“Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course, the space between your ears.”
Truer words have never been spoken, and these were spoken by one of the most infamous and revered golfers: the only single-season Grand Slam winner, Hall of Famer, and Masters tournament co-founder, Bobby Jones.
A Child Prodigy
“He must have been born with a deep love for the game. He was certainly born with the soul of a perfectionist.” – Stewart Maiden, East Lake Country Club golf pro
With the given name Robert Tyre Jones, Jr., the golf idol we know as Bobby Jones was born in Atlanta in 1902 and quickly demonstrated a sickly nature that drove his family to purchase a summer home near the fairways of an Atlanta country club, East Lake. By the age of six, Bobby was swinging sawed-off golf clubs and mimicking the country club golf pro’s swing in tournaments. At 11, he scored a mere 80 on the East Lake course, and his father knew he was destined for golf greatness.
Seven Lean Years
“Bobby was a short, rotund kid, with the face of an angel and the temper of a timber wolf.” – Grantland Rice, The Saturday Evening Post, 1940
From the ages of 14 to 21, Bobby Jones was widely recognized as a golf prodigy, but often struggled in tournaments with his swing and temper. Jones himself pinpointed his lowest point: during the third round of the 1921 British Open, when, at the 11th green, he committed the cardinal sin of picking up because he had already taken 50-some shots. “It was the most inglorious failure of my golfing life,” he remembered.
“It is the worst putter I have ever held in my hands. If a pro left it in a barrel of clubs in his shop at a dollar apiece, nobody would buy it.” – writer Charles Price
Arguably the most famous club in the world, Bobby Jones inherited what was the first Calamity Jane, a Condie head made in Scotland, around 1920 after he lost at the U.S. Amateur. What makes the Calamity Jane putter so famous is how it saw Bobby Jones transform from a hot-headed, sore loser to the poised and talented golfer we revere today. Jones retired his first Calamity Jane putter, after winning his first three majors, in 1926 for a replacement.
Calamity Jane putters today sport three sections of black linen whipping to imitate the original, which may have been lashed as repairs. Jones was known for his temper and for even throwing the Calamity Jane putter.
Check out our CJ Model Putter, fashioned after Bobby Jones’s famous Calamity Jane putter.
Seven Fat Years
“The secret of golf is to turn three shots into two.” – Bobby Jones
The turning point most turn to for Bobby Jones is the 1923 U.S. Open at Inwood Country Club in New York. Although he gave up his lead and tied with Bobby Cruikshank by the 18th hole, Jones managed to make one of the most talked about shots in golf history. The ball was 190 yards away from the green, in loose dirt in the edge of the rough, with water on his next shot as a possibility if he went for the green. With the 2-iron, Jones drilled the ball completely over the water and landed it within eight feet of the pin. And with that, two putts later, Jones won his first major and the Seven Fat Years began.
Many of his following championships came easily, and often with a record-breaking low number of strokes.
Single-Season Grand Slam
“While Jones’ driver and putter were his two best clubs, his best weapon was his will to win. He performed at his best when the pressure was at its peak.” – Larry Schwartz, ESPN
The British Amateur in 1930 at Saint Andrew’s was Jones’s first stop on his journey to the Grand Slam. Of the eight winning matches in that first tournament, he won three of them by just a slim margin of 1-up. Two weeks later he won his third British Open in five years by just two strokes.
A double-bogey in the 71st hole in U.S. Open later that year almost threatened his chance at the Grand Slam but a final birdie secured his fourth U.S. Open championship. His next stop was the U.S. Amateur outside Philadelphia and by this time his trajectory towards a Grand Slam was getting noticed. Jones needed bodyguards to protect him from fans while he swept up another victory and the title of Grand Slam.
Retirement and The Masters
“There were no worlds left for him to conquer.” – writer Herbert Warren Wind
After his big Grand Slam win in 1930, Bobby Jones decided to retire from professional golfing at the age of 28.
Jones completed degrees in mechanical engineering and English literature from both Georgia Tech and Harvard, and he was admitted to the Georgia bar after one year of law school. But, Jones wanted to create the perfect golf course. So, he enlisted the help of course architect Alister MacKenzie and administrator Clifford Roberts, to build what is known today as the Augusta National Golf Club and home to the Masters Tournament. The course opened for play in 1933 and began hosting the Masters in 1934.
According to the Augusta Chronicle in 2013:
[Bobby Jones's] spirit, like the dogwoods and azaleas that cover Augusta National, permeates the Masters. Tales of his sportsmanship and sense of fair play are retold each spring to a new generation, and his code of etiquette is still a must-read for any Masters visitor.
When it came to planning the logistics of the Masters Tournament, Clifford Roberts knew it had to be different from the others. In one way, it would be held in the same place every year. In his book, The Story of the Augusta National Golf Club, Roberts said, “We realized that, in order to build a tournament of stature that could survive Bob’s eventual separation from the event, it needed to be operated in a better fashion and made more enjoyable than any other.”
And that’s just what they did.
“As a young man, he was able to stand up to just about the best that life can offer, which is not easy, and later he stood up with equal grace to just about the worst.” – Herbert Warren Wind
In 1948 Jones was diagnosed with a rare disease of the central nervous system, syringomyelia, which prevented him from playing golf again. In his last years, he was confined to a wheelchair because of the pain and atrophy the disease caused. Jones passed away December 18, 1971 in Atlanta at the age of 69.
Although it has been 43 years since Jones’s death, his presence lives on today in the popularity of the Calamity Jane putter, at the Augusta National Country Club, and certainly during the Masters Tournament every April. The dogwoods and azaleas still bloom and we still honor sportsmanship and fair play just as Jones would want it.