Life With Bub: Robert Tyre Jones IV is devoted to the memory of his grandfather

Robert Tyre Jones IV
Gregory Foster
Visitors leave golf balls in front of Jones' tombstone at Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta.
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.±

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