TRUCKEE, Calif. – Hanging inside Gus Jones’ spacious office adjacent to the Martis Camp golf shop are oversized maps of the golf course with everything from evacuation areas to where the college coaches attending this week’s U.S. Junior Amateur can find their tent.
Above Jones’ desk is a 90- and 120-day planner. Not a single square is blank.
The last time I was off was June 9, said Jones. And my next day off is Aug. 12.
When you’re the head professional at a facility hosting a USGA championship, the hours are long and the days crammed with responsibilities.
And Jones hasn’t overlooked any critical pieces of the championship puzzle. He has also been omnipresent, doing everything from greeting competitors, operating transportation shuttles and ensuring the shop is well-stocked with merchandise.
For the past two years, Jones has been Martis Camp’s liaison to the USGA, working closely with Greg Sanfilippo, the director of the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship. It’s been a juggling act balancing his responsibilities to the members with the championship, but the 53-year-old Jones, who has been at Martis Camp since February 2009, has handled everything with aplomb.
He’s really just a five-tool player when it comes to this championship, said Sanfilippo. Gus has been working extremely hard for the USGA and Martis Camp … and we appreciate all of his hard work and dedication.
When Jim Kline, the former director of the PGA Tour’s Reno-Tahoe Open, signed up online to volunteer, Jones quickly assigned him an important role.
When I saw his name, I said, ‘We’ve got an ace in the hole here,’ said Jones. He’s been a godsend to our organization.
Two years ago, Martis Camp got a dress rehearsal of sorts with the Pacific Coast Amateur. Although the field was 88 golfers compared to 156 and it was only a four-day competition, it was a smaller-scale lead-in to the Junior Amateur.
But Jones said the Junior required many more volunteers and details, including the creation of media credentials, a championship logo, a transportation plan and a locker room program. Jones and Martis Camp member Mark Ransom, the communications chairman, traveled to Far Hills, N.J., last December for a two-day communications seminar. Jones also attended the USGA Annual Meeting in San Diego in February.
Previous stops at Montreux Golf and Country Club in Reno, Nev., the site of the Reno-Tahoe Open, and Bighorn Golf Club in Palm Desert, Calif., which hosted four made-for-TV Skins Games, gave Jones a perspective on hosting a high-profile competition.
The level of involvement was minor compared to this one, said Jones. With this being such a new club, I think some of our committee members came on board fairly late without as good a picture as they now have.
But don’t look for Jones to take all the credit for the success of the Junior Amateur. That’s just not his personality. When he was asked how many staffers work under him, he quickly re-phrased the question. I don’t have anyone working for me, he said. I have a lot of people that I work with. That’s the philosophy here. We work as a team.
One staff member described Jones as selfless.
Then again, working in a place like Martis Camp would make anyone feel at ease. Jones can look outside his office window at the picturesque 18th green framed by tall pines at the base of the Northstar Ski Resort.
The club is only five years old, but delivers the feel of a place that’s been around for a couple decades. The 50,000-square-foot lodge is situated atop a 70-foot rock promontory that overlooks the 18th green. In 2009, the Tom Fazio design was voted by Golf Digest as the best new private club in the country.
Take a look around, it’s a phenomenal place, said Jones. I count myself extremely fortunate to have been invited here.
Jones grew up far from Martis Camp, in Wellington, New Zealand, where he developed into a fine junior golfer. One of his contemporaries was Steve Williams, the now-famous caddie who was on the bag for 13 of Tiger Woods’ 14 major wins.
Williams is often perceived as a bad guy because of how he sometimes interacted with the masses of media and fans who followed Woods. Jones, however, has seen a much softer side.
He donated a million dollars to a cancer ward at an Auckland hospital, said Jones. There aren’t a lot of caddies who can make a million-dollar charitable gift. He has also donated all of his public-speaking fees to a foundation he created to support junior golf in New Zealand.
I call Steve a good friend. He’s been someone who has stayed in touch with me versus me staying in touch with him.
It was Williams, in fact, who urged Jones to caddie on the PGA Tour. Jones originally worked for female pro M.J. Smith, who was from his home club in Wellington (Shandon Golf Club), before moving on to work for Denis Watson and Mark Lye. He also briefly caddied for Brad Faxon, Tom Byrum and others during a four-year stint.
Then in 1987, Jones had the chance to become an assistant pro at Tenison Park Golf Course, a 36-hole public facility in Dallas. He had tired of the nomadic life on tour and wanted to settle down, and by then he realized his golf game would never translate into a professional career. He also didn’t want to be a career caddie.
Looking back, I realize I made the right decision, said Jones. I didn’t think [caddieing] was fair to my wife. I wasn’t out there to make a living. I was out there to learn more about the game.
Thanks to help from renowned teachers such as Hank Haney and David Leadbetter, Jones quickly developed a reputation as a top instructor and that led him to Bighorn, where he was named head professional and director of instruction. After six years there, he landed the job at Montreux.
He then got an unexpected call from Martis Camp in early 2009. Denise Martinez, who had worked at Forest Highlands in Flagstaff, Ariz., a club created by the same developers of Martis Camp (DMB Highlands), had just passed away after completing her first season at Martis Camp. So Jones was contacted about heading up the golf operation, and he jumped at the opportunity to join an emerging private facility that was built by a development group with a successful track record – in addition to Forest Highlands, site of the 1996 U.S. Junior Amateur and next year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior, DMB Highlands has built several other successful clubs across the southern and western U.S.
One of the first things Jones did was hire a director of instruction, Martin Chuck, to help ease his teaching load. With all of his club responsibilities, Jones rarely has much time to play or teach. He’ll do between 10-15 hours of lessons a week, but he’s only played nine holes in 2013.
I love to play, but the time to do it is very hard, he said. You have to be available to the membership to meet and greet and hear the things they want to share. Martin has certainly taken the pressure off me. I’m very fortunate to have him.
Jones has now been a club professional for 26 years and hasn’t regretted the decision one bit. Sure, the days can be long, but he shares a passion for the game, and loves being around other people who share that same devotion.
Being around all the young talent at this week’s Junior Amateur has been rewarding for Jones. He’s also been impressed with the maturity level of the competitors.
I’ve heard comments from our committee chairs saying just how respectful these young men have been, said Jones. The players who were eliminated [on Tuesday] took their hats off and thanked me. They thanked the members for the opportunity to be here. You don’t see that in a lot of other sports. The parents have been incredibly appreciative.
Those are the sort of things that make doing this worthwhile.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.