While dozens of male and female athletes excelled in the “Golden Age of American Sport,” none captured the public imagination quite like Atlanta’s own Robert Tyre “Bobby” Jones.
For a career that launched six decades before the birth of Tiger Woods, Bobby Jones is credited with popularizing golf on an international stage. His sportsmanship called attention to the game’s best traditions, and his success and character on and off the course inspired generations to this day. His 14-year playing career culminated in 1930 when he became the only golfer to achieve the Grand Slam by winning golf’s four major tournaments in the same year.
Fair Play: The Bobby Jones Story focuses on the character and achievement of the man considered the most important golfer in the history of the sport.
As the History Center’s only exhibition focused on a single person, Fair Play features a host of new artifacts, including a rare program from the inaugural Augusta National Invitational (now the Masters) in 1934; a personal letter from Jones to two-time Masters winner Ben Hogan; and four first edition books authored by Jones.
Other highlights in the permanent exhibit include rare replicas of the Grand Slam trophies; a Masters green jacket; and Depression-era Spalding golf clubs that Jones helped design, marking the first set of matched irons. Many of the new artifacts in the exhibition are from a longtime Jones admirer, the late John P. Imlay Jr.
In 1916 at age 14, Jones captured the Georgia State Amateur Championship at Capital City Club. The win qualified him for his first national championship, the U.S. Amateur at Merion Golf Club near Philadelphia. That year, American Golfer magazine predicted that the golfer dubbed “the new kid from Dixie” “has the making of a national champion.”
But Jones instead suffered many loses over a period that Atlanta Journal sportswriter O.B. Keeler labeled “The Seven Lean Years.” Other golfers provided strong opposition, but Jones’ biggest challenge from 1916 to 1922 was his own temper. Perhaps his low point came at the 1921 British Open. After teeing off in the third round at the Old Course at St. Andrews, where he was playing poorly, he picked up his ball, thereby disqualifying himself.
Six years later, he wrote in his autobiography, Down the Fairway: “I have some sterling regrets in golf. This is the principle regret – that I ever quit in a competition.”
But his troubles persisted. At the U.S. Amateur later that year, Jones threw a club and struck a woman’s leg. That drew a warning from United States Golf Association that Jones would never play a USGA event again unless he handled his temper.
After that, Jones finally managed to control his tumultuous emotions. His growing maturity was best displayed on the 11th hole of the 1925 U.S. Open when he touched the grass behind the ball with his club, causing it to move. No one noticed, but he called a penalty on himself, thus losing the tournament.
From 1923 to 1930, Bobby Jones won 13 major tournaments: five U.S. Amateurs (1924, 1925, 1927, 1928, 1930), four U.S. Opens (1923, 1926, 1929, 1930), three British Opens (1926, 1927, 1930), and one British Amateur (1930).
Then, at the height of his career, he retired from the sport to devote time to his family, career, and his native city of Atlanta. Afterward, he became golf’s beloved ambassador and helped found Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament, today the sport’s premier tournament.
Jones’ remarkable journey is perfectly encapsulated by an enlarged 1971 quote by sportswriter O.B. Keeler at the entrance to Imlay Gallery: “Bobby Jones has more character than any champion in our history.”
Bobby Jones Timeline
1902: Robert Tyre “Bobby” Jones Jr. born March 17 to attorney Robert Purmedus Jones, called “Colonel,” and Clara Merrick Thomas Jones. Jones’ grandparents are Robert Tyre “R.T.” Jones, a businessman from Canton, Georgia, and Susie Walker Jones.
1908: Jones family moves to Atlanta’s East Lake suburb. Bobby Jones follows club professional Stewart Maiden, a native of Scotland, around Atlanta Athletic Club’s East Lake Golf Course, mimicking his swing.
1916: Wins Georgia State Amateur Championship at age 14 and competes in the U.S. Amateur as the youngest competitor that year.
1916–1922: Competes in dozens of tournaments failing to win a major championship during what Atlanta Journal sportswriter O.B. Keeler labels the “Seven Lean Years.”
1917: Graduates from Tech High School
1917: Plays exhibition events, raising more than $150,000 for the American Red Cross during World War I.
1921: During the third round of the British Open, Jones loses his temper and intentionally disqualifies himself from the championship.
1922: Receives a B.S. in mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech.
1923: Wins first major championship, the U.S. Open, at Inwood Country Club in New York, beginning what Atlanta Journal sportswriter O.B. Keeler labels the “Seven Fat Years.”
1924: Marries Mary Rice Malone, June 17; over the next seven years, they have three children: Clara Malone, Robert Tyre III, and Mary Ellen.
1924: Completes a degree from Harvard University in English literature.
1926: Becomes the first golfer to win the “Double,” comprised of the U.S. Open and the British Open. It is another six years before another player – New York golfer Gene Sarazen—matches his feat.
1927: Passes the bar exam while attending Emory Law School.
1927: Publishes his autobiography, Down the Fairway, in collaboration with O.B. Keeler.
1930: Is the first and only golfer to win what O.B. Keeler dubs the “Grand Slam” – British Amateur, British Open, U.S. Open, and U.S. Amateur. Two months later, Jones retires from competitive golf.
1932: Augusta National Golf Club opens, designed by Bobby Jones and British golf course architect Dr. Alister MacKenzie. Two years later, the first Augusta Invitational Tournament is played, now known as the Masters.
1948: August 15, Bobby Jones plays his last round of golf at East Lake Golf Course with Bob Ingram, Tommy Barnes, and Henry Lindner.
1955: Bobby Jones is diagnosed with syringomyelia, a degenerative spinal disease.
1955: USGA establishes the annual Bob Jones Award to honor his sportsmanship.
1958: The people of St. Andrews, Scotland, award the Freedom of the City and the Royal Burgh of St. Andrews to Bobby Jones
1971: December 17, Bobby Jones dies and is buried in Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery.