Rees Jones, the golf-course architect, has been seeing all manner of low scoring in recent weeks.
This week, East Lake has been the Red Sea, the scoring has been so low. The scoreboard was all red even before Zach Johnson shot 60. All those sixty-something scores hit home for Jones, who renovated the course years ago. (Some would say he re-designed it.)
“I’m ambivalent about it,” Jones said on Saturday. No architect likes to see his course defenseless. “That’s what players will shoot these days with the length they hit it and U-grooves in their irons. Give them their due. But the course is very soft from all that rain and they cut the rough short. I can watch it and take myself out of it to some degree because I’m not the one who set up the course and I’m not the one who made the weather.”
There are various gods for those jobs.
Last week, Jones was at Cog Hill, and of course the guys — Woods most especially — went crazy low there, too. Jones, the son of Robert Trent Jones, is pretty sure that won’t happen when the FedEx Cup returns there in 2009. That’s because he’s been hired to do a complete renovation at Cog Hill. He’s adding length, adding water, moving greens. By September 2009, 69 will be a good score again, because the course will be harder, and for another reason, too.
In 2009, the PGA Tour, in accordance with USGA rules, will no longer allow U-grooves. The grooves will return to the traditional V-shape. For more than 99 percent of the golfing population the change won’t mean a thing. “But for those guys it will,” Jones said. “They won’t spin it nearly as much out of the rough. Which means they’ll have to hit it in the fairway more. Which means they’ll hit it shorter in order to hit it straighter.”
Jones will make some trips to East Lake next year, to supervise the change of the greens from bent grass to Bermuda, the reverse of the change Augusta National made years ago. “The Bermuda that we’re going to use will be fast and firm in September,” Jones said. “This year, they had to put so much water on them — August was 10 degrees hotter than usual. You can see it in the way Tiger’s putting, how slow and wet the greens are. He’s taking the break out of it and hitting it hard in the back of the hole.”
Jones was also at the second FedEx Cup event, in Boston. “They were going low there, too,” he said. “Even I was going low. I played in the pro-am with Jerry Kelly and made three net eagles.”
They finished third. Six under on three holes doesn’t go as far as it used to.
Don’t feel too sorry for Rees Jones. For one thing, the man’s on his game. Next year, the U.S. Open is at Torrey Pines, on a course he renovated. The PGA is at Oakland Hills, ditto. The third stop of the FedEx Cup will be at Bellerive, another course he reworked. The Houston Open, at Redstone, is on a course he designed with David Toms. The Presidents Cup later this month, at Royal Montreal, is on another course he renovated. And he won an elite amateur event, the Maidstone Bowl, this summer. His partner was Vinny Giles, a former U.S. Amateur winner.
“It helps to have a partner who can play,” Jones said.
These days, it seems, everybody can play. But they still give out the prizes — whether it’s big checks or fancy bowls — to the players who shoot the lowest scores. Bobby Jones shot low scores in amateur club events at East Lake nearly a century ago, and Tiger Woods did it this weekend in an event with a massive purse. In the intervening years, in a manner of speaking, nothing’s changed. Lowest score wins. Rees Jones knows that as well as anybody. Twenty-something under par, but he doesn’t take it personally.
Unless they do it next year at the U.S. Open.