friend of Sir Terry Matthews
and I was involved in the original
plans for what is now the 2010 Ryder Cup course. I’m heading there for the
Wales Open and looking forward to
seeing how it is shaping up.
Explain the concept of the 'Ribbon' tees
at Chambers Bay, the site of this
year’s US Amateur?
In 2002 I wrote a piece of editorial on
‘containing the tee’ – the wooden tee.
And the point of the thesis was to simply
question the teeing area – instead
of having perfect tees, why not think
about the design a little.When golf
started they walked three or four paces
from the hole, and that was the next
tee. So I thought, why not make an uneven
tee, one that’s more like an approach
shot? At Chambers Bay, the
14th is a dogleg where you have to
contend with huge wasteland – to do
that you might wan to hit a right-to-left
slingshot. And you now can set the ball
slightly above your feet to do that, if
you choose. So it’s simply a way to
make the game more interesting. I call
it a ‘ribbon’ tee because it’s crumpled,
like a ribbon is when you untie a parcel
and drop it on the ground. The USGA
were fascinated by it and think it’s one
of the most creative elements they
have seen for a long time. Nick Faldo
will probably find fault with it – he
can’t help himself.
Where in the world would you like to
build a golf course that you haven't yet?
I’d like to do more work in Latin
America, and I’d like to take the
Olympic theme from Navarino, take
that to Latin America which would be
in keeping with the youth Olympics,
where young children can aspire to
play golf on a nice little course and
have a hit. The obvious place being
Rio. I am delighted that golf is in the
Olympics, as that has presented an
enormous opportunity for the game
to grow. The world needs more golf
courses that are cheaper to maintain
and offer access to youngsters. I’d
like to see more golf clubs provide
two or three short holes on site that
are open for youngsters to play any
time they can for free. Kids need to
be off their computers and outdoors.
If you were to advise a typical golf
club on three easy ways to improve
their golf course – without spending a
lot of money – what would they be?
Number one, try not to make the turf
grass perfect. Golf gets into what I
call the ‘Augusta Mindset’ a little too
much. You don’t need perfect grass.
Use indigenous trees and grasses,
less fertiliser, and place your emphasis
on shaping fairways. Be careful
that you don’t lose the edges of the
greens by over-mowing and gradually
reducing surface area. Above all you
need a long-term plan and you need
to adhere to basics. Anything done
by committee will probably not work.
What are the three most dangerous
words in golf? ‘Chairman of Greens’!
A golf course needs a long-range
masterplan, one that may not be
changed without the permission of
the architect or consultant.
How about your own golf – where do
you play when you’re at home and
what do you shoot?
My game is getting better, chiefly because
I have a new hip! I play to about a
10 right now. The lowest I ever achieved
was one. Not a long hitter but still a fox
around the greens. I try to get out once
a week at San Francisco Golf Club. I’m
an honorary member at Pine Valley,
where I grew up. I’m also a member at
Dornoch and of the R&A.
To anyone travelling to the west coast
for the US Open at Pebble Beach, give
us the local’s tip on where to play.
I would recommend Cordevalle, 45
minutes from Pebble Beach, which
we designed, and will host a PGA
event this autumn. There’s no housing
on it, pure golf, a beautiful clubhouse
and Spa. It’s quasi-private,
but open to the public. In and
around Pebble, Fort Ord has recently
been renovated, and Poppy
Hills is another one of ours well
worth a look.
Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine
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