Steve Campbell looks at the new Houston Open design by Rees Jones and David Toms that is debuting this week.
If the Tournament Course lives up to the reputation of its designer, then the SHO should be a breakout hit. Rees Jones has established himself as major-championship course doctor of sorts, the man the United States Golf Association and PGA of America turn to when they want to upgrade a classic layout. The son of renowned course architect Robert Trent Jones, Rees Jones has performed major undertakings at the likes of Congressional, the Country Club, Bethpage Black, Pinehurst, Torrey Pines, Medinah, Hazeltine, Baltusrol, East Lake, Sahalee and Atlanta Athletic Club.
"I've been very fortunate in my life to have done a lot of these championship venues," said Jones, whose body of work includes Redstone collaborations at Shadow Hawk and The Houstonian. "The more I do, the more I understand what you must do to challenge the best."
Nothing like learning on the job!
To that end, Jones designed a course that plays longer from the back tees than any on tour so far this season. The Tournament Course is also 51 yards shorter than the adjacent Peter Jacobsen/Jim Hardy Redstone Member Course, which served as SHO's halfway home the previous three years. Jones describes the Tournament Course as a "neo-classic" design that favors strategy and shot-making over raw power.
Longest on the Tour so far, but it favors strategy and shotmaking over raw power. Makes sense.
One of the distinctly Toms touches was No. 12. The 338-yard par-4 is, depending on the wind, drivable. With the reward of a possible eagle comes the risk of hitting the tee shot in the lateral water hazard right of the green.
"I'm hoping they set up the golf course to let guys use that risk-reward strategy," Toms said. "We don't get that very often. There's always thousands of people around those holes, trying to see what the pros can do, seeing if they can make an eagle or a double (bogey). They're well-received with the spectators, and the pros like them as well."
Wishful thinking based on this year's course setups.
"The golfer has a choice," Jones said. "I think that's great for a championship. We're making them strategize. The winner will be under par. But we're making him manage his game by the green contours and the angles of the greens. He knows the easy route may lead to a three-putt or the harder route could lead to disaster but has a greater reward."
It all sounds so good.