Robert Trent Jones Jr. finally gets his Open shot

His career has spanned some 50 years, all while he tried to live up to his father's legacy as he designed golf courses around the world -- 300 of them, give or take a few.

But Robert Trent Jones Jr. has never gotten to experience the thrill that will unfold for him next week.

A course his company designed and constructed, Chambers Bay, will be the stage for the 115th playing of the U.S. Open.

The venue near Tacoma in University Place, Washington, wasn't fully conceived until a decade ago and has been open for just over seven years. Yet the world's best will convene in the Pacific Northwest for the first time to stage the year's second major championship.

Even for a man who has mingled with dignitaries, politicians, royalty ... and made a lucrative living in the process, this is a big deal. A very big deal.

"Ecstasy is too pale a word to describe my feelings," said Jones, 75, in a recent interview. "I'm obviously thrilled. It was amazing when it was announced, and it remains so. I have yet to come down to cloud nine. I know what it means. I'm a golfer first, and my father had his U.S. Open courses, but this is an honor, and it's a very personal matter since it was my father who had the last original golf course get a U.S. Open."

Jones is referring to his father, Robert Trent Jones Sr., who, according to the United States Golf Association, was the last to design a completely new venue and see it open for the U.S. Open -- in 1970, at Hazeltine National in Minnesota.

"Bobby had such a close relationship with his father and such an appreciation for his dad," said Jay Blasi, who worked on the younger Jones' staff for 10 years and was the project architect at Chambers Bay before starting his own design practice. "He holds him in such high regard that I think, when the announcement was made, I would imagine all of his thoughts went to his dad, [his] achievement tied in with his dad's legacy of working on U.S. Open golf courses. It just made him proud."

Jones' father was a prolific designer, credited with approximately 500 designs or redesigns. He collaborated with the great amateur Bobby Jones -- who was also Robert T. Jones but was not related -- on a course in Atlanta and, to avoid confusion, the architect began using his middle name, Trent.

The elder Jones had 13 U.S. Open venues on his résumé, including original designs Congressional, Bellerive, Hazeltine and Atlanta Athletic Club. He did redesign work at Augusta National in the late 1940s and became known as the "Open doctor" for his redesign work at venues such as Oakland Hills, Baltusrol, The Olympic Club, Oak Hill and Southern Hills.

It was no surprise then when sons Bobby and Rees -- another well-known designer -- went into the family business.

"I became [my father's] apprentice," Bobby Jones said. "He saw the opportunity to build more courses, and I did that through the 1960s. He was the toughest professor I ever had. But with great love. Tough love."

Eventually, Bobby Jones went out on his own, his first solo project at Princeville in Hawaii in 1972.

"Birds have to fly from their nest," he said. "He understood. It's a tough thing when you have to break off from your mentor."

Jones set up shop in Northern California and formed the Robert Trent Jones II Co. Meanwhile, brother Rees had his own design business in New Jersey. Rees, who is 73, also first worked under his father before forming Rees Jones Inc. He has some 100 designs and redesigns to his name and has become the current-day "Open doctor," having redesigned or restored 10 U.S. Open courses, including Torrey Pines.

For a good bit of the time, the brothers have not been friendly. Rivals, to be more exact. After their father's death in 2000 at age 93, Rees sued Bobby, claiming, among other things, that the older Jones sibling had used the rights to their father's name illegally.

The elder Jones characterized their feud as a "professional rivalry" and said it has waned recently.

"He is extraordinarily accomplished, and he should be," Robert Trent Jones Jr. said. "He comes from the same genetic code."

"The good news and bad news for Bobby is he had his dad's name," said Kyle Phillips, who worked under Bobby Jones for 16 years before starting his own company. "We [Robert Trent Jones II Co.] clearly had our own identity, but I'm not sure people ever saw that. If you don't have the same name, you can develop your own name. That's one of the things I saw.

"But I loved every minute working for him. I could have stayed forever, but for me it was time to move on. I never had a contract, and everything [Jones] said he was going to do, he did. I learned a lot about the business of golf there. And he trusted me with a lot of things. For me, to see Chambers Bay a big success is great. I love to see it."

Chambers Bay is unlike anything Jones had ever done. On the western edge of Tacoma, it was built out of an old sand and gravel pit, with a rare combination of links-like qualities for a course in the United States. It offers stunning views of Puget Sound.

Jones' company was one of 55 design firms that responded to an invitation from Pierce County to build what the owners expected to be a championship course with the potential to host a U.S. Open or other major championship. Five finalists were interviewed in 2004, including Phil Mickelson's design company.

Construction began in January 2006, and "we aimed for the highest, to build a golf course that would be worthy of hosting a national championship," Jones said. "We invited [USGA executive director] Mike Davis and other members of the USGA executive committee to visit. I felt pretty good that the course would get an amateur championship first to see how fair it would be and how it would hold up."

It got more than that. Less than eight months after the course opened in 2007, the USGA announced that it was awarding the 2010 U.S. Amateur and the 2015 U.S. Open to Chambers Bay -- making it the youngest course to be awarded the Open.

Davis told Jones, "Boy, did you deliver."

"If you like golf course architecture, some of the greatest golf courses in the world were laid out on just great pieces of land," Davis said. "Where the architect said, 'I'm going to put the first hole here and route the second hole there' and basically found great property and then built a great golf course.

"Well, here this was intriguing because it's right on the water and there's a lot of sand, as [Robert Trent Jones Jr.] liked to say, it was a sandbox out there. But this was all envisioned. This was created. Everything out there was really man-made. And it sure doesn't look man-made now."

The course will range from 7,200 to 7,700 yards and will play as a par-70. The fescue grass, the green complexes and the wider-than-usual fairways have already been the source of some consternation among players who have visited the site before U.S. Open week.

"It's unique," said Blasi, who helped make it that way. "Everyone who has been involved in the product from early on knew that and understood it. We were very much prepared for a wide range of reactions. And we're OK with that. Had we created a course all the pros loved, we'd know we probably did something wrong."

"I'm a sports nut, and I expect that," Jones said of any criticism. "It's normal. People who might find fault with it, I ask them to tell me their reasons and I'll listen. People who go and play it more than once, as the amateurs did, through their rounds, [come] to love it. They came to understand it. It's imagination. It's not just skill. It's a ground game, like the birth of golf."

Jones is unlikely to be bothered much by any criticism that emanates along Puget Sound. As he referenced, it will take much more than that for him to even come down to cloud nine.