THE REES JONES ERA
PART 1 ~ THE LOWER
by Rick Jenkins
We all know the story. Robert Trent Jones aced the Famous Fourth in 1952, and practically called the shot. After re-modeling the fourth hole of the Lower Course ahead of the 1954 U.S. Open, Baltusrol’s membership moaned that he had made the hole too difficult.
He had lengthened it, of course, from its original Tillinghast yardage of 125 yards to 165 yards, and added a back tee at 186 yards.
But he had also enlarged the green, making it more receptive to long-iron shots and thus compensating for the extra length. He had made the two-tiered structure of the putting surface more pronounced. And, he had re-shaped the bunkers around the green and flashed up the sand on their rear faces. Harder? Most definitely. Too difficult? Of course not. He proved that point with one swing of a 4-iron.
Piqued by the criticism, RTJ proposed a trip down to the tee one afternoon following lunch in the Clubhouse. Joining him were Club President Hobart Ramsey, 1954 U.S. Open Chairman C.P. Burgess, and Head Professional Johnny Farrell. After these three gentlemen all played successful shots to the green from about 165 yards, RTJ played last. Addressing his critics after the most dramatic hole-in-one ever at Baltusrol, RTJ pronounced the fourth hole “eminently fair.”
Part 2 ~ The Upper’s Heritage
by Rick Jenkins
The Upper Course's heritage is much simpler than the Lower's. Built at the same time as the Lower as part of A.W. Tillinghast's Dual Courses project, and opened for business in June of 1922, the Upper for years did not receive the architectural attention that the Lower did as the August U.S. Open course. Last month's story of the Lower started with Robert Trent Jones' work in the early 1950s; RTJ never worked on the Upper. His son, Rees, did – but not until the 1990s and later.
The only architect to work on the Upper prior to the 1990s was Tillinghast himself. He continued to tinker with the course after it opened and made several return trips to Baltusrol to correct deficiencies that had become apparent. One of the first adjustments he made was to the ninth hole. In the original design, the ninth hugged Baltusrol’s property line, with the tee on the right side of the eighth green, the fairway running along the edge of the property and the pond on the left side of the hole. In light of the residential neighborhood that was starting to encroach on Baltusrol, and the lack of any buffer, Tillinghast moved the ninth hole to the left, shifting the tee to the other side of the eighth green and taking the routing directly over the pond. We believe this work was done in 1929 or 1930. In President William McKnight’s Board of Governors report of September 14, 1928, he references “possible changes in the arrangement of certain holes which would permit adequate protection from adjacent property under development without impairment, and probably improvement in the character of the holes.” By 1931, the new ninth was in use, as borne out by aerial photographs in which the outline of the old hole is still visible. It is difficult to discern if the green site was moved or altered, but it likely was in order to adapt the hole to its new routing.
The Dual Courses had opened with much fanfare at a time when the fledgling game of golf in the United States was skyrocketing in popularity. Four years after the opening, the 1926 U.S. Amateur Championship was a coming out party for Baltusrol. It represented the debut of Tillinghast’s new Lower Course after the demise of the Old Course, which had played host to no fewer than five USGA national championships. The ‘26 Amateur drew huge crowds to Baltusrol that watched a fierce battle unfold between the heavy favorite and double defending champion, Bobby Jones, and a persistent rival by the name of George Von Elm. After Von Elm’s upset victory and the success of the ‘26 event, Baltusrol and the USGA turned their attention to the next national championship – and the Upper Course.