Robert Trent Jones II has designed or redesigned more than 250 golf courses throughout the last four decades across six continents.
Golfmagic was invited to try out his latest effort in Portugal. And just like his much-vaunted father before him, he is quite simply a true master of his terrain. It was therefore a tremendous privilege to speak to the layout legend at the inauguration of his redesigned Onyria Palmares course.
Having played all three nines in the last two days, I could not be more impressed with how you have combined three completely different styles of design. What was your reasoning behind that decision?
It’s a high quality course and you will never be disappointed because you have all three types of golf you could wish for here. Each nine requires good thinking, each has a symphony with different moods and most importantly they all have their own character.
We looked at the shot values and decided that each nine combines with any other nine to provide the same score if you’re playing well.
This is St Andrews south if you like. The traditions of the game are exhibited in the course; parkland where bunkers are crafted and strategic, the heathland style which is entirely man-made and the links style combined with sand dunes, where the ball should be played lower to the ground.
All the greens are varied, but they did not play too quick today which was fortunate for us!
Incredibly the four holes by the sea on the Praia nine were planted in October. They already look fantastic. Just think how they will look in 12 months time. It’s like wine; it can only get better and better.
As we’ve done throughout the world, we fit the golf holes into the topography so they look as though they’ve been there for centuries. We like to think of Palmares as having multiple personalities – in a good way. We were given land with great variety, and we used it to create a golf course that expresses different moods and characters, just as the land does, and so therefore it feels natural, and whole.
The Algarve is obviously renowned for attracting golf tourists, but what attracted you to this site in the first place?
The site was originally designed by Dutch architect Frank Pennink in 1975, but we first examined it with the Pinto Coelho family, who developed Quinta da Marinha in the 1980s in association with my father, who then bought Palmares.
This piece of land was meant to be a golf course. When we started the project in 2009 we knew it was fate. So when I first came here I said, ‘well I have to play up here as there’s a lot of good courses in the area’, but when I saw the land I thought maybe once a decade I might get a piece of land to work with like this.
It’s a magical place. It has enabled me to express my art and architecture fully. We have a good patron in Onyria Group president Jose Carlos Pinto Coelho, who has allowed us to do just that.
The course is also not encompassed by housing, but the views from the hotel as of 2013 will be incredible. The Algarve is a renowned golf destination, much like Pebble Beach or St Andrews.
The links park, in particular, with natural dunes land, it’s very rare. It’s a kind of soft Scotland but warmer.
We studied the land at great length, in order that the golf course would have the minimum impact upon it. In fact Mother Nature is the best master and the best architect, so we follow her. Never fight with Mother Nature. We follow the land, and let the land evoke a response to us.
How would you say your design style has changed over the years in the light of modern day golf equipment?
That’s a great question. You have to assess the design in terms of football as you call it. You are the strikers coming at us and we are trying to defend. We will not yield to poor thinking and poor play, but we will reward good thinking and good play.
The easy defence would be length but I don’t believe that’s always necessary. We want the big headed drivers to think about the shot. In the case of Palmares, there are reachable par-4s, but at the same time you will find yourself in very troublesome places if you hit your tee shot off line around here.
Our design philosophy at Palmares requires the golfer to think his or her way around the course. On the whole, there are wide fairways where you must choose your line and execute. You will be punished if you don’t think correctly.
In terms of my design style, well I'm still very much influenced by my Dad. His spirit lives in me and his great golf works. I started with elevated greens, then went to low-profile greens, like Princeville, before moving on to challenges beyond the game like Moscow Country Club in Soviet times, taking golf where there was no golf.
Then, in the 1980s, we evolved back to the future big bold links style - Spanish Bay, The National near Melbourne, and now with new innovations, like you see with the redesigned Onyria Palmares. I try not to get stuck into one form of style. Beethoven wrote different types of music, I want to master many styles, while applying myself to the site and to the clients' wishes.
I understand you are regarded as the landscape poet, as well as an author and keen musician. Could you elaborate on how literature and music has helped with your course architecture?
Golf architecture has a structure, like all good poems and novels – a beginning, middle and end – and much like a composer writing a symphony, I try to be harmonious when designing.
For example, a par-3 should be charming, a par-5 should be reachable in two and par-4s might offer a strict examination or be driveable. All put together, it’s one great walk through the land just like one great piece of music or one great novel. Each nine has its own story to tell as I hope you found out today.