Jones was the most successful amateur golfer ever to compete at a national and international level. During his peak from 1923 to 1930, he dominated top-level amateur competition, and competed very successfully against the world's best professional golfers. Jones often beat stars such as Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen, the era's top pros. Jones earned his living mainly as a lawyer, and competed in golf only as an amateur, primarily on a part-time basis, and chose to retire from competition at age 28, though he earned significant money from golf after that, as an instructor and equipment designer.
Explaining his decision to retire, Jones said, "It [championship golf] is something like a cage. First you are expected to get into it and then you are expected to stay there. But of course, nobody can stay there." Jones is most famous for his unique "Grand Slam," consisting of his victory in all four major golf tournaments of his era (the open and amateur championships in both the U.S. & the U.K.) in a single calendar year (1930). In all Jones played in 31 majors, winning 13 and placing among the top ten finishers 27 times.
After retiring from competitive golf in 1930, Jones founded and helped design the Augusta National Golf Club soon afterwards in 1933. He also co-founded the Masters Tournament, which has been annually staged by the club since 1934 (except for 1943–45, when it was canceled due to World War II). The Masters evolved into one of golf's four major championships. Jones came out of retirement in 1934 to play in the Masters on an exhibition basis through 1948. Jones played his last round of golf at East Lake Golf Club, his home course in Atlanta, on August 18, 1948. A picture commemorating the event now sits in the clubhouse at East Lake. Citing health reasons, he quit golf permanently thereafter.
Bobby Jones was often confused with the prolific golf course designer, Robert Trent Jones, with whom he worked from time to time. "People always used to get them confused, so when they met, they decided each be called something different," Robert Trent Jones Jr. said. To help avoid confusion, the golfer was called "Bobby," and the golf course designer was called "Trent."
Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Jones battled health issues as a young boy, and golf was prescribed to strengthen him. Encouraged by his father, "Colonel" Robert Purmedus Jones, an Atlanta lawyer, Jones loved golf from the start. He developed quickly into a child prodigy, who won his first children's tournament at the age of six at his home course at East Lake Golf Club. In 1916, Jones won his first major golf event when he claimed the inaugural Georgia Amateur Championship conducted by the Georgia State Golf Association at the Capital City Club, in Brookhaven, at age 14. His victory at this event put him in the national spotlight for the first time. The Georgia Amateur win caught the eye of the United States Golf Association which awarded Jones his first invitation to the U.S. Amateur at Merion near Philadelphia. Jones advanced to the quarterfinals in his first playing in the event.
He was influenced by club professional Stewart Maiden, a native of Carnoustie, Scotland. Maiden was the professional at the Atlanta Athletic Club's East Lake Golf Club, who also trained Alexa Stirling, five years older than Jones but also a prodigy, at East Lake around the same time. Jones also received golf lessons from Willie Ogg when he was in his teenage years. Jones played frequently with his father, a skilled player himself. The younger Jones sometimes battled his own temper on the course, but later controlled his emotions as he became more experienced. Jones toured the U.S. during World War I from 1917–18, playing exhibition matches before large crowds, often with Alexa Stirling and Perry Adair, to generate income for war relief. Playing in front of such crowds in these matches helped him, as he moved into national competition a bit later on.
Jones successfully represented the United States for the first time, in two winning international amateur team matches against Canada, in 1919 and 1920, earning three of a possible four points in foursomes and singles play. In 1919 he traveled to Hamilton Golf and Country Club, for his first serious competitive action outside the U.S., while in 1920, Engineers Country Club, in Roslyn, Long Island, hosted the matches. Still a teenager, he was by far the youngest player in the series. Jones also played in the 1919 Canadian Open while in Hamilton, Ontario, performing very well to place tied for second, but 16 shots behind winner J. Douglas Edgar. Edgar had immigrated from England in 1919 to take a club professional's job in Atlanta at Druid Hills Golf Club; Edgar mentored and played frequently with Jones from 1919 to 1921. Edgar was credited by Jones with helping develop his game significantly.
Jones qualified for his first U.S. Open at age 18 in 1920, and was paired with the legendary Harry Vardon for the first two rounds. He won the Southern Amateur three times: 1917, 1920, and 1922.
As an adult, he hit his stride and won his first U.S. Open in 1923. From that win at New York's Inwood Country Club, through his 1930 victory in the U.S. Amateur, he won 13 major championships (as they were counted at the time) in 20 attempts. Jones was the first player to win The Double, both the U.S. and British Open Championships in the same year (1926). He was the second (and last) to win the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur in the same year (1930), first accomplished in 1916 by Chick Evans.
Jones is the only player ever to have won the (pre-Masters) Grand Slam, or all four major championships, in the same calendar year (1930). Jones' path to the 1930 Grand Slam title was:
- The Amateur Championship, Old Course at St Andrews, Scotland
- The Open Championship, Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake, England
- U.S. Open, Interlachen Country Club, Minnesota
- U.S. Amateur, Merion Golf Club, Pennsylvania (September 27, 1930)
Jones made a bet on himself achieving this extraordinary feat with British bookmakers early in 1930, before the first tournament of the Slam, at odds of 50–1, and collected over $60,000 when he did it.
Jones represented the United States in the Walker Cup five times, winning nine of his 10 matches, and the U.S. won the trophy all five times. He served as playing captain of the U.S. team in 1928 and 1930. He also won two other tournaments against professionals: the 1927 Southern Open and the 1930 Southeastern Open. Jones was a lifelong member of the Atlanta Athletic Club (at the club's original site, now the East Lake Golf Club), and the Capital City Club in Atlanta.
Jones is considered one of the five giants of the 1920s American sports scene, along with baseball's Babe Ruth, boxing's Jack Dempsey, football's Red Grange, and tennis player Bill Tilden. He was the first recipient of the AAU's Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States. He is the only sports figure to receive two ticker-tape parades in New York City, the first in 1926 and the second in 1930. Jones is memorialized in Augusta, Georgia, at the Golf Gardens and has the Bobby Jones Expressway, also known as Interstate 520, named for him.
Jones was not only a consummately skilled golfer but exemplified the principles of sportsmanship and fair play. In the first round of the 1925 U.S. Open at the Worcester Country Club near Boston, his approach shot to the 11th hole's elevated green fell short into the deep rough of the embankment. As he took his stance to pitch onto the green, the head of his club brushed the grass and caused a slight movement of the ball. He took the shot, then informed his playing partner Walter Hagen and the USGA official covering their match that he was calling a penalty on himself. Hagen was unable to talk him out of it, and they continued play. After the round and before he signed his scorecard, officials argued with Jones but he insisted that he had violated Rule 18, moving a ball at rest after address, and took a 77 instead of the 76 he otherwise would have carded. Jones' self-imposed one-stroke penalty eventually cost him the win by a stroke in regulation, necessitating a playoff, which he then lost. Although praised by many sports writers for his gesture, Jones was reported to have said, "You might as well praise me for not robbing banks."
A similar event occurred in the next U.S. Open, played at the Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio. In the second round, after his opening round put him in second place, Jones was putting on the 15th green in the face of a strong wind. After grounding his putter during address to square up the club face, the ball rolled a half turn in the wind when Jones lifted the club head to place it behind the ball. Although no one else observed this movement of the ball either, again Jones called a penalty on himself, but this time Jones went on to win the tournament, the second of his four U.S. Open victories.
The USGA's sportsmanship award is named the Bob Jones Award in his honor.
Jones had a unique relationship with the town of St Andrews, Scotland. On his first appearance on the Old Course in The Open Championship of 1921, he withdrew after 11 holes in the third round, when he failed to complete the hole (in effect disqualifying himself), and tore up his scorecard, although he finished the round and indeed played the fourth round as well. He firmly stated his dislike for The Old Course and the town reciprocated, saying in the press, "Master Bobby is just a boy, and an ordinary boy at that." Later, he came to love the Old Course and the town like few others. When he won the Open at the Old Course in 1927, he wowed the crowd by asking that the trophy remain with his friends at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club rather than return with him to Atlanta. He won the British Amateur over The Old Course in 1930, and scored a double eagle 2 on the fourth hole (then a par-5, now a par-4), by holing a very long shot from a fairway bunker. In 1958, he was named a Freeman of the City of St Andrews, becoming only the second American to be so honored, the other being Benjamin Franklin in 1759. As Jones departed Younger Hall with his honor, the assembly spontaneously serenaded him off to the traditional tune of Will Ye No Come Back Again? in a famously moving tribute. Today, a scholarship exchange bearing the Jones name exists between the University of St Andrews and Emory University, Queen's University, The University of Western Ontario and the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. At Emory, four students are sent to St Andrews for an all-expenses-paid year of study and travel. In return, Emory accepts four students from St Andrews each year. The program, the Robert T. Jones Scholarship, is among the most unusual scholarships offered by any university.
Jones was highly successful outside of golf as well. He earned his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Georgia Tech in 1922 and played for the varsity golf team, lettering all four years. Jones was a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, and the Georgia Phi chapter house at Georgia Tech is named in his honor.
He then earned an A.B. in English Literature from Harvard College in 1924, where he was a member of the Owl Club. In 1926 he entered Emory University School of Law and became a member of Phi Delta Phi. After only three semesters he passed the Georgia bar exam and subsequently joined his father's law firm, Jones, Evins, Moore and Powell, (predecessor to Alston & Bird), in Atlanta, Georgia.
Jones married Mary Rice Malone in 1924, whom he met in 1919 while a freshman at Georgia Tech. They had three children — Clara Malone (1925–1994), Robert Tyre III (1926–1973), and Mary Ellen (b. 1931).
When he retired from golf at age 28, he concentrated on his Atlanta law practice. That same year, 1930, he was honored with the first James E. Sullivan Award, awarded annually by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) to the most outstanding amateur athlete in the United States.
Jones made 18 instructional golf films in Hollywood between 1931 and 1933 in which he coached well-known film stars with golf pointers. The films were popular, and Jones gave up his amateur status while earning lucrative contract money for this venture. These films were put into storage and were unavailable for decades, but a surviving print was located 60 years later and put into video format for preservation by Ely Callaway, a distant cousin of Jones's.
In the early 1930s Jones worked with J Victor East (an Australian) of A.G. Spalding & Co. to develop the first set of matched steel-shafted clubs; the clubs sold very well and are still considered among the best-designed sets ever made.
Following his retirement from competitive golf in 1930, and even in the years leading up to that, Jones had become one of the most famous sports figures in the world, and was recognized virtually everywhere he went in public. While certainly appreciative of the enormous adulation and media coverage, this massive attention caused Jones to lose personal privacy in golf circles, and he wished to create a private golf club where he and his friends could play golf in peace and quiet. For several years, he searched for a property near Atlanta where he could develop his own golf club. His friend Clifford Roberts, a New York City investment dealer, knew of Jones's desire, became aware of a promising property for sale in Augusta, Georgia, where Jones's mother-in-law had grown up, and informed Jones about it. Jones first visited Fruitlands, an Augusta arboretum and indigo plantation since the Civil War era, in the spring of 1930, and he purchased it for $70,000 in 1931, with the plan to design a golf course on the site.
Jones co-designed the Augusta National course with Alister MacKenzie; the new club opened in early 1933. He founded the Masters Tournament, first played at Augusta in March 1934. The new tournament, originally known as the Augusta National Invitational, was an immediate success, and attracted most of the world's top players right from its start. Jones came out of retirement to play, essentially on an exhibition basis, and his presence guaranteed enormous media attention, boosting the new tournament's fame.
During World War II, Jones served as an officer in the U.S. Army Air Forces. His superiors wanted him to play exhibition golf in the United States, but Jones was insistent on serving overseas. In 1943 he was promoted to major and trained as an intelligence officer, serving in England with the 84th Fighter Wing, which was part of the Ninth Air Force. While in England, he made the acquaintance of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Landing in Normandy on June 7, 1944, Jones spent two months with a front line division as a prisoner of war interrogator, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel. During the war, Jones permitted the U.S. Army to graze cattle on the grounds at Augusta National. Later, in 1947, he founded Peachtree Golf Club in Atlanta and co-designed the course with Robert Trent Jones.
In 1966, the governing board and membership of Augusta National passed a resolution naming Jones President in Perpetuity.
Jones played in the first dozen Masters, through 1948, but only in the first as a competitor. By then, his health at age 46 had declined to the stage where this was no longer possible. With his health difficulties, being past his prime, and not competing elsewhere to stay in tournament form, he never truly contended at the Masters, although his scores were usually respectable. These were almost all ceremonial performances, since his main duty was as host of the event. His extraordinary popularity, efforts with the course design, and tournament organization boosted the profile of the Masters significantly. The tournament, jointly run by Jones and Clifford Roberts, made many important innovations which became the norm elsewhere, such as gallery ropes to control the flow of the large crowds, many scoreboards around the course, the use of red / green numbers on those scoreboards to denote under / over par scores, an international field of top players, high-caliber television coverage, and week-long admission passes for patrons, which became extremely hard to obtain. The tournament also sought and welcomed feedback from players, fans, and writers, leading to continual improvement over the years. The Masters gradually evolved to being one of the most respected tournaments in the world, one of the four major championships.
In 1948, Jones was diagnosed with syringomyelia, a fluid-filled cavity in his spinal cord which caused first crippling pain, then paralysis; he was eventually restricted to a wheelchair. He died in Atlanta on December 18, 1971, three days after converting to Catholicism. Jones was baptized on his deathbed by Monsignor John D. Stapleton, pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta, and attended by the Jones family was buried in Atlanta's historic Oakland Cemetery. Jones was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974.
His widow Mary died less than four years later in 1975 at age 72, following the death of their son, Robert T. Jones III, of a heart attack in 1973 at age 47. Daughter Clara died in 1994 at age 68.1908 East Lake Children’s Tournament
1911 Junior Championship Cup of the Atlanta Athletic Club
1915 Invitation Tournament at Roebuck Springs, Birmingham Country Club Invitation, Davis & Freeman Cup at East Lake, East Lake Club Championship, Druid Hills Club Championship
1916 Georgia Amateur, Birmingham Country Club Invitation, Cherokee Club Invitation, East Lake Invitational
1917 Southern Amateur
1919 Yates-Gode Tournament
1920 Davis & Freeman Cup at East Lake, Southern Amateur, Morris County Invitational
1922 Southern Amateur
1923 U.S. Open
1924 U.S. Amateur
1925 U.S. Amateur
1926 The Open Championship, U.S. Open
1927 Southern Open, The Open Championship, U.S. Amateur
1928 Warren K. Wood Memorial, U.S. Amateur
1929 U.S. Open
1930 Southeastern Open, The Amateur Championship, The Open Championship, U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur
Open and amateur-only majors shown in bold.
1 Defeated Bobby Cruickshank in an 18-hole playoff: Jones 76 (+4), Cruickshank 78 (+6).
2 Defeated Al Espinosa in a 36-hole playoff: Jones 72-69=141 (−3), Espinosa 84-80=164 (+20).
National Amateur championships were counted as majors at the time. Jones' actual major total using the standard in place in his lifetime was 13.
The majors of Jones' time (those for which as an amateur he was eligible) were the U.S. and British Opens and Amateurs.
Jones retired after his Grand Slam in 1930, playing only his own tournament, The Masters. As an amateur golfer, he was not eligible to compete in the PGA Championship.
M = Medalist
LA = Low amateur
NT = No tournament
DNP = Did not play
WD = Withdrew
R32, R16, QF, SF = Round in which Jones lost in amateur match play
"T" indicates a tie for a place
Green background for wins. Yellow background for top-10.
Sources for U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur, British Open, 1921 British Amateur, 1926 British Amateur, 1930 British Amateur, and The Masters.Most consecutive cuts made – 21 (1916 U.S. Amateur – 1930 U.S. Amateur)
Longest streak of top-10s – 14 (1921 U.S. Open – 1926 U.S. Amateur)
Jones's four titles in the U.S. Open remain tied for the most ever in that championship, along with Willie Anderson, Ben Hogan, and Jack Nicklaus. His four second-place finishes in the U.S. Open place him second all-time with Sam Snead and Nicklaus. Phil Mickelson holds the dubious record with six (1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2013) second-place finishes. His five titles in the U.S. Amateur are a record. Jones was ranked as the fourth greatest golfer of all time by Golf Digest magazine in 2000. Nicklaus was first, Hogan second, and Snead third. Jones was ranked as the third greatest golfer of all time in a major survey published by Golf Magazine, September 2009. Nicklaus was ranked first, with Tiger Woods second, Hogan fourth, and Snead fifth.
Jones appeared in a series of short instructional films produced by Warner Brothers in 1931 titled How I Play Golf, by Bobby Jones (12 films) and in 1933 titled How to Break 90 (six films). The shorts were designed to be shown in theaters alongside feature films, whereby "would-be golfers of the country can have the Jones' instruction for the price of a theater ticket." Jones indicated at the time of the making of the 1931 series that the films would be "designed as instructive" but not "so complicated that a non-golfer can't understand them."
Actors and actresses, mostly under contract with Warner Brothers, but also from other studios, volunteered to appear in these 18 episodes. Some of the more well known actors to appear in the instructional plots included James Cagney, Joe E. Brown, Edward G. Robinson, W.C. Fields, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Richard Barthelmess, Richard Arlen, Guy Kibbee, Warner Oland and Loretta Young. Various scenarios involving the actors were used to provide an opportunity for Jones to convey a lesson about a particular part of the game. The shorts were directed by the prolific George Marshall.
Title list of the shorts:The Putter (April 26, 1931, Film Daily review)
Chip Shots (April 26)
The Niblick (May 31)
The Mashie Niblick (June 5)
Medium Irons (July 5)
The Big Irons (July 12)
The Spoon (July 19)
The Brassie (August 1)
The Driver (August 30)
Trouble Shots (September 13)
Practice Shots (September 27)
A Round of Golf (September 4)
How I Play Golf
How To Break 90The Grip (April 17, 1933)
Position and Backswing (May 15)
Hip Action (May 20)
Down Swing (The Downswing) (May 29)
Impact (July 15)
Fine Points (August 5)
Jones was the subject of the quasi-biographical 2004 feature film Bobby Jones: A Stroke of Genius in which he was portrayed by Jim Caviezel. The Jones legend was also used to create a supporting character in The Legend of Bagger Vance in 2000, portrayed by Joel Gretsch, and the event where he called his own penalty is used for the fictional protagonist, Rannulph Junuh.
Jones authored several books on golf including Down the Fairway with Oscar Bane "O.B." Keeler (1927), The Rights and Wrongs of Golf (1933), Golf Is My Game (1959), Bobby Jones on Golf (1966), and Bobby Jones on the Basic Golf Swing (1968) with illustrator Anthony Ravielli. The 300-copy limited edition of Down the Fairway is considered one of the rarest and most sought after golf books by collectors. To keep this book readily available to golfers, Herbert Warren Wind included a reproduction of Down the Fairway in his Classics of Golf Library.
Jones has been the subject of several books, most notably The Bobby Jones Story and A Boy's Life of Bobby Jones, both by O.B. Keeler. Other notable texts are The Life and Times of Bobby Jones: Portrait of a Gentleman by Sidney L. Matthew, The Greatest Player Who Never Lived by J. Michael Veron, and Triumphant Journey: The Saga of Bobby Jones and the Grand Slam of Golf by Richard Miller. Published in 2006, The Grand Slam by Mark Frost has received much note as being evocative of Jones's life and times.
A special room is dedicated to Jones's life and accomplishments at the United States Golf Association Museum and Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History in Far Hills, New Jersey.
In 1981, the U.S. Postal Service issued an 18 cent stamp commemorating Jones.
Founded in 2003, the Bobby Jones Golf Company designs, develops, and sells metal-woods, wedges and hybrid golf clubs. The company has an exclusive, worldwide license agreement with the family of Bobby Jones (known as Jonesheirs, Inc.) and Authentic Brands Group for the use of the Bobby Jones name for golf equipment and golf accessories. The craftsman is Jesse Ortiz.
AmateurWalker Cup: 1922 (winners), 1924 (winners), 1926 (winners), 1928 (winners, playing captain), 1930 (winners, playing captain)