Few men in the world know as much about Augusta National Golf Club co-founder Bobby Jones as author Sidney Matthew. As we continue our countdown to the Masters tournament, Stuart Hood meets the writer of The Life and Times of Bobby Jones to find out the truth behind the legend…
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Mention the name Bobby Jones and a few facts will instantly spring to mind.
He is the only man to win the Grand Slam in a calendar year; the man who founded and helped design Augusta National Golf Club; a player who retired to practice law at the age of 28; the game’s ultimate gentleman; a golfer who lost the 1925 US Open in a play-off after calling a penalty on himself, then rebuffed any admiration for his actions by stating “you may as well praise a man for not robbing a bank”; a star who won five US Amateurs, four US Opens, three Open Championships and one Amateur Championship; an American who initially detested the Old Course at St Andrews, but grew to love it and ended up being named an honorary citizen of the Auld Grey Toon.
But in the world of Florida-based lawyer Sidney Matthew this is just entry-level Jones. The basics. Five minutes of conversation that barely scratches the surface of one of the sports’ enduring icons. “I became interested in Bob Jones when I went to Atlanta to litigate against the law firm he used to work for,” explains the world’s foremost Bobby Jones expert.
“During the breaks, I looked at the memorabilia on the walls and became intrigued by Jones’ life. For me, he was a man of the universe, someone who did it all. A good old boy, who had a profession, but was also a sportsman on the side.”
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This intrigue quickly turned into a thirst for discovery that has spanned nearly 40 years, spawned nine books and a critically acclaimed televised documentary, and sourced enoughmemorabilia to fill three warehouses.
So, what is it about Jones that keeps Matthew coming back for more? “There is a famous line in the lm The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance that says: ‘When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,’” he says.
“In Bob Jones’ case, the truth continues to outdistance the legend, because he was a 24/7 hero. Not only was he the best, unlike modern sporting heroes, the characteristics you saw on the eld of play were the same characteristics you saw at home. He achieved everything he achieved as an amateur and through the whole thing he was always a gentleman.”
Such is Matthew’s passion for all things Jones that it is nearly impossible to get a word in edgeways when starts talking about his hero. The moment we did, we asked him to reveal the Bobby Jones stories we didn’t already know…
Bobby hated being Bobby.
“Bobby Jones’ grandfather was Robert Tyre Jones from Canton, Georgia, and he named his son, and Bob’s father, Robert Purmedus Jones. Purmedus was an old family name, but it stuck in Bob’s dad’s craw, as he wanted to be Jr. So, when his son was born, he decided to call the kid Robert Tyre Jones Jr.”
Years later when the members at East Lake began to notice Jones’ prodigious golfing talent, they called him Bobby to differentiate him from his father, Colonel Bob Jones. The name stuck while he was a teenager, but when he graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, he told everyone that, he was old enough to have outlived Bobby and would prefer to be called Bob.
Most people adhered to that, but The Atlanta Journal’s O.B. Keeler continued to propagate the Bobby Jones bit and then, when he played in Britain during the 1920s, UK golf fans began calling him “our Bobby”. “The nickname stuck for the rest of his life in the UK, and while Jones was good with this, he still felt Robert and Bob were more dignified.
When he became a director of AG Spalding, he insisted the company put the name Robert T Jones Jr. on all the clubs he was endorsing. The one time someone brought out a department store line that had Bobby Jones written on them, Bob made them drop the line because he hated them so much.”
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Bob was brilliant from birth.
“Jones came to national attention when he reached the quarter-finals of the 1916 US Amateur Championship at the age of 14,” says Matthew.
“But his talent had been noticedlocally a long time before then. We have a photograph of him winning his first tournament at East Lake aged six, and by the time he was 11, he was able to shoot 80 round the famous course. He also won the club championship at both East Lake and Druid Hills when he was 13.”
I have a theory that Bobby Jones slept with his putter.
“Bobby’s Calamity Jane putter is by far and away the most famous of all his clubs. He was given the original in Nassau, Long Island in the early 1920s by Scottish professional Jimmy Maiden. A few years after this, on November 22, 1925, the East Lake clubhouse burned to the ground. Every single one of Bob’s clubs was lost to the re, except Calamity Jane. This has led me to deduce that Calamity Jane had to have been in his room, as he clearly did not trust putting it in the bag room at East Lake.
“He was clearly very attached to thatputter. At one point during the 1920s, Spalding clubmaker J. Victor East looked at the original Calamity Jane and said, ‘It’s off’. Bob said, ‘It’s not’. Then East said he could prove it was. He took Bob to a snooker room and set up a pendulum putting device on a snooker table. They put a perfect putter in and the ball went straight down the slate table. Then they put Calamity Jane in and the ball went towards the right pocket.
“What had happened was that caddies had been using sandpaper to knock the rust off the blade. Whenever they finished the job, they did a little twist in the centre of the sweetspot which, over time, created a hole in the middle of the clubface.
“After seeing the evidence, Bob allowed East to make six copies of Calamity Jane. One went in his bag, helped him to win his last 10 major titles and is now displayed in the USGA Museum in Far Hills, New Jersey, but golf collectors arestill looking for the other five. These replicas of Calamity Jane II are special because Jones’ signature is on the back of the putter head and stamped on the shaft.” Bobby terrified New York’s underworld.
“In the late 1920s, Jones was up in New York playing bridge with New York Police Commissioner Grover Whalen and the head of the FBI in the city. He parked in front of the FBI chief’s house and when he got back to his car at the end of the evening he discovered his clubs had been stolen out of the boot. Whalen put the word out that some mugs had stolen Bob Jones’ clubs and that there would be a crackdown on everybody if they weren’t returned immediately. The next day, they showed up at a pawnshop.
“The incident scared Bob into getting his clubs copied. He took his set to Tom Stewart in St Andrews, and the clubmaker reproduced them for him. Once he had done this, Stewart decided he would make some money by making copies of the clubs used by RT Jones Jr. and began to advertise this service. Word got back to Jones, who quickly wrote a letter asking Stewart to stop making the copies, as having his name on clubs that were being sold compromised his amateur status (a similar incident had seen the USGAdeclare Francis Ouimet a non-amateur). Because of this halt to Stewart’s money- making scheme these bootleg copies are rare and extremely sought after.”
Bobby Jones never – ever – played golf for fun.
“One time leading American amateur Chick Evans walked on to the 1st tee and said, ‘Bob, we are good friends let’s just play for fun rather than trying to beat each other’s brains out.’ Bob replied, ‘Forget it. You had better try to beat my brains out, because when I beat you I don’t want you to have any excuses.’ Bob thought that not going out to try to win was not sportsmanlike and always wanted his opponents to play their very best, as that meant he was either able to say, ‘I beat you when you were playing you’re A-game,’ or, ‘Good on you, you beat me playing your A-game.’”
Bobby didn’t bet on himself for the Grand Slam. “It was reported that Bob bet on himself to win the Grand Slam in 1930 – the US Open, the Open Championship, the US Amateur and the Amateur Championship. But that is simply not true. Although he did conceive the idea of winning the grand slam four years before he achieved it, he didn’t feel gambling was ethical and was sick to the stomach that his friends were betting on him.
“The first person to place a bet on the Jones grand slam was Scottish professional Bobby Cruickshank. Early in 1930, he was drawn to play alongside Jones in a professional tournament in Augusta, Georgia.
Jones won this event by something like 16 shots and, having seen how well he was playing, Cruickshank said, ‘I know what you are going to do this year, Bob. You are going to win all the major championships in one year.’
He went to Lloyd’s of London, put the bet on at odds of 50-1 and ended up winning $60,000. “Once Cruickshank had placed his bet, word began to spread and pretty soon any club that had a connection to Jones was trying to place a bet. In the end, Lloyd’s was so inundated it had to limit the stake to $500 per club.”
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Building Augusta National Golf Club was insane
The decision to build Augusta National at the height of the depression was an extraordinary one. At the time, no-one else was opening golf courses and a lot of the established ones were shutting down. The club managed to secure the majority of the building costs from three investors, but were really struggling to pay the billsonce the course opened. They reorganised twice, which was essentially a trick to avoid bankruptcy.
“Then, in 1934, they came up with the idea of hosting a tournament that would generate some gate money and publicity. They promoted the event using Bob Jones’ fame and notoriety, and got the international media on board by paying for their travel between New York and Augusta and putting them up in a nice hotel for free. It was a brilliant marketing strategy and it worked. Everyone thought the Augusta National Invitational was some kind of party and by the time 1939 came around, this annual tournament had evolved in to The Masters.”
Even during the war, Bobby Jones found time to play golf.
“Despite being nearly 40 when America entered World War II, Jones joined the US Army Air Forces and served in England with the 84th Fighter Wing.
“His primary assignment was intelligence, so he endeavoured to stay out of the public eye, but there is a photograph of him in his uniform that proves he played at least one round at Royal Lytham.
“We also know that he landed in Normandy two days after D-Day and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel before he left the military.”
Bobby’s death may have been accidental.
“Officially, Bobby died of syringomyelia in 1971, aged 69. Syringomyelia is a rare condition where a cyst or fluid-filled cavity forms within the spinal cord. It tends to be either congenital or caused by trauma and there were several traumatic incidents in Jones’ life that could have caused it.
“First, as a young child he fell off the porch of his family’s farmhouse and hurt his neck on a metal garbage can. Second, one day he was running to get into the East Lake clubhouse when lightning hit the chimney and dislodged a number of bricks. One of these bricks ripped through Jones’ umbrella, hit the back of his neck, tore his shirt and left a bloodstain on his back.
“Third, he woke up with a crick in his neck prior to a match in 1926 and a physiotherapist was called in to do an adjustment that may not have been properly carried out.
“And fourth, in the late 1940s he had an operation ‘to relieve pressure’ that involved surgeons going in to his neck and digging around. Given he was diagnosed with syringomyelia soon after this, I have a theory that the operation could have caused scar tissue that exacerbated the problem instead of alleviating it.”
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About the author
Rob Jerram is the Digital Editor oftodays-golfer.com. He specializes in the DP World Tour, PGA Tour, LIV Golf, and the Ryder Cup, spending large chunks of his days reading about, writing about, and watching the tours each month.
He’s passionate about the equipment used by professional golfers and is also a font of knowledge when it comes to golf balls, golf trolleys, and golf bags, testing thousands down the years.
Rob has been a journalist for more than 23 years, starting his career with Johnston Press where he covered local and regional news and sport in a variety of editorial roles across ten years.
He joined Bauer Media in September 2010 and worked as the Senior Production Editor of Today’s Golfer and Golf World magazines for ten years before moving into the Digital Editor’s role in July 2020.
During his time in the golf industry, Rob has interviewed and played golf with some of the biggest names in the game, including Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry, Lee Westwood, Colin Montgomerie, and Rick Shiels.
In his spare time, Rob enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters, watching Peterborough United FC, going for long walks, flying his drone, cooking, and reading.
Rob uses aPing G driver,Ping G 3-wood,TaylorMade M5 5-wood,TaylorMade P790 irons(2, 4-PW),TaylorMadeMG3 wedges(52º, 58º),Evnroll ER2 putter, andTaylorMade Tour Response golf ball.
You canemail Roborget in touch with him on Twitter.
A practicing lawyer in Atlanta, Jones never became a professional golfer and rarely played in championship competition after his final Grand Slam victory, the U.S. Amateur tournament in 1930.Did Bobby Jones bet on himself to win Grand Slam? ›
Bobby didn't bet on himself for the Grand Slam. “It was reported that Bob bet on himself to win the Grand Slam in 1930 – the US Open, the Open Championship, the US Amateur and the Amateur Championship. But that is simply not true.Did Bobby Jones found the Masters? ›
In March 1934, Bobby Jones co-founds the Augusta National Invitation Tournament (later named the Masters) at his newly completed dream course, Augusta National Golf Club, which he co-designs with Alister MacKenzie. At the inaugural tournament, Jones plays his first competitive tournament since retirement.How did Bobby Jones get syringomyelia? ›
He acquired syringomyelia in a freak accident during a thunderstorm in 1929 when bricks from the East Lake Golf Club fells on his neck. His symptoms became noticeable in 1948, and he was finally diagnosed in 1950.Why did Bobby Jones not turn pro? ›
Though he did not intend to earn money from playing golf in pro tournaments, Jones intended to make money from instructional films and books. According to USGA rules, only professionals were allowed to make money from golf in any form.Did Bobby Jones practice law? ›
In 1928, he attended Emory University law school, passing the Bar after only three semesters. He joined his father's law firm, practicing civil and contract law until his death.Is Bobby Jones the best golfer of all time? ›
Jones is the only golfer to ever win the Grand Slam—winning all four major tournaments in one calendar year. In Bobby Jones' case, the four major golf tournaments were the U.S. Open, the British Open, the U.S. Amateur, and the British Amateur.
He is considered by many as the best golfer in the history of the game. This might be considered arguable considering the many great players over the years, but he is, without doubt, the one who recorded most successes in such a limited time.Why did Bobby Jones pick Augusta? ›
The two men probably met sometime in 1930, Jones IV said, and either Alfred Bourne or Thomas Barrett introduced them. Augusta was chosen as the location for Jones' ideal golf course after seeing the Fruitland Nurseries property. “Bub saw someone in Cliff who could make the financial side come true,” Jones IV said.Who was the first black man to win the Masters? ›
The first African-American to ever play in the Masters Tournament in 1975, Elder was rushing to watch Tiger Woods, the rising young PGA Tour star he had known and mentored since he was 14 years old, make history by becoming the first African-American to win the Masters.
Bobby Jones' Hole-In-One
"In 1927 Robert Tyre (Bobby) Jones, Jr made his first Hole-in-One on the Eleventh Hole at East Lake. It measured 173 yards. He used a hickory shafted No. 4 iron on that occasion.
Bobby Jones suffered from the debilitating effects of syringomyelia, a degenerative spinal condition, from around the age of 30 right up until his death in 1971. The disease crippled him for most of the second half of his life, taking away not just his ability to play golf, but to walk.What caused Bobby Jones death? ›
Afflicted that year with a rare spinal disease called syringomyelia, Jones had to give up golf and was soon forced into a wheelchair. He took his final trip to the Masters in 1968. Finally succumbing to his illness, Jones died on December 18, 1971, at the age of sixty-nine.What is an interesting fact about Bobby Jones? ›
Bobby Jones becomes the only golfer to win the “Grand Slam”.
Bobby Jones wins the “Grand Slam”, by winning all four major golf tournaments of the time in a single year: the British Amateur, the British Open, the U.S. Open, and the U.S. Amateur.
Torrance told Jones he only carried 12 clubs, while Jones said he was carrying 16 in 1930, the year he won the Grand Slam (or Impregnable Quadrilateral) and retired from competitive golf. Supposedly they compromised on 14. Campbell wasn't the only player to favour an excessive number of clubs.How long did Bobby Jones play professional golf? ›
From 1923 to 1929, the Georgia gentleman dominated golf, birdieing his way into this country's heart by winning nine major championships. Bobby Jones found success immediately on the golf course, struggled to find himself as a teen and then had seven phenomenal seasons before retiring from the game at age 28 in 1930.Did Bobby Jones quit golf? ›
Afflicted that year with a rare spinal disease called syringomyelia, Jones had to give up golf and was soon forced into a wheelchair. He took his final trip to the Masters in 1968. Finally succumbing to his illness, Jones died on December 18, 1971, at the age of sixty-nine.