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A Difficult Par: Robert Trent Jones Sr. and the Making of Modern Golf [Kindle Edition]

James R. Hansen
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The definitive account of modern golf’s foremost architect from the New York Times bestselling author of First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong 
Robert Trent Jones was the most prolific and influential golf course architect of the twentieth century and became the archetypical modern golf course designer. Jones spread the gospel of golf by designing courses in forty-two US states and twenty-eight countries. Twenty U.S. Opens, America’s national championship, have been contested on Jones-designed courses.
New York Times bestselling biographer James R. Hansen, author of First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, recounts how an English immigrant boy arrived in upstate New York in 1912, just as golf was emerging as a popular pastime in America. Jones excelled as a golfer, earning admission to Cornell University, whose faculty consented to a curriculum tailored to teach him the knowledge needed to design golf courses. Cornell provided the springboard for an act of self-invention that propelled Jones from obscurity to worldwide fame.  
Jones believed that every hole should be “a difficult par but an easy bogey.” As gifted as he was at golf design, Jones was equally skilled as a salesman, promoter, and entrepreneur. Golf Digest’s annual rankings of the 100 Greatest Golf Courses have regularly featured about fifty Jones designs, paving the path for his two sons, Robert Jr., and Rees, whose work would carry on their father’s tradition. Hansen examines Jones’s legacy in all its complexity and influence, including the fraternal rivalry of Jones’s distinguished sons.

Editorial Reviews


Praise for A Difficult Par:

Winner of the 2014 Herbert Warren Wind Book Award

"If you have any passion for golf design, A Difficult Par should be the next book you read on the subject. It puts so much into perspective."
"This remarkable book is fitting tribute to a towering figure."
Golf Course Architecture Magazine
"4/5 Stars. Outstanding…A tremendous addition to the study of the history of golf course architecture. It is a detailed and fascinating look into the life of a man who, it can be argued, did more to shape the face of modern golf, both directly and by his influence, than any other person in the game."
San Francisco Examiner
"This book is a defining moment in golf literature."
The Met Golfer

"An affecting family portrait. A prohibitive favorite for golf book of the year."
Departures Magazine

"An expansive study of Jones' life and work…authoritative and meticulously researched. . . . for the course architecture aficionado, it is a revelatory dissertation."

"Superb…For anyone serious about golf, the history of the game or course design, this fine biography is a must. An in-depth biography of one of the greatest golf course architects of all time."
—Shelf Awareness for Readers

"Painstakingly researched, filled with kinds of fascinating insights...Highly recommended."

"The most complete accounting to date of the evolution of Mr. Jones Sr.'s design elements...A Difficult Par deserves to be, and has now become, an important volume in the historical record of golf course architecture and design."
Golf Letter

"Fascinating…Every golfer who has ever wondered about the philosophy behind course design will thoroughly enjoy this biography."

"Complicated…narrative rich in detail.. Hansen ably shows us a life filled with unrivaled success and deep end-of-life disappointment."
—Kirkus Reviews

"In this magisterial study of Robert Trent Jones, James R. Hansen narrates the remarkable achievements of the world’s most celebrated golf course architect. Hansen not only delves deeply into Jones’s Walter Mitty-like personality, he sets Jones's achievements into the context of America’s reach as the world’s leading economic and cultural power. A Difficult Par is a rich three-dimensional account of an extraordinary and uniquely American life."
—John Strawn, author of Driving The Green and the former CEO of Robert Trent Jones II

"Most of us in the golf world felt this was a book that could never be written. It took a decade of dogged persistence on Hansen's part to produce not just a candid and truthful biography of Trent Jones but a veritable masterpiece in sport literature."
—David Mackintosh, veteran international golf writer, Buenos Aires Herald   

"Robert Trent Jones was the most influential man in golf course design since Old Tom Morris. This biography by James Hansen is essential reading for all who love golf and golf courses. There is no book like it, answering far more questions about the leading personalities and practices of modern golf course design than any author has ever achieved."
—Dr. Michael C. Hurdzan, former president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects

"A Difficult Par is an American Dream saga—the story of an impoverished but ambitious young man without a high school diploma who married the girl of his dreams and gained fame and fortune as the world's premier golf architect. In this remarkable biography, James R. Hansen combines an engrossing family saga of courtship, romance, marital love, father-son tensions, and sibling rivalries with a detailed chronicle of Jones's business practices and a fascinating analysis of Jones's theory and practice of golf architecture. Hansen skillfully describes dozens of Jones's most celebrated courses, clearly demonstrating that Jones's genius lay in his ability to design a course that would severely test the world's premier golfers, but also provide an enjoyable round for hackers and duffers who struggle to break 100."
—George B. Kirsch, Professor Emeritus of History at Manhattan College and author of Golf in America

"A Difficult Par paints a memorable portrait of the life and works of the father of modern golf architecture, and depicts his remarkable succession from immigrant to immortal.  A must read for students of the game and its most noble names."
—Warner Bott Berry, author of Scotsman’s Dream

"By a long way the best golf biography I have ever read, the first time, to my knowledge, that a historian of such eminence has shone the light of his professional skills on one of the game's major figures."
—Adam Lawrence, editor, Golf Course Architecture

"As a historian and simple lover of classic golf course architecture, I've been waiting a long time for a comprehensive biography of the man who shaped the landscape of the modern game. With A Difficult Par, James Hansen has done the game of golf a great service by delivering a beautifully written and  defining examination of the complicated life and legacy of Robert Trent Jones, including the dynastic succession that continues to shape the game we know today. This wonderful book is an easy birdie and difficult to put down. A well-worn copy deserves to be on every true golf lover's bookshelf."
—James Dodson, author of Final Rounds and Ben Hogan: An American Life



Praise for First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong

“Even if you think you know everything about Neil Armstrong and America’s historic mission to be the first to land men on the Moon, this remarkable book by Dr. James Hansen contributes a host of fascinating new insights into not only the character of Apollo 11’s enigmatic commander but also into the nature of the spacefaring enterprise itself. It is a book for all time.”—Walter Cronkite

“A powerful, unrelenting biography of a man who stands as a living testimony to everyday grit and determination. . . . Hansen has achieved something quite remarkable.... A magnificent panorama of the second half of the American twentieth century. . . . A must for astronaut buffs and history readers alike.”Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“Let it be said at once that his book is an outstanding success.... Immaculately researched and packed with detail, but written in a way that will appeal to readers of all kinds.... This is an important book, and should be in every scientific library.”—Sir Patrick Moore, London Times Educational Supplement

“A fine authorized biography brimming with groundbreaking research, fresh anecdotes and fair-minded analysis. . . . Hansen should be commended for decoding the enigmatic Armstrong: a space hero short on words but sky-high on Midwestern integrity.”—Douglas Brinkley, New York Times Book Review

“[Hansen’s] mastery of detail is put to splendid use. The narrative of the moon mission is crisp and dramatic, the science clear. He deftly takes us back into those few days of global fascination with the adventure of the three distant voyagers, and the tense uncertainty about how it would turn out. The moon landing is old mental furniture for everyone of Baby Boom age and older….I finished Hansen’s Apollo story with a wholly fresh sense of awe at the magnitude of NASA’s achievement…. a compelling and nuanced portrait of the astronaut…. to understand Armstrong on his own terms is to see a large truth of our time.”—James Tobin, Chicago Tribune

“A riveting chronicle…. [T]he book is a work of a true scholar…. The dramatic description of the actual landing … actually makes one’s heart pound, and one feels like going through it again and again….A must book not only for space buffs but for the general reader as well.”—Srinivas Laxman, The Times of India

“[A] taut, well-told tale of our nation's race to the moon and the man who took the first step.”—Doug Allyn, The Flint Journal  

“A great read.”The Kansas City Star, Noteworthy Book of 2005 

Praise for First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong
"Even if you think you know everything about Neil Armstrong and America’s historic mission to be the first to land men on the Moon, this remarkable book by Dr. James Hansen contributes a host of fascinating new insights into not only the character of Apollo 11’s enigmatic commander but also into the nature of the spacefaring enterprise itself. It is a book for all time."

—Walter Cronkite

About the Author

Besides being an acclaimed New York Times bestselling author, James R. Hansen has always been an avid golfer and plays to a six handicap.  Hansen has played and studied more than six hundred courses around the world. He lives in Auburn, Alabama.

Product Details

  • File Size: 25840 KB
  • Print Length: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Gotham (May 8, 2014)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00G3L6KQ8
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #464,953 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars RTJ, Warts and All May 12, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
Some of my favorite golf courses were designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr., but that's not why I consider the story of his life written by James R. Hansen, A Difficult Par, one of the best biographies I've read in a long, long time. What I really enjoyed about the book was the totally unvarnished view it presents of the man's life and accomplishments, good, bad, and otherwise. Quite frankly, most golf biographies are hagiographies barely worth the effort it takes to turn the pages. This one I couldn't put down.

Robert Trent Jones, Sr., may well have been the most influential golf course architect of the game's flowering in the second half of the twentieth century. He was an English immigrant who arrived in the U.S. just as golf was on the verge of becoming a popular past time. His up-by-the bootstraps early life is a prelude to the ego-driven success he enjoyed as the premier designer of his day. As Hansen presents him, Jones was a brilliant architect and a shameless self-promoter. The interplay between the two sides of the man gives the reader rare insight into his spectacularly successful career.

Hansen gives excellent descriptions of everything from the design concepts to the political and financial relationships behind most of the top courses Jones created and renovated, which makes for fascinating reading for golfer and non-golfer alike. His renovation work at Augusta National, the National Golf Links, and Winged Foot, for example, may have been lost with the passage of time, but was important in the history of the game. Many of his post-war original designs are atop every aficionado's "best of" list: Dunes Club in Myrtle Beach, Hazeltine, Spyglass, not to mention the Robert Trent Jones Trail of excellent courses across the state of Alabama.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition
Having grown up learning to play golf in the Robert Trent Jones era, any golf courses he designed have always been at the top of my must play “wish list.” James Hansen’s RTJ bio provides an in-depth look at how Jones built his career, developed his design philosophy, and became one of the most influential figures in golf in the 20th century. Particularly interesting was the honest portrayal of Jones’ early struggles getting started in the design business and his relationships with both family and associates. The insights provided by Hansen are excellent, and the incredible amount of research he did in writing the book is obvious. “A Difficult Par” is a wonderful journey through the evolution of golf course architecture, and I would highly recommend it to every avid golfer and student of the game.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I read this book from cover to cover, not missing a word. If you are a serious golf nut, and love reading about the game, the architects master minding courses, and all the twists and turns, you will find this book exceptional reading. Although some points were long explanations, I felt that his son Robert Trent Jones, Jr. should have been presented in a better light. His new course at Chambers Bay will be the 2015 site of the US Open, and what an honor that will be for the Jones' family. Mr. Jones, Jr. had much more community involvement both political and volunteer, than was mentioned in the book, which probably could have been explained in more detail...or maybe another book!
The book caught my attention, as I then went to play Stanley Thompson's course in Canada, and found I had a special inside knowledge to the area and the game. I really enjoyed reading this book.
Well done, James Hansen!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A read unlike any other of its kind. June 12, 2014
I have read many books concerning the topic of golf course architecture history. None of them are so complete and insightful as the story of Robert Trent Jones, Sr., which is only told properly through the lens of his entire family. From his unique path through higher education to many world-traveling golf adventures, all so fascinating and clearly portrayed, it is hard not to feel like you are right there with The Old Man on his journey through life. I am thoroughly impressed by the time and effort it took for Dr. Jim Hansen to accurately represent Mr. Jones and his family. Life stories like this one are not often recorded to this level of detail and perspective, and it is absolutely well worth the read for any golf enthusiast wishing to know more about the most famous American golf course architect of his time, perhaps ever.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing Round!! July 16, 2014
By Tom
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The research that went into this book is extensive and impressive! For the author to gain access to the documents and people in order to put this book together speaks volumes about his passion, endurance and drive. An amazing journey following the life of Robert Trent Jones and his family, including the good, the bad, and the ugly. The author visited our golf club last night and he is as down to earth and passionate as his writing. The only knock in my opinion is that perhaps in the effort to present extensive unbiased factual information, and given that this is a biography, I felt more like I was reviewing information rather than engaging with the people, places and events mentioned in the book. The book is a great, informative read and I enjoyed it immensely, and recommend it highly.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating account of an interesting man and his family ...
A fascinating account of an interesting man and his family, and of their influence on much of the golf world.
Published 1 month ago by Nancy C. Teel
5.0 out of 5 stars The life of RTJ
Very interesting and informative story of the life of RTJ. He greatly influenced the design of golf courses in the mid and late 20th century. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Rita Coates
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great golf reading from start to finish! War Eagle!
Published 1 month ago by BTODD
4.0 out of 5 stars The Revival or RTJ's Reputation as a Great Architect
Although Jones's work has fallen out of favor lately, surpassed by the new courses of the "minimalist" era, he played an important role in the history of course design and... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Valuable Book
5.0 out of 5 stars Thanks for an interesting biography
I purchased the Kindle Edition of A Difficult Par and anticipated that I would read from time to time and eventually finish the book. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Charles A. Lund
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiration for any pro pioneers - more than just golf course design -...
I learned so much about what it takes to design a golf course from this book - grasses, terrain, tees, greens, the rough, architecture, engineering, drainage, and terrific business... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Angela M. Hey
5.0 out of 5 stars A birdie on a Difficult Par
nice balanced review, well researched
Published 5 months ago by Dr. Kenneth Wehr
4.0 out of 5 stars honest look at RT Jones
Not a ripping read, but a balanced look and high evaluation of a career designing fine golf courses. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Douglas H. Paal
5.0 out of 5 stars Piped Righ Down the Middle
A very well written and researched book. I enjoyed the care the author put into representing both sides of many of the issues investigated. Read more
Published 8 months ago by P. Flanagan
5.0 out of 5 stars Filling in the blanks on the development of Colgate University's Seven...
It fills in a number of blanks in my knowledge of Trent and his family's experience. The humanity presented by Mr. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Gate60
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More About the Author

Dr. James R. Hansen is Professor of History at Auburn University in Alabama. An expert in the history of science and technology, Hansen has written books and articles covering a wide variety of topics ranging from the early days of aviation, first nuclear fusion reactors, and Moon landings, to the environmental impact of golf courses.

His prizewinning book, FIRST MAN (Simon & Schuster, 2005), the first and only authorized biography of Neil Armstrong, spent three weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list and garnered major book awards, including the American Astronautical Society's Prize for Astronautical Literature, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics' Outstanding Book Award, and CHOICE magazine's Outstanding Academic Book of 2006. A two-volume Japanese translation of FIRST MAN has been published, with translations into Chinese, Turkish, and Croatian in progress.

His newest book, forthcoming in May 2014, is A DIFFICULT PAR: ROBERT TRENT JONES SR. AND THE MAKING OF MODERN GOLF (Gotham Penguin). An internationally known expert on the history of golf architecture, Hansen has published numerous articles on the subject in golf magazines and given scholarly and public presentations on the history of golf course architecture in the United States, Canada, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and England. For the past 17 years he has been a golf course rater for Golfweek. An avid golfer since youth, Jim played college golf and was co-captain of his team for two years.

Hansen will continue writing both about golf and aerospace history. In 1995 the National Aeronautics and Space Administration nominated his book SPACEFLIGHT REVOLUTION for a Pulitzer Prize, the only time NASA has ever made such a nomination. His book FROM THE GROUND UP(1988) won the History Book Award of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. His scholarship has also been honored with the Robert H. Goddard Award from the National Space Club and certificates of distinction from the Air Force Historical Foundation. His other recent books, THE BIRD IS ON THE WING(Texas A&M University Press) and THE WIND AND BEYOND (NASA) explore the role of aerodynamics in the progress of the airplane in America. The latter is a six-volume series prepared by Hansen and a team of his graduate students for NASA, volume three of which is due to appear in 2014. In 2005 THE WIND AND BEYOND won the Society for the History of Technology's Eugene Ferguson Prize for Outstanding Reference Work. His newest book, TRUTH, LIES, AND O-RINGS: THE INSIDE STORY OF THE SPACE SHUTTLE CHALLENGER DISASTER was published in May 2009 by the University Press of Florida, with co-author Allan J. McDonald.

A native of Fort Wayne, Indiana, he graduated summa cum laude and with Honors from Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne. He earned his Ph.D. at The Ohio State University in 1981. Jim has taught history at Auburn University since 1986. Both his teaching and his scholarship have received numerous awards from the university including the Teaching Excellence Award in the Humanities, an Alumni Professorship, the Outstanding Teacher in the Core Curriculum, and the Office of the Vice President for Research's Creative Research Award. In 2005, he was inducted into the College of Liberal Arts' Academy of Teaching and Outstanding Scholars.

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