“Hard par, easy bogey” is the tagline slapped onto the stylized designs of Robert Trent Jones Sr. Akron, Ohio’s Firestone Country Club, site of this week’s PGA Tour event, the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, is no exception.
Firestone’s South Course enjoys exalted status on Tour, having hosted the game’s best since 1962, when Jack Nicklaus won the inaugural World Series of Golf. It also played host to a pair of PGA Championships, in 1966 (Al Geiberger) and 1975 (Nicklaus), plus a slew of made-for-TV specials and other tour events in the ’60s and ’70s. Its 625-yard “monster” par-5 16th (now 667 yards) and water tower across Warner Road were on TV so often that its holes were better known than Augusta National’s. Better known, maybe, but not better.
By the late 1980s, Firestone South had run into a wall of criticism. “It’s too long. It’s too hard. It’s too boring.” Indeed, most of Firestone’s holes run parallel to one another and the majority of greens are elevated and fronted by bunkers, lending a certain sameness to the proceedings. Yet, in 2006, the course isn’t outrageously long by modern standards and a new generation of pros has come to appreciate the layout’s straightforward virtues. Besides-the routing wasn’t Trent’s fault: In 1960, he took a bland, existing corporate course built in 1929, stretched it 600 yards, slashed par to 70 and plopped down bunkers and lakes everywhere he could. In 1988, 12 years before his death, Jones listed his Firestone South remodel as among his favorite five courses he ever designed.
Some question whether the South is even the best Trent Jones course at Firestone: Jose Maria Olazabal won the 1994 World Series of Golf over the club’s North course, a watery layout that boasts more variety than the South. However, whether you arrive at Firestone from the East or the West, you can’t play the North or the South as they’re both private. The good news is, if you’re looking to sample the classic Trent Jones style, dozens of well-preserved, public-access examples await. Here are five of the best.
Another of Trent’s “favorite five,” Spyglass suffers in comparisons to next-door neighbors Pebble Beach and Cypress Point, but Trent once said “I’ve had knowledgeable people tell me that Spyglass is the best course on the Monterey Peninsula.” Certainly it’s hard-despite Phil Mickelson and Luke Donald posting 62s there–and it’s beautiful, especially the opening five holes that cut through brilliant white sand dunes with the Pacific Ocean in the backdrop.
Trent Jones called Mauna Kea “one of the best in the world and the 9th and 18th are two of the best finishing holes anywhere. The change between elevation and descent, because of the terrain, make it a magnificent course.” As you can guess, this was a third member of Jones’ “favorite five,” though most remember this Big Island layout for its over-the-Pacific Ocean, par-3 third hole, that maxed out at 250 yards when it hosted the “Big Three” matches in 1964. Neither Palmer nor Player could find the green with drivers-but young, burly Jack Nicklaus reached the putting surface with a 1-iron.
Said Jones of this “favorite five” entry, “The greatest golfers in the world have found it a difficult test, yet it is beautiful and playable for the club member.” This impeccably manicured 1997 Ryder Cup host features narrow, cork tree-lined fairways, small greens and the short but diabolical par-5 17th, that was infamously toughened by Seve Ballesteros.
Ballybunion (New), Ireland
Ever the consummate salesman/promoter, Trent Jones proclaimed of Ballybunion New, “I think it’s the greatest links course in the world, not because I did it but because of the character of the terrain.” Most experts point to the Old course at Ballybunion as the better of the two, but the New is undeniably difficult and dramatic, its wind-swept holes routed through giant, heaving dunes.
Vintage early Trent Jones from the late 1940s, this coastal layout paved the way for Myrtle Beach’s ascension as a big-time golf destination. Classic RTJ features include runway tee boxes, elevated, well-guarded greens and heroic holes, such as the par-5 13th that doglegs hard around Singleton Lake. Alligators and double-bogeys await any sliced shots.
|Joe Passov is the Architecture and Course Ratings Editor of GOLF MAGAZINE. E-mail him your questions and thoughts at [email protected]|