ATLANTA – He was the city’s favorite son, and he is now the only individual for whom a permanent exhibit at the Atlanta History Center is dedicated. On the anniversary of what would have been his 115th birthday on Friday, Bobby Jones was honored at the history center, located on West Paces Ferry Road in Atlanta, just a mile and a half from Whitehall, the Jones family residence for many years.
A crowd of about 200 distinguished Atlantans, along with an out-of-towner or two like noted Jones historian and biography Sidney L. Matthew, gathered for a private reception to dedicate an exhibit called “Fair Play, The Bobby Jones Story,” which opened officially on Saturday.
Dr. Bob Jones IV, grandson and namesake of amateur golf’s greatest champion, who also manages and licenses the Jones name on behalf of the family, invited me for a sneak peek at the exhibit before the reception. “I can’t believe how well done this is,” Jones IV said. “It tells my grandfather’s story without being overdone.”
The room includes replicas of all four of Jones’ Grand Slam trophies as well as the only replica of the U.S. Amateur gold medal, which Jones requested from the USGA and the family provided to the museum. There are large-scale photographs as well as interactive displays that explain why a golfer who has been dead for 45 years was so important to society in his day and important to the game now.
To put Jones into perspective: he was the only man to receive two ticker-tape parades in New York until astronaut and Senator John Glenn got his second one in 1998. And Jones was featured on the cover of Time magazine twice, the same number of covers Charles Lindbergh graced, and twice as many as Babe Ruth, Dizzy Dean, Joe DiMaggio, and King George V of Great Britain.
“He really was the bridge between North and South at a time when the wounds from the Civil War were not completely healed,” Jones IV said. “And he was one of our greatest ambassadors between the U.S. and Great Britain between the world wars. He brought the country and the continents closer together.”
A small area on one end of the exhibit has a hi-def television screen and seating for about 10 people. Three videos, about 13 minutes each, tell the story of a life that is familiar and touching to those of us in the game and profoundly moving to those seeing it for the first time. It’s hard to hold the tears hearing Jones at his ticker-tape parade in New York, or the speech when he became the first American since Benjamin Franklin to be named a Freeman of the City of St. Andrews.
How good a golfer was he? At the height of his career, professional gamblers gave Bob Jones 2-to-1 odds over the rest of the field every time he played. The best odds Tiger Woods ever got at the height of his career were 3-to-1 to win The Masters and 4-to-1 to win the U.S. and British opens. Tiger’s best odds of winning the Grand Slam were 80-to-1.
During the video recap of the 1930 U.S. Amateur at Merion, the narrator talks about Jones’ fatigue from such a grueling schedule. “I also think he was suffering the very early effects of syringomyelia (the nerve disease that would cripple and eventually kill him),” Jones IV said. “If he’d been playing today, doctors would have worked him up the second he felt something and diagnosed it immediately.”
Then Jones IV paused and said, “Of course, there’s still nothing that could have been done.”
The grace and courage with which Jones faced his physical decline and impending death is a big part of the exhibit, as is the living legacy to the man: Augusta National and The Masters.
“I hope a lot of people come see this,” Jones IV said as we finished our tour. “It’s certainly worthwhile to know the history and what this man accomplished in his time. It’s worthwhile whether you know anything about golf or not.”