One of last year’s finest non-fiction golf-related books, A Difficult Par: Robert Trent Jones Sr. and the Making of Modern Golf, is now available in paperback. The definitive biography of one of the 20th century’s best-known golf course architects, A Difficult Par was honored by the United States Golf Association with the 2014 Herbert Warren Wind Award Book Award, the prize they give for the outstanding golf book of the year.
Penned by James Hansen, a respected historian, accomplished amateur golfer, and internationally known expert on golf course architecture, A Difficult Par does a wonderful job of recounting the life story of Robert Trent Jones, the son of poor English immigrants, a self-made man who talked his way into a self-designed curriculum at Cornell University, studying subjects such as landscape architecture, hydraulics, surveying, economics, chemistry, and business law, all in preparation for a career designing golf courses well before such a thing existed as a defined course of study.
Jones went on to make a career of his chosen field despite starting out in his profession just as the Great Depression of the 1930s started to catch the United States, and the world, in its grip. Surviving the Depression and the subsequent years when the Second World War stifled many endeavors that were not related to the war effort, Jones came out the other side of a difficult couple of decades with an excellent reputation as a course designer, well-positioned for the post-war years which saw golf course construction booming around the world.
The book makes no bones about the often turbulent home and financial life of Jones, who teetered on the brink of bankruptcy more than once due to his nonchalant approach to the dollars-and-cents side of his business. The dichotomy of the relationships between Trent Jones, his wife, and their two sons, Robert Trent Jones Junior and Rees, both of whom went on to become notable course designers in their own rights, is well detailed in the book.
A Difficult Par is a tremendous addition to the study of the history of golf course architecture. It is a detailed and fascinating look into the life of a man who, it can be argued, did more to shape the face of modern golf, both directly and by his influence, than any other person in the game.
The paperback edition makes a great companion for that next golf trip, especially if the agenda includes rounds on one or more great RTJ courses. A Diffcult Par is available online at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, and at book stores and pro shops around the country.