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Swinging Through History: Bobby Jones in Great Britain

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Bobby Jones had a storied golf career in Great Britain, participating in numerous Open Championships and Amateur tournaments across Scotland and England. Though he struggled initially, famously tearing up his scorecard at St. Andrews in 1921, he went on to find great success. He won the British Amateur in 1930 along with three British Open titles in 1926, 1927 and 1930 – and is the last amateur to ever win the Open.

Throughout his experiences in Great Britain, Jones faced challenges with difficult weather conditions, heckling galleries, his own temperament, and the unique styles of links courses like the Old Course at St. Andrews. However, he learned to embrace the quirks of links golf and adored courses like the Old Course, Sunningdale, and Royal Liverpool.

Born on St. Patrick’s day, 1902, Jones’ experiences in Great Britain were crucial in his development into the greatest amateur golfer of all time. His victories made him a legend, but his sportsmanship and character made him an icon.

By pure conincidence, as I’m working on this, amateur Nick Dunlap just won the American Express event, becoming the first amateur in 33 years to win on the PGA Tour.

In this post, we are going to review the experiences of Bobby Jones, the greatest amateur in history, on the links of Great Britain. We’ll start at the begining and learn how he grew to embrace the game in its natural state, discuss his Open, Amateur and Walker Cup record, as well as his lasting legacy. As always, we’ll leave you with some suggested reading, audiobooks, and videos to bring the story to life.

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When Bobby Jones first traveled to Great Britain in 1921 to play in The Open Championship, he was unprepared for the difficulties of links golf. The dramatic weather changes, seaside terrain, and unique design of links courses were entirely foreign to the 19 year old Jones. Though he showed promise, Jones struggled mightily at the Old Course at St Andrews in terrible weather conditions, eventually picking up his ball mid-round in frustration, after taking four shots to get out of the Hill bunker on the 11th hole in the third round. Jones tore up his scorecard, in effect disqualifying himself, although he did finish the round and also played the fourth round.

It was a humbling experience, with Jones calling it his “most inglorious failure” in golf. Jones said of St. Andrews, “I considered St. Andrews among the very worse courses I had ever seen” and was heavily critized by the British press, who chastized him for “throwing in the towel when the going got rough.” There were questions as to whether the young, talented Jones had the proper composure and determination needed for success in links golf, as well as a sense that he had failed to live up to expectations and couldn’t handle adversity. While Jones admitted that the events “haunted him for years”, the experience taught him that success in links golf required patience, perseverance, and an open mind.

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Redemption

Over the next decade, Jones returned to Great Britain several times to compete in the British Amateur and Open Championships. He eventually honed his skills on classic seaside links courses, winning the Open at Lytham in 1926, found redemption at St. Andrews by winning the Open in 1927 and the Amateur in 1930. He also won the Open at Royal Liverpool (Hoylake) in 1930, en route to the Grand Slam.

Along the way, he faced challenges with the quirky bounces, penal bunkers, firm turf, and windy conditions of links golf. As seen in one of the linked Videos, he even dealt with challenges from early camera crews. By 1930, during his legendary Grand Slam season, Jones had fully embraced the unique demands of links golf.

A career amateur, Jones retired in 1930, still at the peak of his powers. He popularized golf at the highest levels and drew people to the game in the way that Tiger Woods would some 67 years after his retirement. Jones’ connection to British golf fans who came to revere him as “their Bonnie Bobby,” was genuine and unique. Jones left an enduring legacy as one of links golf’s iconic figures, with a legacy that endures nearly a century later.

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Walker Cup

As the dominant amateur golfer of his era, Jones’ Walker Cup record was also noteworthy. He represented the United States in the Walker Cup five times, only once on British soil, however. National Golf Links of America (1922), Garden City Golf Club (1924), Yale Golf Club (1926), Chicago Golf Club (1928), and Royal St George’s Golf Club (1930).

Jones won nine of his ten matches – the only loss coming in a 1930 foursomes match. In 1928, Jones defeated Philip Perkins 13&12 in singles, setting a Walker Cup record for margin of victory in singles that still stands. The U.S. defeated Great Britain & Ireland all five times Jones participated. Jones’ leadership and sportsmanship were also assets to the U.S. team, as he captained the 1928 and 1930 squads to victories.

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Legacy

Bobby Jones left an indelible mark on links golf and the game in Great Britain. Despite initial struggles, there triumphs at classic seaside links courses like St. Andrews and Royal Liverpool helped define his career. By 1930, he had formed a special bond with British golf fans and cemented his legacy as one of golf’s greatest champions.

Jones learned to embrace the unique demands of links golf over time – the quirky bounces, penal bunkers, firm turf, and windy conditions. While his victories made him famous, it was his graciousness in defeat and overall character that elevated his status in the eyes of British fans.

Jones stated, “There is always a way at St. Andrews, although it is not always the obvious way, and in trying to find it, there is more to be learned on this British course than in playing a hundred ordinary American golf courses.” Jones and Alister MacKenzie even used St. Andrews’ famous “Road Hole” 17th as the inspiration for the 5th hole at his own Augusta National.

In 1958, an ailing Jones travelled back to St. Andrews one last time, to receive the Freedom of St. Andrews award, in front of a crowd 1,700. In his address, he summed up his experiences, “I could take out my life everything but my experiences here in St. Andrews and I would still have had a rich and full life.”

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Further Reading – Books and AudioBooks

The Grand Slam: Bobby Jones, America,
and the Story of Golf

by Mark Frost

Summary: “The Grand Slam: Bobby Jones, America, and the Story of Golf” is a biography that tells the story of Bobby Jones and his incredible achievement of winning all four major tournaments in the same year, 1930. The book delves into Jones’ background, his introduction to golf at East Lake Country Club in Atlanta, and his progress as a junior golfer. It also explores the challenges he faced in adapting his playing style and refining his attitude toward the game to win against the best players of his time consistently. The book provides insights into Jones’ personal life, relationships with fellow golfers, and impact on the sport. Frost’s storytelling captures the excitement of Jones’ historic accomplishment and his lasting legacy in golf.

Classic Golf Links
by Donald Steel

Summary: Classic Golf Links of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland by Donald Steele is a guidebook featuring 75 spectacular links golf courses in the British Isles, covering their history, design, and challenges. The book includes scorecards, hole maps, photos, and playing tips for each course, providing key information for golf travelers while celebrating these revered seaside tests.  With writing by Donald Steel and photos by Brian Morgan, Classic Golf Links is considered an essential reference for experiencing the best of links golf.

This book is a must for anyone with an affinity for links golf. I bought this book years ago and still return to it often. The pictures are amazing and they alone will make you fall in love with these courses.

Bobby Jones on Golf

Summary: Bobby Jones on Golf compiles wisdom from the legendary golfer on grip, stance, swing technique, shot-making, and course management. Jones advocates developing a smooth, rhythmic swing by learning to “swing easy” and not overpower the club. He provides tips on specific shots like the draw, fade, punch, and chip, advising golfers to become shotmakers who can work the ball. Jones also shares his mental approach, stressing patience, carefree confidence, and enjoyment of golf for its own sake. Overall the book focuses on sound fundamentals, clever strategy, and the thoughtful, relaxed mindset that Jones believes leads to peak performance on the course.

The Bobby Jones Way
by John Andrisani

Summary: The Bobby Jones Way, written by acclaimed golf writer John Andrisani, analyzes the powerful, near-perfect swing and flawless execution of legendary golfer Bobby Jones to reveal his unique swing techniques and course management skills. By studying countless hours of footage of Jones and interviewing top instructors, Andrisani breaks down Jones’s driving, pitching, chipping, and putting methods to help golfers at any level improve their games. The book illustrates elements beyond Jones’s swing mechanics, including how to hit creative shots and cure problems. It is a comprehensive guidebook for golfers looking to emulate Jones’s skills. Overall, The Bobby Jones Way is an insightful look into the swing secrets and mastery of one of golf’s all-time greatest players.

Making the Masters
by David Barrett

Summary: Making the Masters by David Barrett provides the origin story of the Masters tournament, detailing how Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts conceived it in the 1930s and quickly established itself as one of golf’s most prestigious events. The book chronicles how Jones and Roberts built the tournament from the ground up despite tough economic times, highlighting key events, winners, and moments that shaped its legacy over the years.  Barrett’s comprehensive history shares little-known stories about the Masters and the many golfers who have defined its prestige as one of America’s greatest sporting events.

Videos

Jones Wins at St. Andrews – 1927
Life and Times of Bobby Jones
Jones wins at Hoylake – 1930
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