Ivan Morris : The Jones' family golfing millions

Ivan Morris


Ivan Morris



Ivan Morris : The Jones' family golfing millions

Robert Tyre Jones

Robert Tyre Jones Junior (known in the annals of golf history as Bobby, which he hated) was a sickly child who never attended school but had the consolation of being born into a wealthy family.

Educated privately at home and encouraged to play golf (mostly alone) by his sports-mad father and his over-protective mother who never got over the loss of an older, infant son.

Clara Jones thought her second son would never be strong enough to survive in rough and tumble, body contact sports popular in American High Schools.

From the tender age of 14, Bobby was threatening to win the (adult) US Amateur and Open Championships. That he did not succeed was due to an unreliable temperament rather than frailty in physique or lack of ability.

Bob (which he much preferred to Bobby) earned a B.Sc. in Mechanical Engineering from Georgia Tech University in 1922 and a degree in English Literature from Harvard in 1924.

He then enrolled at Emory University Law School in 1926, the same year that he won both The (British) Open and US Open before passing his bar examinations in record time; attending classes for only three terms, before joining his father’s law firm.

Little Bob, as he was called by his parents to distinguish him from his grandfather, Big Bob, (also Robert Tyre Jones) enjoyed the benefits of a family fortune thanks to his stern grandfather.

Devoted to Church-going; Big Bob considered drinking alcohol, swearing, gambling and playing cards utterly sinful. Little Bob didn't!

Big Bob disapproved of all sports, making no secret of the fact that enjoyment and healthy exercise ranked a long way behind attending Church and going to work.

Recreation of any kind, especially on a Sunday was unthinkable. The only concession his grandson received when playing golf on Sundays was: If he had to do it, win!

When Little Bob’s father (‘Bub’ in family circles) was a College student, he was offered terms as a professional baseball player by the Brooklyn Dodgers. Big Bob refused point blank to allow his son to give it a try even for one season.

When Big Bob died in 1937, he was a millionaire several times over mainly thanks to being one of the earliest financial backers of the fledgling Coca Cola Company based in Atlanta in the 1860s.

He had also founded profitable cotton and timber mills as well as an immensely successful denim manufacturing plant in his hometown of Canton, Georgia. It may have been a product that made him extremely wealthy but he assiduously refused to allow a single drop of Coca Cola to pass his lips. His son and grandson were partial to risque jokes, sing-alongs and corn whisky.

After he retired from playing in competitions, Bobby Jones along with his sidekick and junior partner at Augusta National, Clifford Roberts, became the joint-licensee owners of numerous Coca Cola bottling plants in both North and South America.

Had he not sold his considerable interests in Coca Cola to pay for the constant medical and nursing care during a horrible and debilitating illness that lasted for over two decades and which eventually killed him in 1971, the Bobby Jones estate (valued at a not inconsiderable $1.2 million at the time of his death was shared amongst his seven grandchildren)

Seeing to it that succeeding generations of the Jones family would enjoy reasonable comfort if not quite the vast wealth he himself had enjoyed as a young man.

All seven grandchildren have worked in normal jobs and professions to earn a living to this day: one is a nurse, one is a newspaper editor, another is a dog breeder and his namesake Robert Tyre Jones IV is a clinical psychologist in Atlanta.

None of them has ever made a name for themselves in the golfing world.

How could they?

It would be impossible to add anything to the Bobby Jones legend. But, to hear that not one of them is even a nominal member of Augusta National Golf Club today is shocking.

Even more deplorable was the way Clifford Roberts little by little purloined control of Augusta National Golf Club from the Jones family as the ailing, Bobby's illness worsened and kept him away from the golf club.

In its early years, the Jones-Roberts relationship was mutually interdependent and cooperative, respectful in its middle ones but strained to the point of being outright hostile at the end.

Bobby Jones died in 1971, aged 69. He converted to Catholicism three days before his death, a comment not so much on his own beliefs or spirituality but a final desire to please his wife, Mary (Malone) whose family were two generations removed immigrants from Belfast.

Mary made certain that Clifford Roberts was barred from attending her husband’s strictly private funeral.

If feelings were hurt because the service was strictly confined to family, it would have been seen as a positive.

Words of the Wise:

Welcome to this troubled world Azalea Garcia! It could have been worse. Mum & Dad could have named you Dogwood. They could also have chosen Olive, Peach, Magnolia, Juniper, Jasmine, Carolina, Camellia, Bell, Fir, Nandina or Holly. All are names of the holes at Augusta National Golf Club. Nice names for a little girl too!

For more of Ivan's columns see www. limerickleader.ie