How to get to the heart of change of golf?

By: Robert Trent Jones, Jr. August 1, 2016

Several weeks ago, the best women golfers in the world gathered at CordeValle Golf Club (see picture below) in Northern California for the U.S. Women’s Open Championship. I was proud that this was the first U.S. Women’s Open played in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is my home, and hosted by a club that I not only designed, but also where I am a member.

It was a magnificent week of competition that not only determined the most coveted golf title in the world for women, but this year had even greater international implications as it determined the final rankings for players hoping to represent their countries in the Rio Olympic Games.

CordeValle golf course

Worldwide, women are stepping up as the true sportsmen of golf today. Twenty-four different countries were represented at the Women’s Open, and in Rio, the female golfers will play for 34 countries. When you watch the top women golfers play it is obvious that they are doing so for the love of the game, the attitude that is the essence of the Olympic Games.

Their desire to play and represent not only their countries but their sport is evident in the women’s commitment to these Olympic Games, which will feature golf for the first time in 112 years. While many of the top male players found reasons to not participate in the games—including the current top four in the world—the women were nearly unified in giving an enthusiastic “yes” to playing in Rio. I fully expect they will put on a great show.

One player who qualified for Rio by making the cut at CordeValle Golf Club is an amateur, Albane Valenzuela of Switzerland, who is a member at the Golf Club de Geneve, one of my father’s courses from the 1970s that we are currently remodeling. Albane is a wonderful example of the international character of women’s golf today: She born in the United States, lived in Mexico City, her mother is from France, she moved to Switzerland at age 14, and she speaks four languages.

Both professional tours show golf’s wide international spread. Right now, the top 25 women in the world hail from 10 different countries. On the men’s side, the top 25 are from eight countries. The Olympics both celebrate this global diversity and will help expand it, while point out to all of us how the golf business is changing everywhere from simply a sport to a trend certain to continue.

Those changes are also very evident in course construction. Some modern courses —like CordeValle Golf Club and last year’s U.S. Open venue, Chambers Bay (see picture below) —have been built to host national championships. Others, like the Golf Club de Geneve, are being enhanced to bring them up to the championship level. But maybe more significant are the many difficult golf courses being game.

Hole #16, Par 4

For example, we have remodeled The Wisley in England to better suit the membership, making the course more playable in some areas and creating alternative shot-making. We’re also building an entirely new course in Ireland on the site of a former course, recrafting the entire site, from the infrastructure to playing characteristics, to suit new kinds of recreational golfers. It’s flexible enough so that the newer golfer will have fun and challenging enough to more of that, at home and around the world.

Furthermore, it isn’t always about 18 holes. There is nothing wrong with alternatives; I think it’s good to have nine-hole courses and to create loops where you can play six, nine, 12, or until you have had enough. It is more and more common for us to design three- and six-hole components into our courses, options that have proven very popular for new golfers, group events, lessons, or a low-stress sunset get-together.

If golf is going to grow and become even more international, then these are the types of projects we will be called on to build and recreate. And as with everything we do, we are committed to being respectful of the land, as well as committed stewards of open space.