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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A sentimental moment in golf course architecture


Robert Trent Jones Jr.

A sentimental moment in golf course architecture

Story by Brian Hurlburt


One of the most sentimental moments in the history of golf course architecture occurred during the design phase of Southern Highlands Golf Club, one of Las Vegas’ top golf courses. Canadian businessman Garry Goett, the visionary behind the private club, was dead set on having both Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Jr. twirl their design magic and create a piece of golf art in the Las Vegas desert.

Goett was successful in convincing the father and son design duo to work together on the project, which was spearheaded by Jones Jr. because father Jones was in his 90s at the time and no longer very active in the business. According to Jones Jr., Goett flew to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in May of 1999 to meet with them at his father’s home club, Coral Ridge. Jones Sr. designed the Coral Ridge course in 1954.

The group of designers and business folk met in the clubhouse and discussed the overall project. Jones Sr. spent a majority of the meeting hand-sketching what would become the 177-yard, par 3, 12th hole at Southern Highlands.

It would be the final hole sketch ever created by the hands of one of golf’s most esteemed architects as Jones Sr. suffered a stroke about a month later. According to Jones Jr., the 12th hole at Southern Highlands is a mirror image of the 16th at the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, home of The Masters. Jones Sr., under the direction of Bobby Jones, had re-designed both the 11th and 16th holes at Augusta and both maintained a very special place in his heart.

“I still remember it like it was yesterday,” Jones Jr. says. “He asked me for a pencil with an eraser and said, ‘You never get the first one right.’ That was advice he had given me throughout my life and he said it with a laugh on that day. Then he went to work.”

Overall, Southern Highlands was a labor of love for Jones Jr. and his protégé Bruce Charlton. Jones Jr. very much appreciated Goett’s love of golf and his willingness to create something special.

“Garry Goett had great respect for my father’s work and he also appreciated some of the work we had completed in Canada, notably the Glencoe Golf & Country Club in Calgary and also Chateau Whistler in British Columbia,” Jones Jr. says. “Garry is like a patron of the arts, but in his case, golf is the art form. He has very good taste. Upon the opening of Southern Highlands, which sits in the foothills above Las Vegas, I told him, as we looked out over the course from the clubhouse, it was a beautiful setting and we had created a course in the shadows of ‘purple mountains majesty and greens on tilted plains.’ The front nine at Southern Highlands is very intimate with water holes while the back nine is more open as it plays up into the mountains and offers long, sweeping views of the high desert.”

Jones Jr. also designed the 27-hole Spanish Trail Country Club in Las Vegas and has fond memories of the project as well, but admits it was a lifetime ago. He worked with the Blasco family in the early 80s to create the first private 27-hole facility in Southern Nevada and the course was weaved into the master-planned real estate community it is today.

Both Spanish Trail and Southern Highlands hosted Las Vegas’ PGA Tour event over the years in addition to home tournaments for the UNLV men’s golf team. Southern Highlands serves as the home course for the Rebels.

Overall, Jones Jr. has had an infatuation with Las Vegas ever since 1953, when, as a boy, he traveled through the city on the way to a Boy Scout camp in Newport Beach, California. Bob Hope spoke at the camp but it was his brief time in Las Vegas that left an impression on the young boy.

“I remember we stopped in Las Vegas and I got some silver dollars,” says Jones Jr. “To me Las Vegas has always had a money buzz and a gambler buzz and it probably all started for me during that trip. It seems to always be about victory and defeat in Las Vegas, but no matter what there has always been a great energy in the city and in the people who have created the mega resorts and the great golf courses. Las Vegas is a gathering place for like-minded people, whether it is conventioneers, gamblers, golfers or whoever.”

It’s probably no coincidence that 1953 also marked the inaugural Tournament of Champions played at the old Desert Inn, which was won by Al Besselink. The champ walked away with a wheelbarrow full of silver dollars: 10 thousand to be exact.

That’s a few more than Jones Jr. and his Boy Scouts pals collected, but the memories for the pro and the future architect surely lasted a lifetime.

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