Clubs, Casks, and Caddies: Robert Trent Jones, Jr. and Mouton Cadet at the 2016 Ryder Cup

For all the talk of boorish fan behavior, this year’s event offered decorum in the form of two distinguished gentlemen and their wine.

This year’s Ryder Cup, held this past weekend at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota, will be remembered for its outcome—the American team’s first victory over Europe (17 points to 11) in eight years. But the next paragraphs will inevitably recall its atmosphere. Overheated even by Ryder Cup standards, at times it drew forth inspired play from both sides, while at others it was marred by a few malcontent members of the gallery who interrupted the proceedings with intentionally ill-timed and unprintable outbursts.

Still, pockets of civility were to be found across Hazeltine’s 7,600-plus yards. At the Captain's Club, directly adjacent to the first green, we caught up with the seventy-seven-year-old golf architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr., whose father, Robert Trent Jones, Sr., designed Hazeltine back in 1962. He was joined by Hugues Lechanoine, managing director of Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA. The pair was celebrating the launch of a special-edition cuvée of Mouton Cadet, the official wine of the Ryder Cup and the world’s top-selling Bordeaux. 

Rothschild has a long history of commissioning famous artists to create labels for their wines: Since 1946, work by the likes of Braques, Picasso, Dali, and Warhol have graced their bottles. And while the Joneses might be considered more artists of the landscape, RTJ, Jr. was invited to create a sketch to commemorate the occasion this year. His design: a self-portrait with a bag of clubs over his shoulder on Hazeltine’s signature 7th hole, his father standing beside him with a sketchpad of his own. (Jones, Sr. died in 2000.)

Lechanoine, an avid single-digit handicap player, sees plenty of valuable connections between golf and winemaking. In both endeavors, he said, “You try to do your best, but most of the time you’re at the mercy of nature, dealing with wind, water, and the seasons.” Whether it be selecting grapes or hitting a flop shot from a hardpan lie, “You can have the best technical skills, but at the end of the day it’s a human thing.” 

Neil Britto

Similarly, Jones’s sketch resonated with him on multiple levels. The English word “caddie,” he pointed out, comes from the French “cadet,” or “younger son,” a tag that in the 16th and 17th centuries was applied to military trainees, porters, and odd-job kids in general. Besides the obvious reference to the Mouton Cadet brand, Hazeltine features a caddie as its club logo. Lechanoine added that Philippe de Rothschild himself—along with being a legendary playboy, racecar driver, and winemaker—was the younger child of his family, while Jones, who joined the family business after playing for four years on the golf team at Yale, noted the mentor/student associations. “I was my father’s ‘cadet’ in all respects,” he said. 

It should be noted that another “cadet,” Jones’s younger brother, Rees, was also in attendance at Hazeltine over the weekend. He has been the consulting architect charged with maintaining Hazeltine’s position as one of the Midwest’s preeminent championship venues. A few years ago, in an effort to cope with the booming drives of the likes of Dustin Johnson, certain tees were pushed back and fairway bunkers moved further downrange, but RTJ II praised his brother’s work. “It’s in keeping with my dad’s style,” he said.

Hugues Lechanoine eventually decided that the two figures in Jones’s sketch might look too busy on a bottle, so it was pared down to the single image of the caddie, not an altogether bad deal for RTJ Jr. After all, in the process of digitizing the work, “They made me thinner and younger,” he said with a raised eyebrow.