As a fellow writer, I tend to be increasingly critical of the quality of literature currently now being offered in golf – much of it has evolved into mediocre, repackaged drivel. James R. Hansen bucks the trend to mediocrity with an exceptional biography of Robert Trent Jones Sr. entitled “A Difficult Par.” As the “Father of Modern Golf Course Architecture,” not only was Robert Trent Jones Sr. a monumental figure in the post-World War II development of the game, but his two sons, Bobby and Rees, as well as right-hand man Roger Rulewich have had incredible reach in their influence as well. Hansen thoughtfully and fully addresses a man and his family whose legacy may have been and continues to be one of the most influential to the game of golf. “A Difficult Par” is both a scholarly research piece that uniquely doubles as a very good read! To say that writing any biography of Robert Trent Jones Sr. and his sons would be a challenging, but also an important affair for a golfing audience is an understatement. There is never only one version of any Jones story, but possibly as many as five or six! Though I never met Mrs. Jones (Ione), I was fortunately enough to spend a fair amount of quality time with Mister Jones Sr. and count both his sons, Bobby and Rees as good friends. I know quite a few others who have been involved with the family as well. Having said that, the Jones family is one of the most interesting and influential, creative and charismatic, and yes, also at times dysfunctional families to figure into the golf industry. I count the Father and both sons as extremely intelligent, personable, charismatic, and fiercely competitive.
The Jones story is partly about golf course design and golf history, and partly about the family. Hansen leads you from Mr. Jones’ beginning to end in an explorative manner that will often not include just one version of history, but others as the accuracy concerning the facts of many Jones projects have become become fuzzy over the years. For this alone, Hansen’s work is only an important contribution to the game’s legacy, but so rich in content as well. Then there is the elephant in the room – the dynamics of the Jones family as well as the myriad of Jones’ many business affairs and interesting personal contacts around the globe. When I learned of Hansen’s project, I thought to myself, “Would he or how would he handle the different versions of the melodramatic stories of the sons feuding or the parents’ influence that had already alluded to in a couple of magazine articles over the years?” Well, it’s all here in “A Difficult Par.” What’s more, Hansen somehow manages to convey a well-researched family history that is nonjudgmental regarding both sons. As for the golf, golf historians will delight in the cornucopia of interesting golf history that illuminates the history and development of golf and particularly Robert Trent Jones Sr. as well as Jones’ mentor, the talented Stanley Thompson. It is refreshing for me to term this book “a unique masterpiece.” Not only a multi-dimensional scholarly work, but “A Difficult Par” is thoroughly entertaining and informative one as well. For anyone ever curious about what the name “Jones” means to golf course design or golf, this is a must-have addition to your library. “A Difficult Par” is truly an important contribution to golf history!