Ivan Morris Column - Bobby Jones’ legacy

Limerick Leader golf columnist Ivan Morris
ALMOST as soon as he quit playing championship golf at the age of 28 in 1930, Bob Jones unwittingly became enveloped in an aura of beatification that continues right up to this day. If Jones had wished to fade away into oblivion - leaving Augusta National, the scene of this weekend’s Masters, as his ‘goodbye legacy’ did the opposite. The seeds of the idea for building a golf course began while Jones was on his way home by Liner across the Atlantic Ocean after his historic victory in The Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Anne’s in 1926 where he met Dr. Alister Mackenzie and had discussed the pros and cons of golf course architecture.

ALMOST as soon as he quit playing championship golf at the age of 28 in 1930, Bob Jones unwittingly became enveloped in an aura of beatification that continues right up to this day. If Jones had wished to fade away into oblivion - leaving Augusta National, the scene of this weekend’s Masters, as his ‘goodbye legacy’ did the opposite. The seeds of the idea for building a golf course began while Jones was on his way home by Liner across the Atlantic Ocean after his historic victory in The Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Anne’s in 1926 where he met Dr. Alister Mackenzie and had discussed the pros and cons of golf course architecture.

By 1929, Jones had found a suitable property at Augusta and was in correspondence with Mackenzie whose philosophy matched his own. With the Wall Street Crash around the corner, seeking investors could hardly have been worse timed. Jones’s five-star reputation and the business acumen of an eccentric, Wall Street Investment Banker, Clifford Roberts, helped to save the project.

Mackenzie arrived in Augusta for a 3-day stay in July 1931. He and Jones spent every daylight hour walking the land in sweltering heat before burning the midnight oil studying Mackenzie’s impromptu sketches, which may or may not have been embellished by the copious amounts of corn whiskey consumed.

The course invisaged was novel in that it was designed to accommodate spectators. The hilliness of the terrain was exploited to position fairways and greens with many vantage points. This remains Augusta’s single, most striking characteristic.

From the beginning, Augusta was recognised as an examination in strategy. The fairways were wide, bunkering sparse and rough hardly existed but every hole had a preferred, advantageous route. Jones wanted to reward those who played bravely and overcame risks.

Clifford Roberts can claim the credit for calling the tournament ‘The Masters’ but Jones never liked it. He thought it pretentious. The Masters was ‘made’ by the age of colour television, the vivid green, contrasting shrubbery and colourful flowers as well as the exciting finishing holes and exciting finishes caught everyone’s imagination.

Those three days in July 1931 were the only time Mackenzie laid eyes on Augusta. Due to an unresolved dispute with Cliff Roberts over payments, he never returned. Tragically, he died suddenly early in 1934, two months before the first Masters took place.

Sidney Matthew, a Tallahassee lawyer is the greatest living expert on Jones, having written thirteen books about him. One story stands out. Bob hated slow play and Matthew illustrated it thus: A trial lawyer defending a capital murder case in Atlanta, where Jones also practiced Law, stormed eloquently for several hours in his summation to the jury. “Bob”, he said later seeking some crumb of comfort, “I was fantastic. I had the jury captivated.” “How did it turn out?” “Alas, my client was convicted,” said the lawyer. Instead, Bob looked him straight in the eye and quipped: “I could have had him convicted in a lot less time!”

Bob Jones’s wisdom is fit for the ages and here is a selection: Long waits at the tee constitute one of the severest problems of competitive golf. They break your concentration and throw one off one’s stride.

Except on the putting green and in playing very short approaches, I have found little value in the maxim “keep your eye on the ball”. Think of staying down to the ball.

The value of a hazard is not so much that it catches a shot that has been missed but that it forces a miss upon the timid player; its psychological worth is greater than its penal value.

I’m glad I did not miss out on playing seaside golf in a heat wave when the greens are rock hard and the fairways and putting surfaces like glass. No man-made design can equal the testing qualities of such conditions.

There are two kinds of golf - golf and tournament golf. In tournament golf, there’s nothing that can put back what it takes out of you--the suffering, the worry over your game, the eternal grind of practice with spectators crowding in on you, the mental strain of a week’s competition.

Don’t worry about par. The practice of printing par figures on a scorecard is literally a mental hazard.

I do not like making the pace. It gets harder and harder as you go. The other fellows, with nothing on their minds but their hair, are shooting the works while you keep wondering if you hadn’t better be careful and try not to lose any strokes, which is the best possible way of losing them.

Only a really good course will afford opportunity to use every club in the bag. (Before a limit was written into to rules, Jones regularly carried 22 clubs!)

There is no hazard quite like the wind, for it affects every shot or every hole from the tee to the bottom of the cup and what it fails to do to the ball in the air, it does with interest to the morale of the player.

Perfect design places a premium on sound judgment as well as accurate, ball-striking. Length is its own reward but length without control ought to be punished.

Competitive golf is played on a five-and-a-half inches wide golf course.

Such a wise man, Mr. Jones!

Words of Wisdom:

The Masters always had one thing going for it (above anything else) - Bobby Jones. He was its sole raison d’etre. If it was assailable, he was not. Golf genuflected before the name of Bobby Jones. It was as if God put together the tournament. Let no man put asunder - Jim Murray