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Stories

Bobby Jones Centennial Dinner

by Mathew Moore

On St Patrickís Day, March 17, 2002 celebrities from all over the golfing globe gathered in Atlanta, Georgia to honor the legendary golfer Robert Tyre "Bobby" Jones. The occasion was the centennial anniversary of Jonesí birth. As an amateur golfer in the 1920ís, Bobby Jones won 13 major championships in both amateur and professional golf, securing his place in golfing history as one of the greatest to ever play the game. " He never played for money, but no man ever left a game more enriched by having played it," said Furman Bischer, a columnist for the Atlanta Journal newspaper.

Jones was remembered at an invitation only black tie dinner hosted by the Atlanta History Center in the cityís Buckhead district. It was the only event in America to mark this anniversary with a formal celebration of his accomplishments and contributions to the game of golf. The Atlanta History Center, home of the largest public exhibit on Jones life and career, "Down the Fairway with Bobby Jones" hosted around 460 guests from the many institutions connected to Jones throughout his life. "This event will be the first time all of the universities, clubs, businesses associated with Jones have come together to celebrate his exemplary life", said Catherine Lewis, Ph.D., exhibition curator and author of Considerable Passions: Golf, The Masters and the Legacy of Bobby Jones.

Charles R. Yates, 1938 British Amateur Champion and close friend of Jones, chaired the eveningís program. Each guest was taken through the life of Bobby Jones from his fourteen year playing career to his academic achievements as a student to his successes as a corporate lawyer following his retirement from golf at the age of 27. Bob Jones IV and Anne Hood Laird, Jonesí grandchildren served as co-chairs. Peter Kessler, formerly of the Golf Channel, was the Master of ceremonies for the evening.

Jonesí achievements as a golfer have been written about exhaustively, yet the event celebrated all facets of Jonesí life in which he became more renowned than any politician, ambassador or journalist of his day. Arthur Howell, a partner at the eventís leading sponsor Alston and Bird, the law firm Jones joined in 1928, emphasized the incredible diversity in Jonesí character. "Playing as an amateur, he also obtained a degree from Georgia Tech, a Masters degree from Harvard, and attended Emory Law School long enough to pass the Georgia Bar exam and enter his fatherís law firm to culminate his golf career with the "Grand Slam", retiring at the ripe old age of 27", said Howell, a keynote speaker at the dinner.

Jones is regarded as a man of great character who held exemplary standards of living. He inspired some of golfís greats such as Arnold Palmer. "In fact, at one point before I turned Pro in 1954, I was planning to pattern my life after that of Bob Jones, finding a vocation and position that would enable me to remain as an amateur and play in the important national and international tournaments each year," Palmer said. Tributes like these have flooded in from around the golfing world to commemorate Jones at this special event. Through the use of video and audio clips recorded specially for the event, golf personalities Jack Nicklaus, Nancy Lopez, Jim Nantz, Alistair Cooke and Ben Crenshaw shared their reflections on Jonesí impact on their professional careers, the Masters and his continuing presence in the game of golf, Dr. Lewis said.

The event received support from the two governing bodies of golf, the United States Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. The Captain of the R&A, Graeme Simmers was present to speak about the congenial relationship Jones forged with the townspeople of St Andrews. Bobby Jones won the British Open over the famous Old Course at St Andrews in 1927 and the British Amateur there in the "Grand Slam" year of 1930. The people of St. Andrews recognized his special achievements by awarding him the "Freedom of the City and the Royal Burgh" in 1958, an occasion when Jones said famously, " you could take out of my life all of my experiences except those at St. Andrews and I would still have had a rich and full life"

The Augusta National Golf Club, built and designed by Jones in partnership with Alistair MacKenzie in 1931 and home to the U.S Masters was also a major sponsor. Indeed, much of Jonesí contribution to the game of golf can be found in his own unique vision for the Masters, arguably the greatest tournament in the world. Jack Nicklaus, a six time Masters Champion said of Jones,

"Augusta National and the Masters Tournament have always been uniquely special to me, largely due to the history and aura of Bob Jones". The spirit of Bob Jones lives on at the Masters and the winner of the green jacket in April will join the tradition started by an icon who represented mankindís loftiest standards, said Jim Nantz, golf broadcaster for CBS Sports.

The University of St Andrews and Atlantaís Emory were represented as the twin hosts of an international student exchange program called the R.T Jones Memorial Scholarship, founded in 1976. The prestigious scholarship symbolizes the transatlantic goodwill that Jones fostered during his lifetime. The R.T Jones Memorial Trust were represented by important figures from Atlanta society including Charlie Yates and developer Tom Cousins, who restored the original East Lake course and surrounding neighborhood, as well as the current Jones scholars from the University of St Andrews. The Trust is also holding a reunion of all former Jones scholars and Trustees this coming June in St. Andrews, "The Home of Golf". The occasion will be marked by a dinner at the Old Course Hotel and golfing events over Jonesí beloved Old Course.

The East Lake Golf Club, where Jones learned to play golf as a six-year-old under the watchful eye of Scottish professional Stewart Maiden, was also a sponsor. The Atlanta Athletic Club, where Jones was a member, also made a significant contribution and hosted a golf day prior to the dinner on the 17th. Members from Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pennsylvania where Jones completed the final part of the Grand Slam by winning the U.S Amateur in1930 were present. As were members of Royal Liverpool G.C in Hoylake, England, where Jones won the British Open that same year. A contingent from the Old Course in St Andrews, who hosted a dinner for Jones' birthday on Friday, March 15th, then flew across the Atlantic to join the celebration at the Atlanta History center in Jonesí hometown.

Jones' grandson, Bob Jones IV said he remains indebted to the Atlanta History Center for their work in ensuring that the legacy of Bobby Jones continues to inspire people of all ages. The donations made by the eventís sponsors will be used to further expand the Bobby Jones exhibit. Dr Lewis said she hopes to do this by purchasing key artifacts and photographs to enhance the current Bob Jones collection. As part of the eveningís proceedings two artifacts to be added to the exhibition were unveiled during the dinner. "The Atlanta History center remains committed to keeping my grandfatherís legacy alive. Their exhibitions and programs continue to introduce Bobby Jonesí story to scores of school children and golf enthusiasts", said Bob Jones IV.

Bobby Jones died in 1971 after having battled the debilitating spinal disease syringomyelia since its diagnosis in 1948, when he played his last ever round of golf. He was brave and generous in the face of this terrible disease. When friends expressed their sympathy, he often replied "Just remember, son, you always play the ball where it lies". "That was the kind of man he was", said Charlie Yates, a lifelong friend.


Photos Courtesy of the Atlanta History Center:
Founded 75 years ago as the Atlanta Historical Society, the Atlanta History Center includes permanent and traveling exhibitions in the Atlanta History Museum, two historic homes, library/archives and 33 acres of gardens. The Atlanta History Center offers historical experiences for all ages, integrating history, education and life-enrichment programs. For more information, visit www.AtlantaHistoryCenter.com.

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