The plans, records and correspondence of one of the most prolific golf course designers in history have been donated to Cornell University Library by the sons of Robert Trent Jones Sr.
The university announced the acquisition on Thursday, providing the school with a lasting legacy of one of its most famous graduates (Class of 1930).
“He is certainly a Cornell icon,” Elaine Engst, university archivist, said in a news release. “During his lifetime, when he was approached by another university about donating his papers, he had his lawyer write a letter saying, ‘It is my intention to donate my collection to Cornell.’ ”
The collection covers Jones’ entire career, from 1930 until his death in 2000 at age 93. His office records include personal correspondence with such legends of the game as Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead, as well as sketches, photographs and contracts documenting all of the courses he designed.
In all, he is credited with 325 original designs in 45 states and more than 25 countries on four continents. But by adding in remodels and touch-ups, he placed his mark on more than 500 tracts.
Atop that vast collection, his earliest work began in Upstate New York and he still has treasures dotting the landscape of Central New York, the Southern Tier and Mohawk Valley. They include the college courses at Cornell, Colgate and Wells and the scenic state park course at Green Lakes. He also lent his touch in full designs or partial refurbishings to Radisson Greens, Tuscarora, Westvale, Skyridge, Hill ‘n’ Dale, Valley View, Sodus Bay, and Midvale, Oak Hill and Durand Eastman in Rochester, the town where the native of Great Britain grew up.
One of Jones’ biggest donations to the game might have come when he was still a student at Cornell. Intent on learning all aspects of golf course architecture — in an era when such a major didn’t exist — Jones fashioned his own program by taking classes in four different colleges at Cornell. He drew upon courses in landscape architecture, agronomy, horticulture, hydraulics, surveying, economics and even public speaking … a blueprint that continues today for modern-design students.
Among Jones’ favorite works was Green Lakes, which he began building in the middle of the Great Depression. Because the state had no money in its budget to pay him, it enlisted Civil Conservation Corps workers to move the earth wherever Jones instructed, then leased the Fayetteville course to Jones for $1 per year for 10 years after it opened in 1936. He checked in every two or three weeks to make sure things were running as he desired.
While most of Jones’ work was done through formal contract, he also designed or redesigned several area courses in vein of Johnny Appleseed. Lore holds that in 1960 he sketched out Hill ‘n’ Dale, a nine-hole tract in Tully, on a napkin as a personal favor to the course’s first owner, U.S. Rep. R. Walter Riehlman.
Engst said the process or organizing all of Jones’ records, which were donated by his golf-course designing sons, Robert Jr. and Rees, may take up to two years to complete.
“Trying to recreate the original order of the materials is important to a collection like this one,” she said.