THE MASTERS

"My grandfather, Bobby Jones"

Bobby Jones Grandson 1

In 1966, a little under six years before he died but with his health in sharp decline, the members of Augusta National passed a resolution to honour one of the club’s founding fathers.

“It has been well and truly said,” read the accompanying missive, “that every great institution is the lengthened shadow of a man. So it is with the Augusta National Golf Club: the man being Robert Tyre Jones.” 

Bobby, for short. 

“He exemplifies the highest standards of sportsmanship and his position is pre-eminent throughout and beyond the golfing world,” continued the edict. “Now, therefore, be it resolved that the by-laws be amended to provide for the position of President in Perpetuity as a lasting tribute… and he be the only person ever elected to that position.” 

To this day, the name of Bobby Jones continues to appear on the letterhead and masthead of the Augusta National Golf Club, his influence billowing through the dogwoods, trickling down Rae’s Creek, and woven into each and every Green Jacket. 

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It is the mark of an icon that, more than half a century after his death, Jones’ achievements continue to hold sway over what is arguably the world’s most famous golf club.

Incapacitated after a 20-plus year battle with syringomyelia - a disorder in which a cyst or cavity forms within the spinal cord causing, first, crippling pain and, later, paralysis – Jones died on December 18, 1971, after suffering an aneurysm. He was ready to go. Three days before he passed, he converted to Catholicism and was baptised on his deathbed by Monsignor John D. Stapleton, the rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King in Jones’ hometown of Atlanta.  

“If this is what it’s like to die,” he told the family members who had gathered by his bedside, “it’s beautiful.” Within an hour, he closed his eyes for the final time. Two days later, he was gone. 

In that moment, the world lost an icon, a man who had both dominated and revolutionised the game of golf. Bob Jones IV? Well, he lost something far more important. He lost his grandfather. His ‘Bub’.

Fourteen at the time of Bobby’s passing, Bob is now 64. Like his famous ancestor, he too lives in Atlanta – just north of it, to be precise, in a town called Cumming – where he works as a licensed psychologist. “I have a general clinical practice,” he says, “but I also work as a sports psychologist. I work with athletes in pretty much every sport. I love it.” 

His other great passion – quelle surprise – is golf. He’s a member of three clubs: the Atlanta Athletic Club, which was his grandfather’s home club; Sage Valley in South Carolina; and Highlands Country Club in North Carolina. Bobby hit the opening tee shot at the latter in 1928.  

“They’re all great,” says Bob. “But home for me is the Athletic Club. Let’s just say it’s in the family.” 

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Like many avid golfers, Bob says his handicap is prone to seasonal flux. In the middle of the year, when he’s playing regularly, he’s about a six but that can drift to as high as ten in the ‘off’ months. 

Not bad, right?

“Depends who you’re comparing me to,” he chuckles. Fair point. Bob’s father, Robert Tyre Jones III, was a fantastic player who, at his peak, maintained a handicap of plus-three. As for his grandfather? Four US Opens, three Opens, five US Amateurs, a British Amateur Championship and a place in the World Golf Hall of Fame kind of tells its own story.  

“I am living proof that the gene pool dilutes over time,” laughs Bob. 

As far back as he can remember, Bob knew of his famous stock but struggled to square his grandfather’s reputation with the immobile, somewhat sad figure that so often sat before him.

Jones At St Andrews

“It wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I finally saw one of his old instructional videos,” he recalls. “I can still remember it as clearly as the day I watched it for the first time. The character on screen opened his mouth and my grandfather’s voice came out. That’s when it really hit me that, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s him’. It blew my mind.

“We never talked much about golf and certainly not about his exploits in the game. He just wasn’t one to talk about those things. But it was always on the TV at his home in Atlanta. I have many memories of sitting with him and my father and we’d watch the latest tour event together.

"Sometime later, when I was well into my adulthood, I realised I was quite critical of golf announcers on TV. I began to ask myself why that was. Finally, it dawned on me. When you grow up listening to Bobby Jones analyse the game and its best players, everybody else kind of pales into insignificance.”

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Just as it did for his grandfather, The Masters has played a big part in Bob’s life. He estimates he has missed only two or three since he went for the first time in 1970. On multiple occasions, he has been stopped by a fellow patron who, upon reading the name on his badge, wants to know if he’s related to the Bobby Jones. “It’s always amusing to see their faces when I reply, ‘Well, yes actually, he was my grandfather.’”

As well as being fun, many of these chance encounters have also made a profound impression on Bob, helping to both preserve and enrich the memories he has of his grandfather.

“I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve told me what an impact he’s had on them,” he says. “That will never stop being wonderful to hear. How many people 120 years after their birth or 50 years after their death are remembered as vividly as he is, I wonder?

“He had such a great way with people. The late golf writer Alistair Cooke once remarked that one of the most amazing things about my grandfather was that he had an almost cat-like awareness of the person in the corner of a room who was being left out and that, when he talked to you, he made you feel like you were the most important person there. That’s always stuck with me.”

As well as attending The Masters, Bob has also had the opportunity to play Augusta National around seven or eight times.

“It’s not fair to say it’s the same place when my grandfather was alive but it’s still a pretty special place.”

His favourite hole on the property? It’s not the one you might think. “It’s always been the fifth,” he nods. “People don’t generally like to go out to it because it’s the farthest point from the clubhouse but, for me, it’s one of the most strategically interesting holes on the course.”

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He pauses to correct himself. “I mean, it’s a little less strategically interesting now since it had its makeover. You know, they changed the green complex a little bit and backed the tee up almost into another county but, other than that, I think it’s just about the most interesting hole on the golf course.”

‘Makeover’ feels like the perfect euphemism for the perpetual cycle of evolution within which Augusta National operates. Rumours persist that the par-5 13th, for example, will soon be lengthened to accommodate the incredible distances the world’s current best players are capable of hitting the ball. Land behind the hole’s current tee box was acquired from the neighbouring Augusta Country Club in August 2017 and, in the last 12 months, aerial footage shared on social media appears to show work has begun on pushing it further back.

Jones, of course, was a huge fan of the hole and the challenge it presented. Writing in his 1960 book Golf Is My Game, he articulated his belief that the second shot on the 13th should be “a momentous decision”. “A player who dares the creek on either his first or second shot may very easily encounter a six or seven on this hole,” he wrote. “Yet reward of successful, bold play is most enticing.”

Bobby Jones Grandson 2

By common consent, there’s now no decision – momentous or otherwise – to be made. At the 2021 Masters, the hole played almost half a stroke below par, yielding 131 birdies and only 23 bogeys. There were as many eagles (eight) as double or worse. Only two holes played easier across the four rounds.

“I think 13 is a marvellous hole,” says Bob. “I think it’s still quite strategic. You know, the length that people are hitting the ball now, it does tend to take some of the strategy out of it. In the old days – and by that, I mean the 1960s – you were probably talking about hitting a driver and a long iron into that green. That’s just not the case anymore. But what’s amazing to me is, even allowing for the distance they can hit it, how many players still make bogey and worse on that hole.”

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Bobby Jones, it’s worth remembering, didn’t actually win The Masters. Together with Clifford Roberts and Dr Alister MacKenzie respectively, he co-founded the club and co-designed the course, but he never won the tournament for which Augusta National is most famous.

Indeed, by the time the first edition took place in 1934, Jones had long since retired. He stepped away from the game at 28 following his annus mirabilis in 1930, a year in which he completed his unprecedented ‘Grand Slam’ or ‘Impregnable Quadrilateral’ as the New York Sun’s George Trevor so colourfully described it.

Bob Jones On The 10Th Hole At The Old Course Called Bobby Jones

Roberts persuaded him to come out of retirement for the inaugural staging of what was initially called the ‘Augusta National Invitation Tournament’ but he could do no better than tie for 13th as Horton Smith took the title. As it so happened, that was Jones’ best finish in 12 Masters appearances.

However, according to Bob, his grandfather’s failure to win The Masters didn’t bother him.

“He was always very clear about the fact that golf was never an end in itself,” he adds. “He always said that his family came first, his law practice came second and golf was always third. It was for that reason that his stepping away at 28 made a tremendous of sense.

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"When you stop and think about it, what more could he have achieved? He never had any desire whatsoever to play professionally, so what more was there for him to accomplish? He’d gone to law school, had a young family. I think he was just ready to move on to the next chapter of his life.”

Being the grandson of the great Bobby Jones has presented Bob with opportunities far beyond the imagination of most six-handicappers.

“I definitely am grateful,” he says. “I’ve had the chance to play places that I would probably never have seen were it not for my grandfather. I’ve had the chance to meet people I would never have met otherwise. But the thing I always try to remember is that I don’t get to do this stuff because I’m some great guy. I get to do it because of who he was. I frequently remind myself that I’m an ambassador for my family. I’m not the story, I’m just the ambassador.”

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Pics: Getty Images / Bob Jones IV

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This article first appeared in issue 191 of bunkered (February 2022). Click here for our latest subscription offer. International subscriptions also available.

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