GOLF / MAL FLORENCE : Designer Likes What He Sees at Valencia


Robert Trent Jones Sr. was on a whirlwind schedule, flying briefly into Los Angeles to visit one of his many projects.

After all, he’s only 86 and there is no reason to slow down.

Jones is the pre-eminent golf course architect. It is estimated that nearly 450 courses, including layouts in 43 states and 24 foreign countries, bear his imprint.

His visit was to inspect the Valenica Country Club course, which he designed and which was opened in 1965 as a public facility. It is now private.


“I was proud of Valencia when I designed it, and I’m even more proud of it today,” Jones said. “I’m glad I was good at the time.”

The 7,105-yard course is considered difficult, but much to the relief of the members, Jones made some suggestions to make play a bit easier.

Jones designed his first course in Rochester, N.Y., in the early 1930s. His latest ventures are 15 public courses in Alabama and a 3,000-acre project at Vidauban, France, north of the French Riviera.

Jones was a close friend of another Jones, Bobby, renowned for his “Grand Slam” in 1930 when he won the U.S. and British Opens plus the top amateur events of the two countries.

The architect says Bobby Jones “was the epitome of a great golfer. His record indicates that. The beauty of his swing was just fantastic. Not only that, but he was an author and a scholar.”

The architect uses Jones as a reference point when talking of the improvement in equipment and golf balls over the years.

“People are just hitting the ball farther,” he said. “When Robert Jones played at Oakland Hills (in Birmingham, Mich.), he used a driver and a two-iron on the 420-yard first hole every round. Now, on that same hole, pros use a driver and a pitching wedge.”

Even though Robert Trent Jones is respected as an architect, his work isn’t always admired by the players.

“When they don’t play well, they have a tendency to complain,” Jones said in an understatement.

He recalled remodeling Oakland Hills for the 1951 U.S. Open. Par was 70, and only two players in a field of 162 were able to break it.

One was Ben Hogan, who had a final-round 67 to win. As he walked off the course, he said, “I finally brought this monster to its knees.”

As Hogan was walking to the clubhouse, Jones’ wife congratulated him. Hogan replied: “If your husband had to play this course, he would be on the bread lines.”

Jones has managed to stay away from bread lines and so have his sons, Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Rees L. Jones, also prominent golf course architects.

The elder Jones adheres to a simple philosophy: “Every hole should be a hard par and an easy bogey.”

Bob Hope was invited to have lunch with Jones at Valencia, but the comedian had to decline, sending a letter instead.

“(I am) disappointed as there are a lot of three-par holes I would like to talk to him about--and all the holes at Spyglass. Just hope his course at Valencia is kinder to my handicap.

“Now that I have enough sweaters I suppose I should give up golf, but why quit when I’m having so much fun?”

The National has identified Rich Zulkoski, 48, as the man who made the phone call that led to the belated disqualification of Paul Azinger in the Doral-Ryder Open at Miami.

Zulkoski, the pro on the only golf course in Ft. Morgan, Colo., watched Azinger’s violation on tape several hours after it occurred in the opening round on Feb. 28.

Azinger inadvertently moved a rock while taking his stance in a hazard.

“I’m not looking to police every tournament, but I’d make the call again because we (pros) are used to pointing out infractions in our business,” Zulkoski said.

The late disqualification of Azinger has prompted the PGA Tour to assign an official to monitor telecasts of tournaments to catch rules violators sooner without the help of outsiders.

“We’re all getting gun-shy,” former Masters champion Ben Crenshaw said. “Paranoia has taken over.”

Golf Notes

The $600,000 Nabisco Dinah Shore tournament starts Thursday at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage. Betsy King is the defending champion. . . . Jane Blalock, who won the inaugural in 1972, is returning for the 20th tournament. Blalock, 45, hasn’t played in an LPGA Tour event since 1989. “It seems like yesterday, I can remember it so well,” Blalock said of her victory. “My hair was in pigtails back then, I was a little heavier and I was sporting a back brace on national television. I even remember what I wore that day.”

Coachella Valley Counseling, a nonprofit clinic, is sponsoring a $1-million hole-in-one contest. The finals will be held next Sunday at the College of the Desert driving range. . . . The NFL Retired Players Assn. celebrity golf tournament will be held on April 29 at Los Coyotes Country Club in Buena Park. Proceeds will go to the Community Family Guidance Center in Cerritos, which provides counseling for abused children and their families. . . . The Terrible Twenty golf group, formed in 1926, held its 779th tournament last Sunday at Annandale CC, even though it rained.

The National Golf Foundation honored Bel-Air CHIPS and the SCPGA News for overall excellence in newsletters. American Golf magazine was similarly honored in the club magazine division. . . . Tom Purtzer has won only three PGA Tour events in a 16-year career, but in a survey of 100 tour players he was judged to have the best swing. Why, then, hasn’t he won more tournaments? “He’s also got the worst putting stroke,” Mark Calcavecchia told Golf Digest. . . . Prime Ticket’s PGA Southern California Golf Almanac, showcasing area courses, features the La Costa Resort & Spa course Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.