Masters Countdown: Bobby Jones in Color

Bobby Jones in Color

The photograph above was taken in 1947, during the next to last Masters that Bobby Jones competed in. His badge identifies him as Player No. 1. The photographer was apparently experimenting with an early color film. The negatives were discovered in an envelope in an old file cabinet at Augusta National almost fifty years later, around the time I began researching my book The Making of the Masters. No prints are known to have been made before that time.

There is a great deal of confusion about Jones and his status as a player. Augusta National, in tournament publications, lists him as an amateur, but by the rules of the U.S.G.A he became a professional in 1930, when Warner Bros. hired him to make instructional films, and when, a little later, he began designing and promoting golf clubs for A.G. Spalding & Bros.

Jones retired from competition not because he had no worlds left to conquer; he retired because he abhorred the idea of being labeled a professional. In a letter to Clifford Roberts many years later, he described the typical pro as “an uneducated club servant”—a prejudice that dated to the early days of his competitive career, when only amateurs were accorded the honorific Mr., professionals weren’t allowed inside clubhouses, and tournament organizers distinguished between “gentlemen” and “players.”

“So long as I played as an amateur, there could be no question of subterfuge or concealment,” he wrote in 1960—a statement that clearly shows what he thought of playing golf for money. Roberts secured Jones’s participation in the first Masters, in 1934, by cleverly dodging the issue: in the tournament’s program listings and pairing sheets, he made no distinction between amateurs and professionals.

But the distinction was invariably noted elsewhere. The Associated Press and all other news organizations, in their coverage of the tournaments Jones competed in, listed him with the pros. Even O.B. Keeler, who had built his sportswriting career by celebrating Jones’s amateur accomplishments, took it for granted that Jones was now a professional. And so did Augusta National, officially.That’s why Charles Yates, not Jones, was honored as the low amateur in the first Masters, even though Yates’s score was three strokes worse than Jones’s.

Would Jones have played in the Masters if the club had been compelled to label him explicitly as a professional? Roberts said in later years that he suspected he probably would have, in order to help the club. But Roberts was uncertain enough that he never raised the matter with him, either then or later.

In Golf is My Game, Jones wrote that to give up his amateur status would have been “like giving up part of myself.” But, in fact, he gave it up in 1930. And he had a powerful incentive for doing so. His golf-related income in 1933, when the first tournament was being planned, was over $100,000; in contrast, Paul Runyan, who won nine events that year and was the tour’s leading money-winner, had gross tournament earnings of less than $6,500.

11 thoughts on “Masters Countdown: Bobby Jones in Color

  1. I think that shirt doubled as a glider. Look at the collar. Motorless flight from the sixth tee would be no problem.

  2. I do wonder why more people don’t play in a typical shirt rather than a knit shirt. In spring, I have played straight from the office after dropping my suit jacket and changing shoes. Following Bob Jones’s lead, I stuck my tie in shirt. Not bad, if not too hot. Better if cool. What say you, DO?

  3. David,

    As a relatively younger reader, I’ve read books depicting golf in the 1940’s and 1950’s, before tournament golf was televised and Arnold Palmer came upon the scene. A common theme is the prestige of being a gentleman amateur and the professional is looked down upon. Bobby Jones served as the model that players aspired to become, the idealized gentleman amateur. Yet, as you pointed out, Bobby Jones ceased being an amateur in the 1930’s. While he proclaimed himself as an “amateur,” the reality is that he was a professional. This strikes me as inconsistent and almost within the range of hyprocritical.

    I wonder why this narrative is not fully explored. There are many books about Bobby Jones and golf during this era, yet none of them really explore this issue. We have enough books praising Bobby Jones and his work. How about some books exploring this inconsistency? It would be an interesting and captivating reading.

    • Let’s say that Bob Jones was born and raised in the South. This is a taboo topic in American golf, but, boy, for most of its history the Masters could also be played with black caddies from Augusta National.

  4. I think the key distinction is that Jones “turned professional” after his true competitive career had ended. Yes, he met the standard at the time for being a “professional golfer,” but did he ever accept any prize money for playing? This article doesn’t say, but I’m guessing probably not. Being someone who makes a living *through* golf and someone who makes it *playing* golf seem like very different things. For instance, it seems very odd to think that Francis Ouimet had his amateur status stripped for opening a sporting goods store — that sold golf clubs. But that’s how it was back then. I don’t see any hypocrisy in Jones playing in the Masters – largely as an exhibition, it seems to me – as a “professional.”

    It does seem unfortunate, however, to learn that Mr. Jones – golf’s ultimate gentleman – apparently shared the common prejudice of the time that being a professional golfer had a stigma attached to it (not to mention whatever “common prejudice” he might have held toward black people – but that’s another discussion).

  5. Further thoughts … the amateur-professional dichotomy back then was very strange, and complicated. It’s easy to idealize the “amateur ideal” — the word amateur itself being rooted in playing the game for the love of it. It sounds very high-minded to speak of it that way. It’s alluring. But there’s also an ugly side. The rules of amateurism were also used to exclude people – those who were not privileged and who could not afford to play the game strictly for the love of it. I used to think the term “Open,” in “U.S. Open,” meant that amateurs were allowed to play. And these days, that’s kind of how it works, de facto. But originally an “open” tournament was one that deigned to let professionals in. To think that such a revered figure as Old Tom Morris, despite all his golfing glory (and class!), was still thought of by the gentleman golfers of his day as little more than a servant makes me cringe. Thank goodness for Walter Hagen for pushing so hard to break down the barriers that kept professional golfers from being treated as “gentlemen”!

  6. Mike,

    Thanks for your insight. Its peculiar that to find this perspective, I have to look within the comments section of a blog, rather than reading it from a book found in the golf section of my local bookstore. I think it would be an interesting read if a book explored the amateur/professional dichotomy in golf and how it has evolved to the present. Even today, there are different types of amateurs (elite USGA/college competitors and weekend golfers) and different professional types (teaching pros and touring pros) and I wonder each view each other.

    Take it for what’s worth, but after reading a couple of books on Byron Nelson and the way he lived his life on the course and off, I think he should have been the 1950’s model for the “amateur ideal”–his love for the game fueled his success on and off the course and he treated people with respect. Imagine that: a professional golfer showing amateurs how to be a true gentleman.

    • OC,

      Yes, Byron Nelson is probably an even better choice for golf’s “ultimate gentleman”! Love me some Byron Nelson, for sure. 🙂

      Two really good reads to recommend: “Tommy’s Honor: The Story of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, Golf’s Founding Father and Son,” by Kevin Cook, and “Sir Walter: Walter Hagen and the Invention of Professional Golf,” by Tom Clavin. Have you read those? “Tommy’s Honor” is one of the best stories I’ve ever read, golf or otherwise, period.

      Regarding amateurism, you’re right, that’s a rich topic (no pun intended). As a guy who grew up without a lot of golfing resources available, I’ve always resisted the “golf is a rich man’s sport” idea. I love the stories of guys who came up the hard way, like Hogan and Trevino and Seve. Who really had to love the game more, Bobby Jones, who had the luxury being able to stay an amateur his whole career, or Ben Hogan, who sometimes spent the night sleeping in a sand traps (so the story goes) to be the first one in the caddy yard in the morning — and had to scrap for everything he ever had? Dig it out of the dirt — you bet!!

      If I ever get my first book done (scratchinthemirror.com), maybe I’ll take that subject on for my second!

      And thanks for replying to my comment!

  7. Tenuous jump from black caddies at ANGC to racism. There is dignity in work. You can still play with a black caddie in the Masters or otherwise at ANGC today, and it’s not racist.

    ANGC helped black caddies in the Masters for years by requiring the use of a local caddie longer than other tournaments, a requirement which upon cessation resulted in fewer black caddies.

    Think of the implication of what you said: the use of a black caddie is racist and therefore the use of a non-black caddy is not racist. Paying a black fellow for a job done is racist? (I wonder what the displaced black caddies said about it during the first Masters after local caddies were no longer required.) Perhaps proper answer is who wants to be a caddie is a race neutral issue.

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