What if Bobby Jones had been born in Birmingham, Ala., instead of Atlanta?
Then does his father, Robert Purmedus Jones, take his sickly son to Highland Park Golf Course rather than East Lake in search of a game that may heal him?
Maybe that clubhouse in the heart of downtown Birmingham is a repository of Jones’ legend rather than the quaint Tudor-style building off Glenwood Avenue.
As Jones became famous in a Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Seabiscuit kind of way in the 1920s and ’30s, and then began searching for a place to build his dream course, where would his gaze settle then? Intending to realize his vision somewhere near his hometown, Jones likely would not have chosen a rolling former indigo plantation and nursery in Augusta. To his partner, New York investor Clifford Roberts, one piece of the South was as fit for colonization as any other.
So, then what? Roll the piano music and cue the dulcet pipes of Jim Nantz, as CBS brings you the Masters from Eastaboga, Ala., a tradition like no other? Ah, how fans would savor the taste of the reasonably priced Golden Flake potato chip and delight in the distant roar of testing at Talladega.
It is 111 years since Jones was born in Atlanta, 90 years since he won his first major title and more than 41 years since he died in his hometown. And still, he exerts his influence upon the golfing landscape of this state. Still his heartbeat is heard every April when the old champions tee off to begin the Masters and every September, when 30 young champions divvy up the Tour Championship lucre at East Lake.
There are very few other places that owe so much to one athlete as Georgia does Jones. They say Ruth built Yankee Stadium, but what feature did he really design?
Augusta National, as much as it has been tinkered with through the years, still grows from the seed that Jones planted. It still very much answers to his own description of the place: “Our overall aim at the Augusta National has been to provide a golf course of considerable natural beauty, enjoyable for the average golfer and at the same time testing for the expert player striving to better par. We want to make the bogeys easy if frankly sought, pars readily obtainable by standard good play, and birdies, except on the par 5s, dearly bought.”
His legacy of courtly sportsmanship may or may not survive the coarseness of years to come. But his gifts to golf in Georgia are lasting.
Without an Atlanta-born Jones, there is almost no imagining how different the golfing experience in these parts might be. (Insert shudder here).