In any sport the debate of who was the greatest of all time is always a point of fascination and controversy.
In golf, my mind is made up.
The Golden Bear (Jack Nicklaus) is worth consideration, the Hawk (Ben Hogan) may have been the greatest striker and shot maker, Slammin Sammy (Snead) the greatest athlete and swinger?
Above all others for me is my golfing hero, a man Bernard Darwin called the “Greatest of them all,” Bobby Jones.
I write this today because March 17 2012, is the 110th anniversary of his birth.
Bobby or ‘Bob’ Jones as he was often called was the smooth swinging part-timer from Atlanta, Georgia,U.S.A.
He was the amateur golfer who swept all before him and won 13 major championships before hanging up his spikes and retiring from professional golf at the age of 28.
Bobby Jones was a history maker and his achievements will never be bettered.
I bet my house, my collection of golf books and memorabilia and the ancient hickory shafted mashie niblick that hangs above my writing desk.
In his 1930 season, he achieved the unthinkable, a feat called the “Impregnable Quadrilateral,” winning the professional and amateur golf championships of Britain and America in a single historic season.
Jones’ life has been the subject of countless books and films and when he stopped playing he continued to create a legacy that will be immortalised in the history of golf.
Bob Jones swapped life as the world’s best golfer for service as a lawyer, and in between read and earned three degrees.
He never stood still.
His greatest gift to golf was arguably not his Championship wins but his transformation of a fruit farm and plant nursery in Augusta,Georgia, into the world’s most beautiful and desired golf course.
In building Augusta National with British golf architect Alistair Mackenzie, he said his aim was to:
“Provide a golf course of considerable natural beauty, relatively easy for the average golfer to play, and at the same time testing for the expert player striving to better par figures.”
Today we watch The Masters in awe of the golf course and the mystique of the event. As with everything he did Jones surpassed his aims and the expectations of others.
He was universally revered and respected as a gentleman, a man who famously called a penalty on himself during the closing stages of a U.S Open when no-one else saw his ball move.
In an era when the only man to come close to Jones’ achievements on the course, Tiger Woods, is a fallen hero mired by sex scandal, arrogance and surliness, Jones’ legacy and reputation burns brighter than ever.
The quality of this man is plain to see and best explained by his relationship with the coastal town of St Andrews in Fife, Scotland.
Jones was the hero of many a ticker tape parade in the streets of Atlanta, Georgia, but he was loved just as much if not more by the residents of golf’s birthplace.
They called him the “wee ice mon” and huge crowds flocked to the links to see him play at The Open and later in the Walker Cup.
They had even forgiven him for his tempestuous withdrawal during The Open in 1921 when he picked his ball up after finding the deep Strath bunker at the par three 11th.
In 1930 his British Amateur victory over the Old Course was one quarter of his impregnable quadrilateral.
In 1958, St Andrews awarded Bobby Jones the Freedom of its City.
At the ceremony, he said:
“You could take everything out of my life except my experiences at St Andrews and I’d still have a rich and full life.” Bobby Jones
Jones would have a lifelong connection to Scotland, from his first coach at East Lake Golf Club, Atlanta, a Scotsman named Stewart Maiden, to the naming of the 10th hole at The Old Course St Andrews after the great man.
His modern day legacy is that of a man and a golfer who continues to inspire others.
A scholarship was founded to honour the memory of Bobby Jones and to strengthen links between the University of St Andrews and Emory University in Atlanta, where he spent a year at Law School before taking and passing the Georgia Bar exam.
Each year students from both universities swap places and fly across the Atlantic for a year of study and to act as ambassadors.
Ten years ago, I arrived in Atlanta as a new Jones Scholar and it was the start of a horizon broadening adventure that changed the course of my life forever.
In that year I took on a par three at East Lake Golf Club – where Bobby Learned to play – with a hickory shafted mashie, worked as a gallery guard at the Masters and played Augusta National two months after Tiger slipped on another green jacket.
I even carded a hole-in-one at the 1st hole of Augusta National’s par three course.
I am so obviously biased in my assessment of Jones’ greatness but even without the great gift his scholarship gave me, I would still argue that Bobby Jones was the “Greatest of them All.”
Happy Birthday Bob!