U.S. Open week has arrived, and Gil Hanse’s name will be a big part of the conversation once again. Hanse has become the go-to architect to prepare courses for major championships, and he has been consulting at this week’s host, The Country Club in Brookline, for the past 13 years. You’ll also see his work at future U.S. Open sites Los Angeles Country Club (2023), Oakmont Country Club (2025), Merion Golf Club (2030), and Oakland Hills Country Club (2034). That means four of the seven future U.S. Open venues that we know about so far will bear Hanse’s handiwork. His dominance in this arena has led some to refer to him as the new “Open Doctor.”
So we figured it would be a good time to revisit the story of the first Open Doctor.
In the latest editions of our audio documentary series Fried Egg Stories, Garrett Morrison describes how Robert Trent Jones established himself as the first Open Doctor and went on to define an era of golf architecture. This three-part story, called “The Open Doctor and His Monster,” covers Jones’s rugged early years in Rochester, New York; his breakthrough moment alongside Ben Hogan at the 1951 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills Country Club; and the recent movement in golf course design that has questioned his ideas and undone some of his best-known work. Interviews with authors Jim Hansen, Bradley Klein, Ed Gruver, and Dick Howting, as well as with architects Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Gil Hanse, provide an in-depth look at this defining personality and period in golf history.
The first episode tells the story of how Robert Trent Jones rose from a blue-collar background to the status of Open Doctor.
From an interview with Jones biographer Jim Hansen:
“Robert Trent Jones not only loved the idea of being a golf course designer; he loved the idea of the social elevation that would come with it. And so Jones has this ambition. Remember, it’s an American dream story that he has—this boy that comes over from England at age six and sees the Statue of Liberty. Jones has this ambition to do something great, and he wants it to be in golf. But there’s no pathway to becoming a golf course designer. All he can do is ask questions.”
Episode 2 focuses on the 1951 U.S. Open, in which Ben Hogan did battle with Jones’s “monstrous” modern architecture at Oakland Hills.
From an interview with Bringing the Monster to Its Knees author Ed Gruver:
“I think people did see in Hogan the personification of the ability to come back from devastating circumstances. He was the comeback story of the 1950s. And… that was just five years after the end of World War II and basically just a decade removed from the Great Depression. So this country had been through a lot, had to endure a lot, and Hogan personified a lot of that, and people connected with him about that.”
The final installment of “The Open Doctor and His Monster” explores the late-20th-century movements that challenged Robert Trent Jones’s model and ultimately found its way to Oakland Hills, where architect Gil Hanse was tasked—controversially—with taking the club back to its Donald Ross roots.
From an interview with Hanse:
“I think that what we had to come to a reckoning with at Oakland Hills was that probably the—well, not probably—the most famous moment in the club’s history, as it relates to their championships, was created by another golf course architect. And so we understood walking in there that not only were we talking about restoring the work of one of the greats of all times, but reversing what Robert Trent Jones had done to it to give it the name ‘the Monster’—as Ben Hogan called it—and to try to take some of the monster out of the golf course. And we knew that would be a difficult, difficult task.”
- James Dodson, Ben Hogan: An American Life
- Ed Gruver, Bringing the Monster to Its Knees: Ben Hogan, Oakland Hills, and the 1951 U.S. Open
- James R. Hansen, A Difficult Par: Robert Trent Jones Sr. and the Making of Modern Golf
- Richard Howting, “Defining Moment: The 1951 U.S. Open”
- Robert Trent Jones, Golf’s Magnificent Challenge
- Bradley S. Klein, Discovering Donald Ross: The Architect and His Golf Courses
- Bradley S. Klein, “Forever in Tweed, Amen: Herbert Warren Wind’s contributions to golf know no word count” in The Golfer’s Journal No. 13
- Donald Ross, Golf Has Never Failed Me
- Herbert Warren Wind, “Linksland and Meadowland”