Golf’s greatest happening
From the first words he spoke I knew Jimmy Harper was a man of shrewd knowledge. We stood in the vestibule of the church he attended and talked for a while. A rather stocky, athletic-built gentleman with gray hair and a broad, winsome smile of a car salesman, he spoke in a slow, resonate voice, as he traced briefly the story of his life and work.
I’ll never forget the first time Jimmy invited me and my family to have dinner with him and his lovely wife, Flora; it was the beginning of a long and precious friendship. Through this cherished association I learned practically all I know about golf in Georgia.
Jimmy, a retired engineer then employed with the security firm covering the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, knew all the legends of golf; knowing him was my vicarious experience with golf. He was like the proverbial “Joe Jones,” who knew everybody, and had a first-name acquaintance with all the greats of golf.
Meeting Jimmy at some small café, and listening to his descriptive words about the Masters, made me feel that I had been there with Lee Trivino, Ken Venturi, Gary Player, and other champions. He knew them all.
Through Jimmy’s eyes I saw the enduring greatness of the Masters Tournament, the Augusta National Golf Club, and its timeless tribute to the legendary Bobby Jones.
Nothing in the world was more quietly alluring than the East Lake Golf Course; a place where a young boy could roam for hours, watching birds, listening to the oitany of the gentle winds, and smelling the fragrance of spring. It was in this historic place that Robert Tyre Jones, Jr, made his first association with golf at the age of 6. As Bobby watched Fulton Colville, practicing his swing in front of a boarding house where Bobby’s parents had lodged for a summer vacation, a golden opportunity appeared. Bobby, sitting on the steps, was invited to hit a few balls. He did; this became his discovery of the world of golf and the beginning of an unsurpassed journey.
Day after day, Bobby would watch the players. He’d follow them as they went from hole to hole. Then after the adults left, Bobby would walk out on the green like the fearless sheriff in a western movie, strutting down the dirt street of a wild west town after jailing the bad men, and assume command of the territory.
Then he’d swing the club over and over again practicing what the pros had done until the shadows fell, and it was time to go home for supper. At night he’d dream of being a golf champion, and someday having his very own golf course where the giants of golf would grace the green with their presence and performance.
Dreams became fond expectations; finally, they all came true.
Bobby Jones became the only golfer in history to win the “Grand Slam” of golf, taking the four major tournaments of 1930: the American and British Amateur and the American and British Open titles. In September, 1981, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp honoring Bobby Jones; the 18-cent stamp, with a picture of Jones, illustrates his masterful swing.
Jones was also reputed to have achieved the longest putt in golf history, and excess of 100 feet on the fifth green in the first round of 1927 British Open at St. Andrews, Scotland.
Jerry Tarde, Editor of Golf Digest, commenting on “Down the Fairway,” a book written by Bobby Jones, said that in the history of golf “the all-time best player, best teacher and best writer may have been the same person: Bobby Jones.”
Myinterest inBobby’s career is related to Georgia history as it pertains to golf. In my research connected with America’s first golf course in Darien, I contacted theGeorgiaHistorical Society in Savannah for some detailed confirmation of the Scottish Highlanders, who settled in Georgia in 1736. Ms. Jessica A. Burke, an assistant at the library, immediately sent me a clipping from the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, January 31, 1954, which validates my previous article.
The newspaper clipping shows a picture of Captain W. H. Lewis, of Sea Island, viewing what probably was the oldest golf club in America. It was believed to have been made in Darien in 1736, by a Scotch Highlander who settled there. The club is made of a rhododendron root and was presented to the Sea Island shop owned by Captain Lewis by the late Alfred C. Newell, a prominent Atlanta insurance executive.
What an amazing document for my collection of facts about Georgia! I’m delighted and sincerely grateful for this historical first.
But to return. Bobby Jones began a decade of destiny in 1930. He started like a lion, hungry for its prey, and defeated the famed Robert Wethered in the British Amateur at St. Andrews in Scotland. In crisis after crisis, Bobby performed with electric precision. After completing at 12-footer on the 17th, Bobby Said, “I had the feeling that something had been taking care of me through two matches I very well might have lost and that it was still taking care of me. I felt that however I struck that putt, it was going down.
I did; and there were many, many more. All of the made Bobby Jones a legend.
After the “grand slam” Bobby began to ponder his next challenge. In his book, “The Masters Tournament,” Howard Liss gives us this phenomenal piece of history: “Then, like Alexander the Great with no new worlds to conquer, Bobby retired from competition at the age of 28.” At the end of his life, two places held the fondest endearments. One was St. Andrews, Scotland, scene of his most triumphant victory, the British Amateur, and where he had received The Freedom of the City Award, and honor hat only one other American had ever received; that being Benjamin Franklin.
The other place was the Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament; these combines made the most imposing of all honors, and the most significant.
Laid out by Bobby Jones and investment banker Clifford Roberts in the early 1930s, the course is the place of the spring ritual of the Master Tournament, the most prestigious-laden in the world. It is, as Jack Nicklaus said, “A monument to everything that is great in golf.”
To borrow the words of Howard Liss, “Bobby Jones was the greatest golfer and the greatest gentleman in the world…his most enduring monument is not a trophy or a particular award, Rather it is a golf course at Augusta and a tournament called The Masters.”
It is golf’s greatest happening.