Rio Rico Golf Club was designed by renowned golf course designer Robert Trent Jones, Sr. Robert Trent Jones did not invent golf course architecture, it only seems that way. In a career that spanned nearly 70 years, Jones built or rebuilt some 400 courses in 45 states in the U.S. and 35 countries worldwide, with more than three dozen of them having played host to national or international championships. Still, the numbers tell only part of the story.
Jones made an art form of heroic architecture, institutionalizing the risk-reward shot in modern courses. With his often quoted philosophy to make every hole a hard par but an easy bogey, he also had a profound impact on tournament golf. Jones built or remodeled some of the most muscular courses the pros have ever faced, including Firestone, Hazeltine, Spyglass hill, Baltusrol and Oak Hill. In his early years Jones’ designs often created criticism as too severe, and the complaints from the pros reached a crescendo when he remodeled Oakland Hills for the 1951 U.S. Open. When a victorious Ben Hogan boasted of having brought that “monster to its knees” and Herbert Warren Wind followed with a complimentary and widely read-article in The New Yorker Magazine, Jones was introduced to a mass audience and the cult of the golf course architect was born.
Jones was born in Ince, England, in 1906, and he immigrated with his parents to Rochester, N.Y., three years later. He was a scratch golfer by his early teens but an ulcer sidelined him from tournament competition. A high school dropout, Jones was working as a draftsman for a railroad company when the famous world architect Donald Ross came to Rochester to build Oak Hill. Jones was fascinated with what he saw, and in short order, he parlayed some golf connections into a special entry to Cornell University. There he designed his own course of studies to prepare for a career in golf course architecture, and although his special status failed to earn him a degree, he learned his lessons well enough that in 1930 he formed a partnership with Canadian architect Stanley Thompson to build and remodel golf courses.
Jones’ first masterwork came in 1948 when he collaborated with Bobby Jones on Peachtree Golf Club in Atlanta (to avoid confusion, Jones adopted the name Trent, from the river in England, and it stuck). Peachtree had all the design features that would become Trent Jones hallmarks: enormous, subtly-contoured greens that offered a host of pin positions, expansive tees that permitted numerous setups, unobtrusive hazards and a fanatical devotion to preserving the land’s natural beauty.
Trent Jones brought an unmistakable showmanship to his craft. This was never more evident than in the wake of his remodeling of Baltusrol’s Lower Course in 1952, when a particularly outspoken member criticized the newly-designed fourth hole, a 194-yard par-3 over water. Eager to rebuff the sniping, Jones grabbed a spoon and heroically marched his critic and a few bystanders to the tee. He took a swing and the ball took one hop and dived into the hole for a hole in one! “Gentlemen,” said Jones, “I think the hole is eminently fair.” Jones, who spent his final years confined to a wheelchair, held sway in 2000 at 93. After having one stroke, he awakened in his hospital bed to see his two sons at his bedside. “What are you doing here?” he questioned. “You had a little setback,” he was told. “You had a stroke.” “Do I have to count it,” he asked.
Jones finished the construction of Rio Rico in 1971, at the height of his career. His philosophy of risk reward architecture is never more evident than at Rio Rico. Huge bunkers and greens, strategically placed hazards, and multiple dog legs all place a premium on shot making. Jones also was obsessed with making sure the lay-out complimented and even improved the natural beauty of the land- and he achieved it with Rio Rico GC. With a championship length of 7200 yards, Rio Rico has been the site of multiple PGA sponsored events. The list of major championship courses designed or remodeled by Trent Jones includes:
Oakland Hills CC US Open, PGA Championship, US Amateur, Ryder Cup
Locust Hill CC LPGA Championship
Augusta National GC Masters
Winged Foot GC US Open, PGA Championship, US Amateur
Baltusrol GC US Open, US Amateur
St. Louis CC US Open, US Amateur
Olympic CC US Open, US Amateur
Oak Hill CC US Open, PGA Championship, Ryder Cup
Congressional CC US Open, PGA Championship, US Amateur
Tanglewood CC PGA Championship
Colonial CC US Open, US Women’s Open, US Amateur
Broadmoor CC US Women’s Open, US Amateur
Hazeltine CC US Open, PGA Championship, US Amateur
Interlachen CC US Open
Oakmont CC US Open, PGA Championship, US Amateur
Celtic Manor GC Ryder Cup
Firestone CC PGA Championship
As you can see, Rio Rico Golf Club has a great heritage, and playing it will allow you to experience championship golf by one of the greatest architects in golf history. The next time you see a championship event on one of these venues, you will readily be able recognize some of the hallmark designs found at Rio Rico.