Auburn history professor receives award by the United States Golf Association for biography

Published: February 02, 2015
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Auburn University's James Hansen, professor in the Department of History in the College of Liberal Arts, has received the United States Golf Association's Herbert Warren Wind Book Award for 2014 for his most recent biography, A Difficult Par: Robert Trent Jones Sr. and the Making of Modern Golf. The award, established in 1987, recognizes and honors outstanding contributions to golf literature while attempting to broaden the public's interest in, and knowledge of, the game of golf.

"To have the USGA and Herbert Warren Wind associated with a book that I wrote is a huge honor," said Hansen. "There is no name in golf writing more respected or more prestigious than Wind. As a writer, it is the ultimate distinction in my career."

After becoming established as a teacher and biographer, Hansen took interest in writing about golf course history. When Alabama's Robert Trent Jones Trail started to be built in the early 1990s, Hansen said he became determined to write a book about Jones, but missed the opportunity to write the book before his death.

"Jones's journey to the status of "the world's greatest golf architect" was unprecedented and I felt that nothing in the history of golf compared with Jones's epic life story," Hansen said.

Three years of research and more than a year of writing went into Hansen's profile of renowned golf course architect Robert Trent Jones Sr., which reflects on the life and career of one of the most historically significant figures in the sport of golf.

With the help of Jones's two sons, Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Rees Jones, a collection of Jones's personal and business papers for his entire 70-year-long career, some 355 archival boxes, and over 2,000 cardboard tubes filled with all the architectural drawings that he had done for every one of the courses he had designed or redesigned, were archived in the Cornell University Archives in Ithaca, New York.

"I spent three straight summers up there in the archives and learned that I was going to be writing more than just a book about a golf architect, it was a story about a quest for the American Dream," said Hansen. "My book tells Mr. Jones's emergence from his roots as a 6-year-old émigré from England in 1912 who established himself in working class Rochester, New York, in the 1920s developed a self-styled curriculum at Cornell University that trained him in landscape architecture, and saw him remake the face of modern golf throughout the U.S. and the world."

Hansen's book, titled after the motto Jones had for how he designed each hole of his courses to be a "difficult par but an easy bogey" uncovered the struggles Jones was faced with as he began the quest to become the world's greatest golf architectin the middle of the Great Depression.

"My biggest coup was uncovering over 400 love letters written between 1930 and 1935 by Trent Jones to his eventual wife, New York City debutante Ione Tefft Davis, during what turned out to be their long and torturous five-year engagement," said Hansen. "These precious letters provided vivid and moving insights into Trent Jones's driving ambition and dogged willfulness as well as into his financially miserable and spiritually exasperating early years as a fledgling golf course designer."

After successfully promoting the construction of new golf courses as a wise use of public money and labor that had become available under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration, Jones was able to achieve his dreams. He designed or redesigned nearly 450 courses in 42 states and 28 countries, including 11 courses that have hosted a combined 34 U.S. Opens.

His design philosophy of challenging the best golfers while making the game enjoyable for players of all abilities became necessary in order to make the game attractive to casual players while also making him an archetype for future designers. In his later years, Jones came to be known as "The Open Doctor" after he began modernizing his own courses and as a result he was hired to transform other courses for many U.S. Opens to toughen the competition.

"Robert Trent Jones was a colossus of the game and his contributions to golf course architecture undoubtedly influenced the way championship golf has been played over the past 65 years," said Michael Trostel, senior historian for the USGA Museum. "In A Difficult Par, James Hansen uses exhaustive research methods to deliver a comprehensive depiction of the man who shaped the landscape of modern golf, skillfully weaving together the story of family and business to break new ground on one of the game's most celebrated and significant designers."

The Herbert Warren Wind Book Award will be presented to Hansen Saturday, Feb. 7, at the USGA's Annual Meeting in New York City.