Book Review: Life and Times of Bobby Jones

by Roy M. Barineau, Ph. D. on May 20, 2011

Roybob’s Book on Golf: The Hucks, A Golfer’s Divine Comedy, and a Religious Philosophy of Golf

Book Review: Life and Times of Bobby Jones

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Sidney L. Matthew, Life and Times of Bobby Jones, Chelsea, MI: Sleeping Bear Press, 1995.

Matthew tells the story of one of the best players who has ever lived. Readers will know that I have high regard for Bobby Jones, as he is my guide through hell, purgatory, and paradise in my “Golfer’s Divine Comedy.” On the front flap, Robert T. Jones IV, who wrote the foreword for Mathew’s book, states, “I believe that this is probably the best book ever written about my grandfather.”

Referring to a talented sportswriter, O.B. Keeler, as “Bobby Jones’ Secret Weapon,” Matthew relates how “Pop,” as he was called, served as both friend and promoter. If Bobby Jones should be called Saint Bobby, Keeler did a lot to effect that canonization.

Matthew also devotes an interesting chapter to “Bobby Jones in Hollywood,” informing readers about Jones’ instructional films entitled “Bobby Jones How I Play Golf Instructional Series” and “How to Break 90” (now included as part of “How I Play Golf”).  After retiring from competitive play in 1930, Jones accepted an offer from Warner Brothers to make the films. Jones seems to have genuinely enjoyed the work, and Matthew relates some of the antics, practical jokes, and celebrity encounters.

Matthew incorporates a lot of pictures which he utilizes as a vehicle to recount Jones’ life. One of the chapters consisting primarily of pictures relates Jones’ war years. Matthew informs readers that though he was entitled to a medical disability and was beyond the age of active service at forty years old, Jones wanted to enter the war effort. He was commissioned as a captain in the Army Air Force in 1942. He landed at Normandy on the day after D-Day (June 6, 1944) and spent two months in the line of fire. He was discharged in August of 1944 with the rank of lieutenant-colonel.

Another chapter relates “Bobby Jones’ Greatest Shots … And Some Others.” Bobby, as one can imagine, hit many great shots.  It may be of interest, though, that Jones scored only two holes-in-one during his lifetime.  Holes-in-one are strange phenomena.  The English professional Wilfrid Reid (1884-1973) scored twenty-six holes in one during his career.  Granted, Reid had a longer career, but, still, twenty-six?

In a chapter entitled “March on Britain,” Matthew deals with what I regard as one of the more interesting episodes in Jones’ life, an event which Jones, in Down the Fairway (1927) referred to as his “principal regret,” namely, giving up or quitting during his third round of the Open Championship (1921) at the Old Course in St. Andrews. It was Jones’ first visit to St. Andrews, and, as many others, he initially found the layout of the Old Course bewildering or perplexing. He was playing terribly during his third round, topping balls and putting poorly. He shot forty-six on the front nine. On the par three eleventh, he hit his tee shot into Hill Bunker, a deep bunker in front of a steeply sloped green. He failed to exit the bunker on his first and second efforts.

What happened next has been difficult to discern, in part because of so many apparently contradictory accounts. Some related that Bobby took one more swing; others indicated that he took two more. Some related that he left the bunker with the ball in his pocket; Jones himself, in Down the Fairway, reported that he picked up his ball on the green where he had a short putt for a “horrid” six. Some reported that he tore up his scorecard on the twelfth hole and threw the pieces into the River Eden.  Bernard Darwin, writing for a British newspaper called The Times, reported that, after the incident, Bobby “teed up his ball,” “drove it far away into the Eden,” and, then, stormed off the course. No writer witnessed the events, and all manner of hearsay reports circulated at the time.  Darwin never left the clubhouse and, relying on bad information, incorrectly reported that Jones strode off the course.

Matthew discovered an eye witness account, dating to 1958, which has helped to clarify what happened.  Matthew is a member of Golden Eagle Country Club, the club where I play, and I have communicated with him about this issue.  The eye witness account was a letter to the editor written by David Anderson to the St. Andrews Citizen.  Anderson was the great grandson of Ole Da’ Anderson (1821-1901, feathery ball maker, senior caddie, Keeper of the Green, and vendor of libations at St. Andrews), and he owned the Kinburn Hotel on Double Dykes Road in St. Andrews. Anderson related that after teeing off on the twelfth, Jones asked the marker for his scorecard.  Then, “after a short scrutiny,” Jones “coolly and deliberately tore it to shreds.”

As far as Matthew can discern, then, an accurate reconstruction has Jones picking up his ball out of the bunker after his third attempt at extraction.  Jones was simply inconsistent, for whatever reason, when he wrote he had picked up his ball on the green where he had a putt for a “horrid” six.  After he hit his tee ball on the twelfth, Jones asked for his card and tore it to pieces.

Whatever the case, Bobby soon became ashamed of himself. He played out his third round, but for picking up his ball and failing to submit a scorecard he was automatically disqualified. Even though it was of no official consequence, he also played the fourth and final round. In fact, had he not been disqualified, his final round score of seventy-two (one under part at the time) would have given him a share of the new low amateur record at St. Andrews.

As one can imagine, the locals of St. Andrews had about as much regard for young Bobby as he had for their course. Nevertheless, Jones would return to St. Andrews, and he would develop a love and respect for the Old Course. The British, in turn, would develop a love and respect for him.

Jones returned to the Old Course for an American victory in the 1926 Walker Cup. In the following year, Jones dominated the Open Championship at the Old Course. The spectators, overwhelmed by his performance, carried him on their shoulders all the way to his hotel, and Jones further pleased the crowed by leaving the trophy in the care of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of Saint Andrews rather than taking it home with him to Atlanta. As part of his Grand Slam in 1930, Jones won The Amateur Championship (British Amateur) on the Old Course. In 1936, Jones, his wife, and some friends, traveled to Europe to attend the Olympics in Berlin. The group stopped over at a resort in Gleneagles, Scotland, about sixty miles from Saint Andrews. Jones could not resist the urge to play the Old Course one last time. A chauffeur made a request for a tee time in the name of “R. T. Jones, Jr., Atlanta.” Word of Jones’ impending arrival made its way around St. Andrews. Businesses closed their doors and hung out signs reading something like, “Our Bobby is Back.” By the time Jones teed off, some four thousand people were on hand. Jones shot thirty-two on the front nine and finished eighteen with a crowd pleasing birdie for a round of seventy-two. In 1958, Jones was named a Freeman of the City of St. Andrews, only the second American (the other being Benjamin Franklin) to be so honored. In essence, Jones was recognized as a citizen of St. Andrews. In his acceptance speech, Jones concluded by saying, “I could take out of my life everything except my experiences at St. Andrews and I would still have a rich and full life.” On December 18, 1971, upon receiving news of Bobby Jones’ death, golfers on the Old Course suspended play, and the flag at the clubhouse was lowered to half staff. On September 10, 1972, the town council of St. Andrews named the tenth hole of the Old Course the “Bobby Jones” hole.

The story of Bobby Jones is a wonderful story, and Matthew relates that story well. My only complaint is that the book is repetitive at times, and there are some inconsistencies in what is repeated. Nevertheless, if you are an admirer of Bobby Jones, I can confidently recommend Matthew’s Life and Times of Bobby Jones. For related reviews, see Matthew’s Wry Stories on the Road Hole and Mark Frost’s The Grand Slam.

Roybob’s Book on Golf: The Hucks, A Golfer’s Divine Comedy, and a Religious Philosophy of Golf

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