PALO ALTO, Calif. - For nearly 40 years - and long before ''green building'' became a popular catchphrase - golf course architects with Robert Trent Jones II have been building environmentally responsible golf courses for a diverse clientele worldwide.
The company's chairman, Robert Trent Jones Jr., believes that his firm's goals reflect American Indian attitudes toward the land. The company has worked for Native peoples from New Mexico to New York.
''The best developments occur when nature provides the canvas and men discover and reveal the land's secrets,'' Jones said.
''Whether encompassing mountain streams, desert arroyos, rolling linksland, hardwood forests or native grasses, we seek to build golf courses that honor the diverse and enduring beauty of the natural world. We believe that environmentally sensitive golf course design creates harmony between the values of our Native American clients and the traditions of the Royal and Ancient Game.''
Jones and his associates listen to the land, and their courses tell stories and speak to people of many nations - the firm has created more than 245 courses in more than 40 countries on six continents.
At places like the new Chambers Bay in Washington state (recently chosen by the U.S. Golf Association to host the 2015 U.S. Open) and The Mines in Malaysia, the firm's courses have even reclaimed environmentally degraded sites and transformed them into beautiful, healthy, productive landscapes.
RTJ II's first foray into Indian country occurred in 1981, when the company created an award-winning layout on tribal lands belonging to the Cochiti Pueblo in New Mexico. The golf course - set naturally into juniper hills on a remote plateau - is considered a very playable layout rich in strategic variety.
The golf experience is characterized by challenging approaches and fairways that narrow between framing greenside bunkers. Following an opening hole that caroms downhill, No. 2 presents a 450-yard par four with a waste area fronting the green and a slope that deflects balls into it, so that even lay-ups must be well struck.
Greens tend toward the large side; the putting surface on the fifth hole seems to disappear into an inviting canyon. The 18th hole requires a drive that threads between two ponds. Wind also proves a factor in negotiating these holes.
Jones has said of the course, ''As on many arid mountain courses, the topography here provided plenty of opportunities for us to create contours, elevation and perception puzzles that add to the site's mystery.'' The course was selected by Golf Digest as a Top 75 public course.
More recently, RTJ II created Kaluhyat Golf Club at Turning Stone Resort and Casino, 30 miles east of Syracuse, N.Y., for the Oneida Nation. The name means ''the other side of the sky.''
The golf course routes through three distinct topographies: grasslands, woodlands and wetlands. According to Jones, one of the design challenges was to integrate the disparate terrains into a single, comprehensive and seamless whole. Using an apt analogy, considering that the course is part of a resort and casino complex, he compared the different holes to the suits in a deck of cards, saying, ''Each has its own distinct features but works well with the others.''
This traditional shot-makers' course plays from 5,293 to 7,105 yards and places a premium on strategic decision-making and accuracy as much as it requires length off the tee. Elevation changes add to the challenge of negotiating narrow, tree-lined fairways, open links-style holes and the shorelines of six lakes. Fairway bunkering and angles of play encourage well-placed tee shots that open up the often-elevated greens.
The greens themselves slope to greenside collection areas that will test the nerve of even the most inveterate golf gambler. And those who enjoy a long shot can take on the course from the longest of five sets of tees, which has earned the second highest slope (difficulty) rating in New York state (146) - surpassed only by Bethpage State Park's Black Course, host to the 2002 U.S. Open.
Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter, who also serves as CEO of its enterprises (including Four Directions Media, parent company of Indian Country Today), expressed the Oneidas' excitement about the course. ''Robert Trent Jones Jr. has given the nation, Turning Stone, and the golfers of the Northeast a beautiful gift, one in harmony with Mother Earth, and one that speaks to the soul of anyone who walks. If you love the game of golf, you will love Kaluhyat and appreciate the work of this master designer.''
Native American Casino Magazine ranked Kaluhyat among the top five Native casino golf courses in the United States, joining such other prestigious publications as GOLF Magazine and Golf Digest in recognizing the course as one of the best new layouts in the country.
The architects at RTJ II continue to develop their relationships with American Indian peoples. They are currently working on a new course outside of Niagara Falls - to be called Hickory Sticks - for the Seneca Nation, and another course for the Eastern Band Cherokee Indians in North Carolina, to be called Sequoyah National after the great Cherokee leader.
Jones concluded, ''Our mantra is that our golf courses are 'of the Earth, but for the spirit.' We believe that's a philosophy that Native Americans will embrace whether they play golf or not. We also see ourselves as stewards of the land; and though one of our responsibilities to clients is to create value, we work hard so that our courses fit naturally into a variety of unique sites in widely divergent landforms, climates and settings.''