Character Number Nine

Bobby JonesAnd then there was Bobby Jones.

We lived in Atlanta from 1965 t0 1973 and we were members of the Druid Hills Golf Club. I played on Saturdays and Sundays and our kids enjoyed the swimming pool in which they all three competed.  Doris played in a nine-hole ladies group and we played tennis there.  Nigel’s firsts wedding reception was there.  I occasionally got to play on a week day and we had frequent tournaments.  I was a 10 handicap the entire time we belonged there.  I could not get better but I did not get worse.  My score was always 81, 82 or 83 with occasional rounds of 79 or 80.  I had lots of 39s for nine holes but seldom got two of them back to back.

Quite often, my playing partner on Sundays was Lyman Hilliard, a lawyer with Jones, Bird and Howell. I had been told that the Jones in that title was none other than Robert Tyre Jones, the famous national and international amateur golfer.  I had read all about him in a large album I had and also about his famous association with the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews in a large book I had that was all about St Andrews history.   He won the Open in 1927 and the British Amateur there in 1930.   Our oldest son, Nigel has those two books but I don’t believe he has spent as much time as I did reading them  As I got to know Lyman Hilliard better, I found that he was a partner in the firm and Doris and I were treated to a couple of gourmet dinners at Lyman’s apartment.  He was an exceptionally good cook and his specialty was grilled quail followed by Bananas Foster.  The latter was cooked in a large solid copper skillet that Lyman had admired when he saw it being used in Brennans of New Orleans where the dish was originated.  It is not hard to imagine how many drinks Lyman had consumed or how much he paid for it the night he insisted on buying that copper skillet from Brennans.

Bobby Jones awardsOne day, Lyman asked me if I would like to meet Bobby Jones and of course, I did. He took me one Saturday morning in 1970 to their office and I was amazed to find an elderly looking man in obvious pain.  I had read about the rare blood disease Jones had but I had no idea how crippling it was.  We had a nice chat about British golf courses, many of which I had played and as I was about to leave, he offered me one of his books, “Bobby Jones n Golf”.  He autographed it for me and I have also given that to Nigel to keep.  He had told me that he didn’t like being called Bobby Jones and he signed it ‘ ‘Bob T. Jones’’.  I knew the story about his name.  He was always being confused with Robert Trent Jones, the well-known golf architect so Trent jones decided he would be called Trent and Bob would become Bobby. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting him and felt it was a great honor.  I have also been the owner of a very good replica of Bob Jones wooden shafted putter that he christened, Calamity Jane and this I have given to my second son, Nicholas.

Bob Jones played amateur golf competitively from 1923 to 1930 and competed against Walter Hagan, Gene Sarazen and other great professionals of his day. He won almost every tournament of note at one time.  He played in five Walker Cup Amateur matches, winning nine of his ten matches and also captained the team twice.  He won 13 of what we now call majors.  I was interested to find that, in researching his early days, he won a long driving event with a drive of 305 yards, with a wooden shafted driver.  His most quoted record that will probably never be beaten, was his amazing accomplishment in 1930 when he won the Open and Amateur Championships of the US and Britain in the same year.  Expecting him to go on winning for years, the golfing world learned that the great Bobby Jones had retired at age 28 from competitive golf.  This great champion was soon in a wheel chair with a rare spinal disease called syringomyelia.  He finally died of this disease in December, 1971 at the age of 69.  I was honored to meet this wonderful champion and to be able to say that I shook the hand of one of the two people who were honored with two New York Ticker-tape Parades.  The other was Benjamin Franklin whose hand I have not shaken.



2 thoughts on “Character Number Nine

  1. We moved from Atlanta in 1972 because I started Episcopal High in Jax in the Fall of ’72.

    Nigel and Mel were on the swim team at Druid Hills and we watched quite a few meets where they received ribbons. Nigel became a certified lifeguard there. When they had practice, and I was about 12-13, I took my golf clubs (Dad gave Nigel his old odd-numbered clubs and I had the even ones!) and played 9 holes of golf every morning in jeans!).

    Back then, kids didn’t play much and I came across a few four-somes who were impressed with my hitting. Had I not taken about a 30-year hiatus, I might have been a top young golfer! I did take a golf clinic there and learned from the Pro how to chip and put, and that has always been the cornerstone of my game. As my friends will attest, the rest of my game is “nowhere”! They filmed us with an early closed circuit video machine so we could see our stances. I had my 1st par at Druid Hills on a par 3 leading to the 18th (maybe 16th or 17th) – I hit a 2 wood up to the creek and then hit the 2-wood again onto the green and sunk the put for my first par!

    At any rate, I also played tennis and one a trophy as the junior tennis champion at Druid Hills when I was 15, beating someone with the same birthday but one year younger. I also accumulated a few trophies in Little League baseball and later in life, in Toastmasters, but the funny thing was that soccer was always my favorite and best-played sport, and I never received one single trophy!

    I think I remember going to Lyman Hilliard’s penthouse once and he offered us chocolate covered coffee beans he kept in his freezer!

    Thanks for the Calamity Jane putter. One day, when I have a house and a garage, I will build a display for that putter and Lord Allerton’s wooden putter. Calamity Jane came with a wooden display so I plan to add on to that.

    Druid Hills brings back a lot of memories!


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