Despite the recent downturn in the golf industry worldwide, the golf course architecture firm of Robert Trent Jones II (RTJ II) remains active. RTJ II is currently finishing work on courses in Greece, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, South Korea, Sweden, and Vanuatu.
The firm recently signed new projects in Asia, Northern Europe, Central America, and in other locales.And even in a challenging domestic market, RTJ II expects to open several new courses in the US in 2009 and 2010, including such much-heralded projects as The Patriot Course, in Oklahoma; Sequoyah National, for the Eastern Band Cherokee Indians, in North Carolina; Hickory Stick, outside Niagara Falls, NY; and others.
The firm’s architects are also working on a number of renovation projects across the globe, including former World Cup host Princeville Makai, on Hawaii’s Kauai; Makena South, on Maui; and Australian PGA Championship host Hyatt Coolum.
Chairman and Master Architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr. attributes the company’s on-going success–even in the most challenging of times–to what he calls its “cultural agility and financial flexibility.”
Jones defines these as an ability to address the cultural vagaries and unique contexts surrounding the game of golf in different parts of the world while also adjusting to economic conditions in each locale.
RTJ II President and Chief Design Officer Bruce Charlton concurs. “If I could choose one characteristic that has made our firm successful on every continent except Antarctica, it’s how we shape our work to the cultural climate surrounding golf in the disparate nations where we build courses. Not only do we work in many different countries with wide variations in landforms, weather, and other factors, but our clients range from heads-of-state to corporate CEO’s to municipalities with tight budgets.
“In designing more than 250 courses in more than 45 countries we’ve learned to address the specific needs of our clients while taking into account the particular culture of golf that characterizes the game in whatever neighborhood or nation we’re working in. And, as our recent ‘Green Proclamation’ expresses, we always work to protect the natural environment–something that’s important to cultures everywhere.”
Charlton continues, “Although the rules of our ancient Scottish pastime are essentially the same wherever it’s enjoyed, the culture surrounding the game can be as different as a fast-playing American and a Japanese golfer who anticipates a delicious two-hour lunch at the turn.” As an example of the firm’s cultural agility, Charlton cites its ability to satisfy recent clients in the South Sea island of Vanuatu as well as owners in Scandinavia.
RTJ II Director of Asian Operations Mike Kahler describes the golf culture in Vanuatu as “right out of a Jimmy Buffett song–it’s laid back, with warm coastal breezes and salt air making it difficult to get very intense about anything, especially something as inconsequential as a lost ball or a missed putt. Given that culture, we designed a leisurely, easy-going course that allows golfers to commune peacefully with their surroundings. The holes route through several different environments that provide a sense of tranquility. And because it’s a resort and community course we created holes that won’t eat you alive if you don’t hit perfect shots.”
In Scandinavia, on the other hand–where RTJ II designed such award-winning layouts as Sweden’s Bro Hof Slott Golf Club and Denmark’s Lubker Golf Resort– the cultural atmosphere is quite different. Charlton says, “Scandinavians play the game as crisply as they dress. Because of the short golf season they’ll go out in any type of weather and play during the ‘white nights’ of summer, teeing off well past 6 pm. They always walk (and briskly!). In designing courses in Norway and Sweden and Denmark, we keep in mind that players place a premium on golf as exercise. So we worry less about cart paths and the distances between greens and tees and focus more on responding to the natural configurations of the land. The game there is clean, fast, and intense–very different from the warm, easy-going attitude in Vanuatu.”
Golf culture can be as unique as the history or beliefs of a specific people. Charlton reports that when working in China, for example, RTJ II learned to incorporate aspects of Feng Shui into the arrangement of course features.In working with Native American tribes in the US, the firm’s architects often have to discover ways to route interesting, playable, and flexible golf holes through natural areas that can’t be disturbed because of the reverence that Native Americans have for the land.
Robert Trent Jones, Jr. sums up the firm’s success thus: “We’ve been designing award-winning golf courses across the globe for more than forty years, during good times and not such good times, sometimes in nations that were once political rivals.
“We strongly believe that our brand name, environmental sensitivity, the relationships we’ve built over four decades, the statistically proven financial value we deliver, and the ability to create golf courses that stand the test of time offer a solid explanation for our good fortune in completing successful projects.
“We’ve earned our clients’ trust, which is why they come to us. Particularly in difficult times, owners and investors choose to go with a strong, proven brand name. But of equal importance is our ability to create the best course on each unique site, taking into account specific landforms, outstanding natural settings, client finances and business models, and an understanding of what golf means and how this ancient game is played in and fits into a particular culture.”
With headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., Robert Trent Jones II, the firm has satellite offices in Europe, Asia, North Carolina, Texas and Georgia. www.rtj2.com.