Life With Bub: Robert Tyre Jones IV is devoted to the memory of his grandfather
To the degree we know him these days, Robert Tyre Jones Jr. is “Bobby,” frozen in his triumphant youth, the mythic embodiment of the Golden Age of Sport. The Babe, Dempsey, Man o’ War, Bobby Jones.
He won the Grand Slam in 1930, sealing the deal at Merion, where the U.S. Open will be played in June. With the Wall Street banker Clifford Roberts, Jones founded Augusta National and the Masters, and we would doff our cap to him just for that, if anybody doffed anymore. Jones was Shaq, with his doctorate in education, before there was a Shaq: Jones earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Georgia Tech, another in literature from Harvard, and studied law at Emory. He was a significant figure in the Atlanta legal community and in the executive offices of Coca-Cola. He wrote about the game elegantly. Dan Jenkins stole a book title from him, The Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate, and Jones’s life and times inspired Herbert Warren Wind to write this enduring sentence: “As a young man, he was able to stand up to just about the best that life can offer, which is not easy, and later he stood up with equal grace to just about the worst.” That’s the man as he’s come down to us. Our Bobby.
Dr. Robert Tyre Jones IV knows all about that man. He has studied the biographies and watched the newsreels. But that’s not the man Dr. Jones knew. He hung with Bub.
“I was Bobby, my father was Bob and my grandfather was Bub,” RTJ4 said the other day. He is 55, a clinical psychologist with an office in Conyers, Ga., where there sits a lamp with an image of his grandfather painted around its base. Bobby’s life lessons come up often in RTJ4’s day job, particularly when he is counseling golfers on the most important real estate in all of golf, what Bub himself called that “five-and-a-half-inch course, the space between your ears.”
Dr. Jones represents the end of the line—there is no RTJ5—and he is no blind keeper of the flame. “There are so many myths about him,” Dr. Jones said during a recent interview, one in a series conducted at the Atlanta Athletic Club, in his office, at his home and over the phone. He will be Dr. Jones here for the sake of clarity; call him that once too often in real life, and he’ll threaten to send you a bill. “People think of my grandfather as The Natural, as if it all came so easily to him, that he didn’t have to work at it. The truth is, he studied golf obsessively. On the course he was constantly processing a tremendous amount of data. He knew how far each club went. He was a mechanical engineer. He played like one.”
The sessions with Dr. Jones were chiefly about his famous grandfather, but his father came up often. RTJ3 was an Augusta National member and an accomplished golfer who had a special green phone in his home in Pittsfield, Mass., that was reserved for the daily conversation he had with his legendary father, who won 13 major championships in a seven-year span. In the summer of ’26, to cite one action-packed year, Jones won the British Open and the U.S. Open, in that order, crossing the Atlantic by ship to make his appointed rounds. (They don’t make glamour like that anymore.) In December of that year, in the wake of his father’s first ticker-tape parade, Bob Jones III was born.
Bob3 went to boarding school in Chattanooga, served in Italy near the end of World War II and had brief stints at Georgia Tech, Emory and later Harvard that were less fruitful than his father’s.
“Like a lot of people who went to the war, he got home and was eager to get on with his life,” said Dr. Jones, who found his own path to adulthood through the maze of academia. (He has a bachelor’s degree in English literature, a master’s in divinity and a doctorate in clinical psychology.) Bob3 became the general manager of the two Coca-Cola bottling plants his father owned in New England and the vice president of Augusta National. His father was club president. Roberts was club chairman. They are honorary positions around which whole worlds revolve, then and now.
Augusta National was important to father and son. In 1959, Bobby was coaching his son with the hope he would make it to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur and thereby earn an invitation to play in the 1960 Masters. But Bob3 drew Big Jack in the first round, and Nicklaus steamrollered him on his way to winning the whole thing. Some years later, the father had plans for his son to succeed him as president of Augusta National.
Bob4 is not an Augusta member, but he has been to almost every Masters since attending his first one in 1970, at age 12, then the unofficial minimum age. His grandfather was too ill to attend that year or the next, so Bob4 never got to see Bub at Augusta. He loves going. Asked which player his grandfather would be most drawn to today, Dr. Jones said, “Ernie Els. That rhythm! You know Ernie gets hot, but then he lets it go. My grandfather was very much like that. He worked on maintaining a placid face throughout the swing. He thought that tension in the small muscles led to tension in the big muscles, which kills speed and rhythm. But also because Ernie has interests outside golf.” He talked about Ernie’s involvement in autism awareness and his wine label. Bobby was more of a bourbon man. On the mixing of bourbon and Coke, he once said, “My God, that’s the ruination of two good drinks.”
Dr. Jones’s handicap dipped as low as four, and in the two rounds he played at Augusta, he shot 77 and 78, though that was 35 years ago. Asked whom he would call if he wanted to get another crack at the course, he said, “I wouldn’t.” Both his grandmothers were deeply formal, traditional Southern ladies, and he retains a measure of their instinct for propriety.
Casual, though, is his default mode. On St. Patrick’s Day, he spoke at a dinner at the Atlanta Athletic Club. It was a fund-raiser for scholarships connected to Bobby Jones, and it fell on his 111th birthday. During the dessert course (cake with a green layer) a golf ball made the rounds, the one Jones used when he completed the Grand Slam. One man wore a kilt. Many wore suits. Dr. Jones wore a blazer on which both front buttons had been lost to indifference.
Dr. Jones raised three girls and two boys from two marriages, none of them his biological children. One of the boys, Michael, died two years ago of a heart attack. Some years ago the youngest of the five, Melanie, stared at Bobby’s primitive hickory-shafted clubs on display in Augusta National’s trophy room, where Jones ate many meals, and said, “He won all those tournaments with those? They’re just sticks!” Jones despised sticks for golf clubs, but Melanie had it correct. His Grand Slam two-iron looks like a gardening tool from Little House on the Prairie.
Bobby was a natural lefthander forced to write righty as a kid. His cramped signature—Rob’t T. Jones, Jr.—was stamped on the back of hundreds of thousands of Spalding clubs, some of which are floating about eBay these days. Hollywood didn’t like that stern signature, and when Jones made the 12-part series How I Play Golf, somebody at Warner Brothers affixed a curly, playful Bobby Jones signature to the opening credits. The signature-as-logo on the necks of the $98 shirts in the Bobby Jones clothing line is curlier yet. Between the royalty payments from various books, DVDs, the clothing line and the club line, the Heirs of Bobby Jones (the corporate name) are making enough free money to buy a Lexus every half-decade or so. “We’re not rich by any stretch,” Dr. Jones said. You can follow the money yourself. When was the last time you saw someone pull out a hybrid stamped with a cursive Bobby Jones on its sole?
The actual Bobby Jones grew up comfortably, lived splendidly and died as a millionaire. (At his death, in 1971, his estate was valued at $1.2 million.) Had he not sold the two New England bottling plants in the 1960s, the family most likely would have vast wealth today. Instead, the golfer’s seven grandchildren live in the workaday world. One’s a nurse, another an editor, another a dog breeder.
Bobby and his wife, Mary Malone Jones, raised their three children in a mansion called Whitehall on an aptly named Atlanta street called Tuxedo Road. The patriarch watched golf on TV, sometimes with young Bobby4, the volume off as Jones provided his own commentary. It was informed, direct, occasionally profane. He had that move. Dr. Jones recalls that whenever Furman Bisher, a renowned Atlanta sports columnist, would write something Bobby did not like, he’d say, “That damn Furman Bitcher!”
The owners of Whitehall had refined tastes. In their living room sat an expensive, delicately hand-painted commode that Bobby and Mary bought in Paris. One day the champion golfer and mechanical engineer decided to hack away at the piece in an effort to accommodate the wires of an early stereo system. Concluding his summary of this pilot episode of Carpenters Gone Wild, Dr. Jones said, “Mary was so pleased.”
He’s often witty. Dr. Jones and his wife, Mimi, now have that butchered Parisian piece in their living room in a mini-development in McDonough, a hamlet so far beyond the Atlanta suburbs that you’ll know you’re close, Dr. Jones likes to say, “when you start hearing the dueling banjos from Deliverance.”
Every summer when they were kids, Dr. Jones and his two sisters would leave Massachusetts and spend two or three weeks at steamy Whitehall. The man of the house was already deeply in the grip of syringomyelia, a rare spinal-cord disease that eventually claimed his life. For as long as Bob4 knew his grandfather, his hands were frozen nearly as fists. He drank his coffee through a straw. He had special utensils he could lodge between his palms and fingers, and he needed an assistant just to smoke.
“I would sit with him in the sanctum,” Dr. Jones recalled, referring to an enclosed porch on the second floor at Whitehall where Jones ate most of his meals and spent most of his time, “and I’d light his cigarettes for him. Then, because I was pretty ADHD at the time, I’d zone out, looking at yellow birds through a window, whatever it might be. Eventually, I’d hear this guttural sound—earearear—coming from him, like Peter Boyle in Young Frankenstein. He’d have that cigarette, with the filter, just stuck there in his mouth! I’d fall over myself, apologizing, but all he’d say is, ‘That’s O.K., son.’ ”
Bob4 ate countless meals with his grandfather in the sanctum, where for breakfast the elder Jones would have soft soft-boiled eggs he could raise with his fists and down almost like a shot of whiskey. On weekdays they watched Today as Jones prepared to go to work at his law firm. When he was ready, the grandson would wheel his grandfather into the Whitehall elevator, race down the mansion’s grand steps and greet Bub when the doors opened on the first floor.
It was a segregated house owned by a man who lived his entire life in a segregated world. Guests and friends and visiting family members were white, and the Whitehall staff—the housekeepers, gardeners, nannies and cooks—were, over the decades, almost all black. Jones’s chauffeur, Hoyt, was black. His full name was George Hoyt, but everybody, including the young grandson Bobby, called him Hoyt.
Hoyt was far more than Jones’s chauffeur. He served the man, in his old age. At dinner, he took off his black chauffeur’s suit and put on a white serving jacket. He bathed Jones and emptied his catheter. In his will, Jones forgave Hoyt the loans he had given him.
Dr. Jones tired years ago of hearing his grandfather described as a racist. Producers at ESPN, writers from The New York Times and Sports Illustrated—lots of people with megaphones have painted Augusta National (and by extension its founders) as a place (and people) clinging to separate but equal, with limited emphasis on the equal. Charles Barkley was more direct. In a 2002 ESPN interview, he said he was “tired of CBS telling me what a great guy Bobby Jones was—he was a racist.” The main pieces of evidence are that the Masters didn’t have a black player until Lee Elder qualified for the 1975 tournament and the club didn’t have a black member until the Shoal Creek episode forced the issue in 1990. Also, if Jones ever helped black golfers trying to desegregate public courses in Atlanta in the 1950s, including one named for him, there’s no record of it.
The fact is, Elder earned his spot by way of win-and-you’re-in, which became law at Augusta in 1972, too late to help Pete Brown and Charlie Sifford, two excellent black golfers who won Tour events before that. In 1967, Sifford, now a Hall of Famer, won at Hartford and finished 25th on the money list but still did not meet any of the stated qualification requirements for an “invitation.” (That’s a misnomer, really—all U.S. players get in by way of qualifying marks, then and now.) In a 1968 letter cited in David Owen’s The Making of the Masters, Jones wrote to Sifford saying he would be invited if he met the requirements and that “I for one would be particularly happy to see you realize this ambition.” It’s hard to imagine Jones wrote that sentence without meaning it.
There are published letters in which Jones displays elitist and snobbish traits, but none in which he exhibits anything like hatred based on race or religion or anything else. Jones, nominally a Southern Baptist, married a devout Catholic in a Catholic church and raised Catholic children in an era when anti-Catholic bias was prevalent in the South.
On the subject of race, Dr. Jones said his grandfather was a man of his time and place. “We ask too much of our athletes,” Dr. Jones said. “He was not a trailblazer. The status quo had been good to him. He had no reason to want change. I’m sure he had mixed feelings about Martin Luther King Jr. He worried about rioting in Atlanta, not because of what it meant in terms of the staff getting to Tuxedo Road but for what it meant for the black businessmen at Peachtree and Sweet Auburn and in other black neighborhoods. I know he appreciated that King preached change through nonviolence. In Atlanta, at least, we had no violence.” Asked why neither Roberts nor Jones invited an African-American to join their club, Dr. Jones said the idea probably never occurred to either of them.
The Jones-Roberts relationship was symbiotic in its early years, respectful in its middle ones and, as Dr. Jones understood it from his parents and grandparents, terribly strained in its final act. Dr. Jones tells an amusing story in which his mother shamed Roberts, a man not easily shamed, into making corn bread available at Augusta National, despite his objection to it. Durkee’s Famous Sauce, the same. The subtext to these family stories is an antipathy rooted in competing Cliff-Bobby agendas.
“In the last 10 years of my grandfather’s life, Cliff was accumulating power,” Dr. Jones said. “In the mid-’60s, when my grandfather wanted my father named as club president, Cliff preempted him. He had the board name my grandfather President in Perpetuity. He despised that title. Cliff tried to get my father to resign from the club. He brought him into his office and berated him, in front of another member, and tried to get him to quit. The way Cliff Roberts treated my dad just frosted my grandfather.”
Jones died on Dec. 18, 1971, at age 69. (He converted to Catholicism three days before his death, a comment not on his own spirituality but his desire to please his wife.) Roberts didn’t attend the funeral. It was for family only. “But if he got his feelings hurt, my grandmother would have seen that as a fringe benefit,” Dr. Jones said with a wry smile.
Three months later, at the ’72 Masters, Bob3 prepared remarks to commemorate the start of the tournament, following in his father’s tradition. As Dr. Jones tells it, Roberts co-opted the moment and Bob3 never said a word. The namesake son of the golf legend died the next year, 24 months after his father, from a heart attack. He was 47. Roberts’s death came four years later, by suicide beside Augusta’s par-3 course. Dr. Jones has been trying to figure things out ever since.
He sees much more Cliff Roberts at Augusta today than he does Bobby Jones. “The club is big business, in its own way,” he said, “and my grandfather would not recognize it.” Bobby’s club was clubby, and his spring tournament was a gathering of friends, for those playing and those watching.
Robert Tyre Jones Jr. and Mary Malone Jones share a tombstone at Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta. There’s a small, flat rectangle of a putting green in front of the tombstone, maintained by the Atlanta Athletic Club. Visitors often leave golf balls—driving-range balls, Top-Flites, the occasional Pro-V1. Across the street, at a bar and restaurant called Six Feet Under, you can order an Arnold Palmer (all together now: iced tea and lemonade) and a Mr. Jones, an Arnold Palmer with vodka. Who knows what Jones would have thought of that combo—maybe the ruination of three good drinks.
For Bob4 and his relatives, the Masters is an annual family reunion. The heirs of Bobby Jones receive tickets each year, and that lovely springtime sign-off—See you at Augusta!—is like a call to Mecca for them. Bobby’s namesake grandson can stand on a swath of green there, amid the crowds, close his eyes and see his father walking down the fairway on number 1, his mother spreading Famous Sauce on a club sandwich, his grandfather with the winner in Butler Cabin. He can hear him congratulating another fahn champion.
Now and again, somebody will see Dr. Jones’s name tag and make the connection. One day in 1999 it was a stranger in a hat festooned with Masters badges going back to the ’50s. Bob4 was standing beside the 10th fairway when the hatted man introduced himself and said, “I was standing right here one time, and your granddaddy came by in a cart, driven by your daddy, and they stopped and said hello. I’ll always remember that.” Later, Dr. Jones realized he had never seen a picture of his father and grandfather together at Augusta National. Now he had something better.
It was brief but intimate, that exchange between the man in the hat, for a moment not a stranger at all, and the grandson of the legend. Bub would surely understand that. He’d get it every which way to Sunday.±