Bobby Jones Retired 91 Years Ago Today And Went Into The Movie Business
The New York Times front page news came with the USGA's support. Yet the "impregnable quadrilateral" winner sounded anxious about cashing in on his success.
Ninety-one years ago Bobby Jones made it official.
He’d had enough. And Hollywood here I come!
I recently came across my copy of The Complete Book of Golf, one in a long line of New York Times “Scrapbook History” tomes featuring the newspaper’s best golf coverage from 1906 to 1979. During some recent library reorganizing I happened upon the book and, since this is The Quadrilateral, went straight to Jones’ Grand Slam year. I was pleasantly surprised to see the book included coverage of Jones’ retirement.
The story of his farewell announcement from competitive play earned front page placement the next day, November 18th, with a subheadline noting the possible $250,000 pay package Jones stood to enjoy by going west to make some golf films for Warner Brothers. The Times package also included supplemental coverage featuring unbylined AP stories from Atlanta, London and Chicago reacting to the news. Now those pages are all gloriously housed online for subscribers.
A few excerpts and observations:
William Richardson handled the story that felt a tad orchestrated at times, speaking to just how sensitive the matter was to Jones. Far less space was devoted to why he was retiring—burn out that seemed to be widely understood given the stress of winning The Amateur, The Open, the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur in the same year—with more text addressing the thorny matter of Jones cashing in via the “pictures” business.
The second and third paragraphs from Richardson: “In a carefully prepared statement made public yesterday on Jones’ behalf by H.H. Ramsay, vice president of the United States Golf Association, in which Bobby is a member of the executive committee, the famous Atlantan, gave the details of his withdrawl from competitive golf. He has signed a contract with Warner Brothers to make a series of twelve one-reel motion pictures dealing with the instructional side of golf.”
Jones issued a long and revealing statement that included this: “My intention at the time was to make no announcement of retirement, but merely to drop out quietly by neglecting to send in my entry to the open championship next Spring. There was at that time no reason to make a definite statement of any kind, but since then, after careful consideration, I have decided upon a step which I think ought to be explained to the golfers of this country, in order that they may have a clear understanding of what the thing is and why it is being done.”
Jones explained how the films were “purely educational in nature” to soften the landing of taking money as a result of his golf skill, then a huge rules and image no-no. “I am so far convinced that it is contrary to the spirit of amateurism that I am prepared to accept and even endorse a ruling that is an infringement. I have chosen to play as an amateur, not because I have regarded an honest professionalism as discredible but simply because I have had other ambitions in life.”
Jones also made clear he’d had enough: “When these pictures have been made, I expect to return to the practice of my profession, unhampered by the necessity of keeping my golf up to championship requirements.” Jones did end up playing in twelve Masters between 1934 to 1948.
An AP story from London explained how St Andrews was “saddened” by the retirement and painted this picture: “Crêpe will hang from the royal doorknobs of the Royal and Ancient clubhouse in St Andrews when the news spreads through the auld gray town of Fifeshire that Bobby Jones, golf master of all time, has become a professor of movie instruction. No longer will that sturdy youth, grim and silent as the frowning Grampian Hills beyond, stride over those ancient links that skirt St. Andrews Bay in quest of Britain’s treasured golfing titles—treasures mostly won by Jones in recent years. It is the end of an era in golf. There is nothing the Royal and Ancient Club can do about it. Bobby is a member of that select body and presumably he continues his amateur status.”