June 20 – Happy Birthday Robert Trent Jones

9174353-smallIt sits on a 196 acre plot of land that forms part of the border between the city and town that share a common name. Most of the area used to be owned by the family of former Amsterdam Mayor John Carmichael and was known as Carmichael Heights. During the depths of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration was put in place to fund public works projects that would benefit and expand the infrastructures of our country and its state’s counties and cities and more importantly, give the unemployed jobs. In 1934, then Amsterdam mayor Art Carter is credited with getting it put on the list of approved WPA projects but it was today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant who took the money, men and materials provided and turned Carmichael Heights into a masterpiece.

Robert Trent Jones was born in England on June 20, 1908. He came to this country at the age of five and his family settled in East Rochester. He fell in love with the game of golf at a very young age and became very skilled at the sport. Health problems would prevent him from competing at the professional level but would not stop him from becoming a legend of the game anyway. When he was ready for college, he went to Cornell University and convinced officials there to let him devise his own curriculum for golf course architecture. Because golf courses were WPA fundable, he couldn’t have picked a better time to become a course designer.

Jones formed a partnership with a golf architect from Canada named Stanley Thompson and after designing several Canadian courses they opened an office in New York City. It was Mayor Carter who called them up and asked them to design Amsterdam Municipal and during the years 1935-38, Robert Trent Jones became a frequent visitor to the Rug City and a regular guest at the Barnes Hotel.

After just three weeks on the job, Jones told Recorder Sports Editor Jack Minnoch that the site chosen for the Amsterdam course was “spectacular” and that the crew of workers placed at his disposal “the best” he’d yet worked with, which was very impressive praise considering by that point the firm of Thompson and Jones had already designed 100 golf courses. Jones’ goal with Muni was to create a paradise for both nature and golf and though that sounds a bit superfluous, this author can attest to the fact that he came awfully darn close!

Jones made sure the course was designed and constructed in such a way that it challenged the very good golfers while at the same time providing forgiveness to the beginning hacker. For example, he built the fifteenth hole in such a way that a long straight drive from the elevated tee had a great chance of landing in the creek that crossed the center of the narrowing fairway at the 220 yard mark but he left everything before that creek wide open to give a duffer a clear and shorter second shot over the same obstacle.

Jones absolutely loved the natural ravine that ran through the property and used it to serve as the setting to two of Muni’s most picturesque par 3 holes, the fourth and sixteenth. I challenge anyone to find a more picturesque view in the Mohawk Valley than the one you can gaze at from the patio of the Muni clubhouse looking south over the course. It’s as if Jones took the hand of God and gave it a perfect manicure.

It took work crews that varied from 50-200 men (depending on the season) three years to finish the course itself. The grand opening was held in July of 1938, when Jones arranged for the great Gene Sarazen and PGA champion Tom Creavy to play an exhibition match. Creavy’s partner was Antler’s pro John Lorde while Sarazen played with Amsterdam Muni’s first-ever first pro, Frank Hartig. Hartig’s initial staff included Dick Stennard as his assistant and Alphonse “Measles” Raco as the caddy master.

Jones went on to design a total of 500 courses. He died in June of 2000 at the age of 93.

(June 20 is also the birthday of one of Arthur Carter’s successors as Mayor of Amsterdam.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s