by James R. Hansen
Teacher’s Comments: At times overly long and dry but ultimately very interesting.
A Difficult Par is a comprehensive biography of golf course architect Robert Trent Jones, Sr, Jones came to the United States from England as a child, overcoming his poor roots to become perhaps the greatest (certainly the most prolific) golf architect of his era. More than that,however, A Difficult Par is the story of modern golf architecture.
The title comes from Jones’ mantra that a good golf hole should be a difficult par, but an easy bogey.
In his career, Jones designed or reworked more than four hundred golf courses, Three dozen of his works have played host to championship tournaments. A Difficult Par covers much of this work—often in great detail.
With nearly five hundred pages in the biography, Hansen has produced an exhaustively comprehensive and detailed look at Jones’ life and work. As I was reading, I often wondered if such detail was necessary. I then concluded that since there was likely to be only one shot at a Robert Trent Jones biography, Hansen had decided to make it as comprehensive as possible.
The good news is that Hansen is a good writer and manages to make much of the detail compelling. I sometimes found myself quickly turning pages to find out what happened next. On the other hand, I also at times found it necessary to force myself to slog through yet another course building description.
For me, the most interesting parts were in the descriptions of how Jones developed his design philosophy, and how he applied them on the ground. Bunker faces, for example, were used as “flashing” to define and create character for fairways and greens. The elongated, rectangular single box with multiple tee locations was created to cut maintenance costs.I came away from the biography with a better understanding of the courses that I play, because so many of them were influenced by Trent Jones.
Not as interesting were the endless financial details.
Of note about this biography is that it presents both the good and the bad about Trent Jones. In fact, I found that in the end, I did not like him very much, which is unusual for a biography not about an obvious villain.
One of the things that struck me about Jones was his endless hucksterism. He seems to have described every piece of land as “the greatest ever chosen for a golf course” and every one of his designs as the “greatest I have ever produced.” Indeed, I wondered—especially when reading about the supporting work of his associates—whether his genius was in golf design or salesmanship.
Golf addicts such as myself with an interest in the game’s history will find this a worthwhile, if at times difficult read.