AUBURN UNIVERSITY – The life of the man whose name is synonymous with premier golf course architecture, and is particularly well-known in the state of Alabama for the 26-course public golf trail that bears his name, is the subject of a new biography written by Auburn University professor and historian James R. Hansen.
“A Difficult Par: Robert Trent Jones Sr. and the Making of Modern Golf,” to be released May 8 by Gotham Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, tells the life story of the man behind many of the defining forms, shapes and challenges of the modern golf course.
“No golf architect is more historically significant than Robert Trent Jones Sr.,” Hansen said. “In a career spanning 70 years, from his first golf course in 1930 to his death in 2000, he spread the gospel of golf by designing over 400 courses in the U.S. as well as 27 countries on five continents. Because his journey to the status of ‘the world’s greatest golf architect’ was unprecedented, nothing in the history of golf compares with Jones’s epic life story.”
Hansen will sign copies of the book on Saturday, May 10, from 2-4 p.m. at Books-A-Million in the TigerTown shopping center in Opelika. Hansen also will give a public talk and book-signing on Thursday, May 22, at 3 p.m. in the Special Collections room of the Ralph Brown Draughon Library on the Auburn University campus.
Hansen, a professor of history in the College of Liberal Arts at Auburn since 1986, recently has taught a popular honors seminar on the history of golf course architecture. He said his interest in golf goes back to his youth and led to his being co-captain of his college golf team. In addition to writing, playing, researching and teaching the history of golf, Hansen has served for nearly two decades as a course rating panelist for the publication Golfweek.
Hansen said he dug deep for information in the business and personal papers of Robert Trent Jones Sr., which with his help came to be stored in the Cornell University archives, and prodded hard in interviews and correspondence with Jones’s family and associates.
“Jones admired the skills of the touring pros but also understood that the courses they played should test the limits of their skills,” Hansen said. “He made sure that golf at its highest levels was a kind of athletic chess, a game that had to stimulate the mind as well as engage the muscles. At the same time, he understood that in order to prosper in the long term as a popular sport, and not just as an arena for elite practitioners, the courses had to be fun for everyone. No one had ever understood the balance required to achieve that blend of complexity on the one hand and simplicity on the other until Jones made the connection between them explicit.”
Hansen said he named the book “A Difficult Par” because Jones believed that every golf hole should be “a difficult par but an easy bogey.”
“Throughout his long career, this principle guided the design of all of his courses throughout America and the world,” Hansen said. “The title ‘A Difficult Par’ conveys a sense of the difficult times and circumstances he had to overcome to become one of golf’s most distinguished architects.”
Hansen has published books and articles on a variety of topics ranging from the environmental history of golf, the early days of aviation, the first nuclear fusion reactors and the moon landings. One of Hansen’s previous books, “First Man,” the first and only authorized biography of Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, spent three weeks on the New York Times best-seller list and has garnered several major book awards.