Robert Trent Jones, 56, is an urbane man with glistening oxfords, a button-down attitude and a drawing board on his mind. He is a golf course architect. Put it to him discreetly and he will concur that he is the best golf course architect in the world.
Louis Sibbett Wilson, 58, is a fierce man with mud on his boots, a straw in his teeth and earth-moving on his mind. He is a golf course architect. Put it to him directly and he will not deny that he is the best golf course architect in the world.
There are, it would seem, grounds for a major disagreement between these two personalities—but there is no disputing that they have become two vital and dominant figures in the biggest boom that golf course construction has ever known. Lovingly cultivated, glistening green strips of turf are being finished at the rate of about one a day, some of them on such unlikely terrain as plunging mountainsides, steamy jungles, sizzling deserts and soggy swamps—almost, it seems, wherever there is space. In the U.S. alone during 1962, more than 300 18-hole courses will be completed.
Building one of these recreational marvels is a complex and expensive bit of business. It can require a couple of dozen pieces of earth-moving equipment, up to 300,000 cubic yards of top-soil, 500,000 feet of tubing, six tons of grass seed and a cash outlay of $150,000 to more than $1 million, depending on the nature of the property. And the critical factor behind all this churning expenditure of time, energy and money is the golf course architect. For. a fee of $20,000 to $50,000 he judges whether a course can be built in the first place, decides how much it will cost and, finally, designs it—hopefully as a "true championship test" (as they say in the brochures) instead of just a parade ground with 18 holes cut into it.
For years Trent Jones (no relation to golf's Bobby Jones) combined his engineering ability with a quiet knack for public relations so effectively that he was the only golf course architect the public had ever heard of. But recently tumultuous Dick Wilson (he acquired the new first name in grammar school) has attained equal if not higher status, and the two are now engaged in a running active dispute that is only sometimes friendly. In theory, practice and personality Jones and Wilson have as much resemblance as a pitching wedge and a brassie. About the only point on which the two agree, in fact, is that theirs is a complex, difficult and sadly misunderstood profession.
" Wilson is a fine architect," says Jones charitably, "but he tends to mimic a bit too much. He uses some holes over and over again, and he builds too many doglegs. On some courses he'll dogleg 14 of the 18 holes."
" Jones is a nice fella and a good friend of mine," says Wilson, just as charitably. "But as far as his work is concerned, I think he gives an impression of too many straight lines. Straight lines are something you want to get away from."
" Wilson copies a lot of our ideas," says Jones, jabbing away relentlessly. "The long tees, the flanked trapping. We got a lot of fun out of this last year when we were putting in the Country Club of Miami and Wilson was near by building Doral. He'd come over to our course, take a look at some of the things we were doing, then run back and put the same things in at Doral. And another thing, I could design a course that everyone would think had been done by Wilson, but he couldn't ever build a Jones course."
"For heaven's sake!" (or words to that effect), says Wilson. "If I'd wanted to copy anything I'd have picked a better course than the Country Club of Miami. I never copied a golf hole in my life, even one of my own. Besides, Jones's work is too much on the artificial, manufactured side to suit me. It doesn't fit the ground as well as it should because he hasn't made enough effort to fit it. Even from the very first his work never showed this effort. Look at it like this. You can put a beautiful woman in an expensive dress, but if the dress doesn't fit, neither the woman nor the dress is going to look any good at all. It's the same with building a golf course. You got to cut the course to fit the property."
No matter what they say about each other, both architects are too good-natured to become overly wrought by their verbal scuffling. And they are too busy. Jones has built some of the hemisphere's most magnificent and best-known courses. Peachtree near Atlanta is his, the Dunes in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Dorado in Puerto Rico and Pauma Valley in California are his, too. So are the glamorous resort-area courses that are being built in Hawaii, the Philippines, Colombia, Jamaica and Spain. For years the directors of major tournaments have had a way of unfailingly summoning Jones when they wanted to toughen up their courses to torment the pros. Thus Oakland Hills and Baltusrol called him in before their U.S. Opens, as did Firestone prior to the 1960 PGA. His work became a prestige symbol in golfing.