April 2007

Restoring a Classic: Rees Jones at Haig Point

Author: Paul deVere

Rees Jones. For golfers the name has special meaning. Anyone who has played Bear Creek, Oyster Reef, the Country Club of Hilton Head or Haig Point knows the name. It’s right there on the scorecard: Rees Jones, Architect.

The name also has special meaning to every PGA Tour player and talented amateur. Jones, known as “The Open Doctor,” (a nickname his father, the legendary designer Robert Trent Jones had held) has remodeled seven U.S. Open sites. He has also remodeled five PGA courses, one Walker Cup and three Ryder Cup sites. His redesign of East Lake in Atlanta is now the permanent home of the PGA Tour Championship. Golf Digest places him at #2 in its list of the top five architects in the world. Other media have claimed he is one of the most powerful men in the golf industry. But Jones isn’t one to let accolades go to his head.

Example: One morning, on one of Jones’ recent visits to oversee the $5 million restoration of Haig Point’s Signature Course, he needed a little breakfast. Leaving his staff behind, he ducked into the clubhouse and ordered some whole wheat toast. When his toast arrived, the young server politely asked for his member number so she could charge him.

“I don’t know my member number,” Jones said.

The server tapped her pad, the toast still on the counter.

“But I’m the guy who designed the golf course,” Jones said.

“I still need your number, sir,” the server replied.

In the end, Jones did get his toast.

Jones readily admits his design of Haig Point kicked his reputation up several notches. When the course opened in 1986, it was ranked as the 28th best course in the U.S. and 68th in the world by major golf media. “It’s the way we routed it,” Jones said of the design. The routing, how a course evolves from hole to hole, was strikingly different from typical coastal courses. Most allow dramatic water views at one or two holes. At Haig Point, Jones’ design leads the golfer through the stately oaks, pines and magnolias and out to Calibogue Sound five times.

“That’s why it was so highly acclaimed initially, because it is a spectacular piece of property. I had to wait five years to design it. It’s probably one of the best coastal routings you’ll play,” Jones said.
Then there is the “two courses in one” aspect of Haig Point. By adding two additional holes and alternative tees, he created The Haig, which requires less carry, and The Calibogue, more challenging for the power hitters.

Jones is known to get deeply involved in his projects, not a trait usually found with “famous” architects. “Golf course design is a craft. That’s why I’m so hands-on. I’m sort of old-fashioned in that regard. I don’t believe you can design a golf course on a computer. I think you really have to get the feel on the ground,” Jones said.

Example: Jones is walking the course on one of his many visits to Haig Point. To walk the course with him is taking an art history lesson about his masterpiece from the artist himself. He’s with one of the “shapers” (the person running the bulldozer who is ultimately charged with creating the playing surface Jones wants). Jones notices the shaper is wearing a cap with a competitor’s logo on it. With a friendly smile, Jones says he would really appreciate it if the shaper would wear a cap with Jones’ logo on it. The shaper says he doesn’t have one, so Jones takes his own cap off and gives it to the shaper. “He just smiled ear to ear. I’ve embraced the shaper and now he’ll embrace the project even more,” said Jones.

A final, and again somewhat unusual, attribute is the close relationship Jones establishes with the course owners, in this case, the members at Haig Point. “I feel it is incumbent upon me to leave a long-term legacy on that golf course. You have to know what to preserve and what to change. As long as the members know I love their golf course as much as they do, then they’ll feel secure that I’m going to preserve the elements that are important to them,” Jones said. adding, “I really do love the place.”

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