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Bill Kwon

Sports Watch

By Bill Kwon

Saturday, June 17, 2000

He built golf
courses, and
they came

THE death of Robert Trent Jones -- the greatest or worst golf course architect depending who you ask -- should not go without notice.

Especially since the morning paper erroneously listed nine golf courses in Hawaii that Jones designed without mentioning the only two that he did design -- Royal Kaanapali North and Mauna Kea Beach.

The nine listed were designed by Robert Trent Jones all right. Junior, not Senior, who died at the age of 93.

I had a chance to keep up with the Joneses, Senior and Junior, and came away with an appreciation of how difficult it is to design a golf course and still maintain an integrity with the landscape and environmental factors.

The elder Jones was someone with a sharp wit and an appreciation for all the hackers in the world, yours truly included.

Jones -- the Senior for the rest of this column -- was golf's master builder with more than 450 courses throughout the world.

If only God can make a tree, only Jones knew where to plant it so that a golfer can admire its beauty and cuss it for depriving him of a chance to cut the corner on a dogleg.

Of his many courses, Jones considered Mauna Kea among the best five he had ever designed. And that two of its short holes -- the signature third, the most photographed green in Hawaii, and No. 11 -- "the best par-3s I've ever designed."

Both, Jones told me when he was at the Big Island resort in 1989 for its 25th anniversary, have breathtaking ocean views.

So God can have top billing, Jones said with a smile.

Jones remembered how he stood on the barren lava fields in back of the proposed green, looking back over the crashing waves at where the teeing ground would be.

Jones was taken to the spot by Laurance Rockefeller, who told Jones that he wanted to build a golf course to go along with his resort hotel.

"Mr. Rockefeller," Jones recalling that moment in 1962, "if you allow me to build a golf course here, it'll be the most beautiful hole in the world."

ROCKEFELLER brought Jones to Mauna Kea because the architect had built a course at another of the millionaire's resorts -- Dorado Beach in Puerto Rico.

The lava rocks proved a different challenge. But when Jones banged two pieces together and they crumbled, he knew the terrain could be crushed down.

With crushed coral from nearby Kawaihae Harbor and dirt trucked in from the more fertile areas around Honokaa, Mauna Kea was born. And the greening of a once stark and dark lava terrain.

It's the flagship of a mushrooming complex of golf resorts along the Big Island's Kohala Coast.

Jones' efforts at Kaanapali, which opened in 1962, started a golf-destination boom for Amfac and the rest of the resorts on the island of Maui.

Jones gave me an autographed copy of his book, "Golf's Magnificent Challenge," which still occupies a prominent place on my coffee table.

As a once scratch player, Jones recognized that not all golfers are created equal.

"I put my trouble where the big hitters hit, and give the average golfers more of a break," he said.

"A perfect shot must be rewarded. A bad shot should carry with it a penalty."

He believed that a par should be difficult to make, but a bogey easily attainable.

Golf, he said, is the greatest game of all, a lifetime game for almost everybody.

His was a life fully lived and one well-designed.

Bill Kwon has been writing about
sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1959.

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