Book Review: The Grand Slam: Bobby Jones, America, and the Story of Golf

by Roy M. Barineau, Ph. D. on May 17, 2011

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

Book Review: The Grand Slam : Bobby Jones, America, and the Story of Golf

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Frost, Mark, The Grand Slam: Bobby Jones, America, and the Story of Golf, New York: Hyperion, 2004.

The Grand Slam is a biography of Bobby Jones (1902-1971), an extraordinary golfer of the 1920s and early 1930s. (Jones, the reader may already be aware, is my guide through hell, purgatory, and paradise in my golfer’s version of Dante’s Divine Comedy.)  Frost begins with a lightning strike, in 1929, at Atlanta’s East Lake Country Club, that toppled chimney bricks onto Jones’ back, and he ends with Jones dying due to syringomyelia, a disease, Frost suggests, that could have been related to a spinal injury from the fallen chimney bricks.   In between, while battling on the course, we learn of the dangers of alcohol, dramatic weight loss, and the intense physical stress that championship golf involved.  Frost’s story climaxes with the events related to Jones’ determination to win all four majors, during the course of four months, in 1930.

Jones was an amateur; he never competed as a “professional.”  The Professional Golf Association of America was not founded until 1916.  Being a professional golfer in Jones’ day was a new phenomenon, and bearing the title of “professional” was associated with selling out a noble game.  The PGA Championship had not arisen to the status it has today, and The Masters was non-existent (The Masters, of course, was begun by Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts, in 1934, at Augusta National, the course Jones designed with Alister MacKenzie).

For Jones, then, in 1930, the majors included the Amateur Championship (the British Amateur), the Open Championship (the British Open), the United States Open Championship, and the United States Amateur Championship.  A sportswriter and friend of Jones, Oscar “Pop” Keeler, termed Jones’ triumph at these four majors “the Grand Slam.” Jones retired from competitive golf just a few weeks after his incredible accomplishment.  Oh, by the way, Jones accomplished his “Grand Slam” with hickory shafts.

No one has ever repeated Jones’ feat, and it is highly unlikely that anyone ever will.  Jones’ achievement, in his own time, was extraordinary enough.  Today, the world of golf has changed so dramatically that it is hard to imagine the circumstances under which a golfer could be both so talented as to win those four events in one season and also be so committed to remaining an amateur.  Today, the Grand Slam refers to winning the Masters, the United States Open, the Open Championship (British), and the PGA Championship all in the same year. The only problem is that no one has ever done it.  Tiger got close with his so-called “Tiger Slam.” After winning the Masters in 2001, Tiger owned the titles to all four majors.  He just did not win them all in the same year.

The Grand Slam is an excellent biography.  Frost weaves the story of Bobby Jones into a social history of American and offers insights into the culture of golf in Jones’ time. Frost may glorify Jones, treating him like a sacrificing martyr, but Jones was something of a martyr, willing to suffer because of his love for the game.  I personally would not have a problem referring to him as Saint Bobby Jones.

If you are interested in the history of golf and if you are an admirer of Bobby Jones, you will enjoy The Grand Slam : Bobby Jones, America, and the Story of Golf.  In 2004, a movie somewhat like The Grand Slam, appeared.  The movie, Bobby Jones, Stroke of Genius (Special Edition),was not well received, but I found it worth a watch.

For a related review see Sid Matthew’s Life and Times of Bobby Jones.

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

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