A Difficult Par: Robert Trent Jones Sr. and the Making of Modern Golf

Published: July 07, 2015
Updated: August 12, 2015
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Auburn University history professor James Hansen knows a lot about golf. His passion for the sport began at a young age with a vision of vibrant greens against a backdrop of wilted brown. Hansen recalls riding his bike with neighborhood friends, and when they reached the end of a cornfield, delineated by a chain-link fence, a whole new world appeared to Hansen.

"I had never really seen a golf course up close before,” Hansen recalls. "When we came up to the edge of the golf course and I looked over the fence and looked over to this gorgeous landscape – verdant green with brilliant white sand traps – I was just captivated by that moment. I remember it with crystal clarity and I think I always will.”

That first view of the oasis at Orchard Ridge Country Club in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and a subsequent summer spent at Fairview, solidified Hansen's love of golf.

"I started golf young because of a family tragedy,” Hansen said. "My father died as a very young man and my mother had to find something for me to do as she had to go off to work for the first time. So my mother dropped me off at Fairview, which was a public golf course on her way to work. She arranged it so I could play for the entire summer for $30 and it was really that opportunity that gave me a chance to learn the game and meet senior golfers and how to interact with other golfers.

Here I am – a young kid who just lost his father – and I got to play golf with a lot of retired gentlemen, who served in World War II just like my father had.”

Although most of his previous scholarly work has dealt with aerospace history, Hansen has also made his mark on the field of golf course history by teaching it and publishing numerous articles on the subject in golf magazines. Hansen has also given scholarly and public presentations on the history of golf course architecture in the United States, Canada, Northern Ireland, Scotland and England. His most recent work, the authorized biography of Robert Trent Jones Sr., called "A Difficult Par,” is about the eminent American golf course architect whose work came to define many features of American golf. The book received the 2014 Herbert Warren Wind Award.

"Herbert Warren Wind is considered the greatest American golf writer,” Hansen said. "And when the USGA was putting together its award to honor the best golf book of the year, they put his name on it. For me, winning that award was like winning the U.S. Open. It was fabulous.”

"A Difficult Par” is on the forefront of golf again because of the impending championship to be held at Grand National in Opelika.

"My book is generating a lot of interest in the golf world again as the Barbasol Championship is going to be played for the first time here at Grand National this summer,” Hansen said.

Hansen says his book won't be the only thing people are noticing as the Barbasol Championship prepares to make its debut at Grand National July 15-19.

"It's going to bring a lot of attention and focus on Opelika and to the entire Alabama Robert Trent Jones Golf Trails – which is a phenomenal development that has raised Alabama's international image for it's being one of the world's superb golf destinations,” Hansen said.

Scott Gomberg, director of golf at Grand National, agrees that the Barbasol Championship will bring interest in the Auburn-Opelika area.

"When people see four days of coverage that talks about the surrounding area and all the amenities offered in the area, they will want to travel and see it for themselves,” Gomberg said. "We have a wonderful community in National Village and the Marriott resort is an amazing addition to the golf course. Tourism travel should increase based on the four day production, along with awareness of what the trail is that can help the entire state.”

As for Hansen's involvement with the championship, he says he'll be around to watch some of the world-class golfers take on the challenging course and to sign copies of "A Difficult Par.”

"I'll be signing books during the championship,” Hansen said. "A lot of people ask the question of ‘Who is Robert Trent Jones exactly?' So I'll be here to talk about him and will be doing some interviews on the history of the trails in Alabama, which is a very interesting history in itself.”

The schedule of Hansen's book signings at the Barbasol Championship is as follows:
Wednesday, July 15, from 1 – 3 p.m.
Thursday, July 16, from 1 – 3 p.m.
Friday, July 17, from 5 – 7 p.m.
Saturday, July 18, from 4 – 6 p.m.
Sunday, July 19 from 3 – 5 p.m.

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