Bobby Jones at Baltusrol

The story of the 1926 U.S. Amateur and Bobby Jones' long association with Baltusrol.

By Dick Brown

Bobby Jones, then fifteen years old, began two decades or more of association with Baltusrol when on July 25, 1917 he entered an exhibition tour of Midwestern and Eastern clubs sponsored by the PGA of America. Bobby’s credentials for participation in this tour were overwhelmingly good. He had, in 1916, won a number of high level amateur championships in the South, and had turned in the lowest score in the qualifying rounds for the 1916 U.S. Amateur Championship at Merion, and then had lasted through two matches in that tournament.

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War Time Exhibitions

The PGA was idled by the cancellation of its entire calendar for the duration of World War I, but organized this exhibition tour to raise money for The War Relief Fund. Some of the better American and Scottish professionals, led by Walter Hagen, and many of the best amateurs in the country, participated in these matches. The Scots were mostly resident professionals at New York area clubs. The matches were organized so a team of American pros played the Scots (who were called the Internationals) and the amateurs, and all played twosome matches. The Baltusrol matches were part of a series of similar exhibitions held at various clubs in the New York City area.

Three thousand fans attended the Baltusrol event, and there was so much brilliant play over the golf course that the New York Times reporter expressed sorrow that he could not be in more than one place at a time to see it all. He wrote that “in the end the crowd gathered around the eighteenth hole and impartially applauded each pair of golfers as they wearily finished their hot, hazardous journey.” Bobby Jones did more than hold his own in this very fast company. He paired with Norman Maxwell to win a four ball match in the morning and beat Cyril Walker (who later won the U.S. Open) in the afternoon.

The following year, the American Red Cross sponsored a tour of amateur and professional golfers who played exhibition matches as fundraisers at Englewood, Garden City and Siwanoy, all highly regarded clubs, as well as Baltusrol. Bobby Jones participated in these exhibitions, including one held at Baltusrol in September of 1918. Baltusrol raised a lot of money for the Red Cross. The evening before the match its members raised about $2,000 at a clubhouse event. On the day of the match, before the players teed off, Baltusrol’s treasurer, Joseph P. Day, a professional auctioneer, auctioned off rights to serve as the contestants’ caddies and a set of golf clubs donated by George Low, the home pro. Each of the “caddyships” sold for more than $125 and the golf clubs fetched $35. In all, the day netted about $4,000 (about $50,000 in today’s money) for the Red Cross, an amount high enough to impress the newspapers.

In the match itself, Bobby Jones and Chick Evans (who would become Bobby’s nemesis for the next ten years) were teamed up against Oswald Kirkby and Max Marston, the then Baltusrol club champion and a future New Jersey, Pennsylvania and U.S. Amateur champion. Bobby incurred a minor blemish to his record when he threw a club after a bad shot, but the 1,500 spectators saw some good golf as the Jones/Evans team shot one over par, and won 2 and 1.

The 1926 Amateur

The 1926 Amateur, played at Baltusrol, was one of the first at which the trappings of modern tournament golf began to appear. It was the first at which ropes were used for crowd control and was the first to be broadcast in its entirety on radio. In this connection, station WOR laid some ten miles of telephone wire around the course and positioned commentators at each green. A committee produced a thick program, very similar to those sold today at major tournaments. Perhaps most importantly, this event was among the first for which spectators had to pay admission. The tickets cost $1.10 for the qualifying rounds and early match play. The semifinal and final matches cost $1.20, prompting the New York Times to opine that “Golf is getting to be an expensive game, not only to play, but to watch.” The headline read “High Cost of Golf Cuts Down Gallery.” In fact, however, some of the largest galleries up to that time in the history of American golf roamed the Lower during the 1926 Amateur. Over 15,000 watched the semifinals. The Metropolitan Golfer reported that the largest gallery ever to attend a golf match watched the finals.

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The Lower’s First Major Tournament

The event was the first major tournament to be played on Baltusrol’s Lower Course, which was completed in June of 1922. It played at 6,750 yards. While some holes, particularly the 17th, were longer, generally one can play the course as it was then set up from the current Baltusrol tees. The golf writers thought the course was difficult. 

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The Times opined that “aspirants for the National title” would need every club in their bags and that Baltusrol “will demand above all things long hitting and straight hitting.” The Newark Evening News remarked after the first qualifying round that the greens were very fast and the fairways clipped very close, making it difficult for some players to get their balls airborne. All agreed that due to recent rains the course would play very long. The large number of 35 to 50 foot putts that were holed suggests that the greens were very smooth. Many players averaged 250 yards off the tee and hit mid to short irons into the par four greens, and were reported to have hit irons into the 1st and 7th greens and short irons into the shorter par fours. The reporters cited many instances of marvelous short game play. All had difficulty with the rough and the deep bunkers. We learn from data presented in the October 1926 Golf Illustrated that the 10th, 14th, 9th and 11th holes played the hardest, while the 18th, 1st and 7th were the easiest.

All the papers provided extensive coverage, including cartoons and photographs of the players, and descriptions of the golf course, on Sunday, September 12th, the day before the tournament. The first qualifying round on Monday and thereafter was front page news in the Newark papers and dominated the sports pages in the New York papers. As the tournament progressed, shot-by-shot and hole-by-hole descriptions of all the important matches found space in most of the papers.

Setting the Stage for Von Elm

Bobby Jones arrived at Baltusrol on the Saturday before the event, having first checked in at the Robert Treat Hotel (a number of reporters and contestants stayed at that hotel) in Newark. He promptly went out to the course and shot 70 in a practice round. Jones, who had won in the previous two years and was hoping for a three-peat, was the odds on favorite. His credentials were overwhelmingly strong. The press regarded George Von Elm as the strongest threat, but Bobby had beaten him in two previous Amateurs without much difficulty. 

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Jones was playing well: he had won in the Walker Cup against strong opposition, and he had won the U.S. and British Opens, with Von Elm in both of those fields. George Von Elm headed a list of eight past champions and others hoping for an upset. Chick Evans, Francis Ouimet, Max Marston, (Baltusrol’s club champion from 1914–16), and Bob Gardener headed the list.

On Monday and Tuesday, 144 golfers teed off in the two stroke play qualifying rounds, paring the field to 32 players. The qualifiers played two eighteen hole matches on Wednesday. The quarters, semis and finals, all 36 holes each, were played on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The forecast of Jones as the front-runner seemed justified after the first qualifying round. He carded a two under par 70, while many of the upstart pretenders came up croppers in the various roughs and bunkers. The greens also took their toll and produced a large number of three putts. There were a number of notable calamities in that first round, including Bob Gardener’s three successive hooked shots off the first tee onto Shunpike Road. Those shots and poor putting lead to a twelve and his eventual exit from the field. Jones cooled off in the second qualifying round but his 73 was good enough to give him the medal by four strokes. Von Elm, however, had a much tougher time of it, and had to win the last spot for the match play field in a playoff.

Baltusrol’s Best Fade Early

Baltusrol member August Kammer was one of the better known entrants. He was a frequent New Jersey Amateur champion, and had probably made over the years more birdies on the fourth hole than any other living person. Despite those credentials he had a dreadful time of it on that hole. During the first round after all kinds of mishaps he made nine. In the second round, he hit two tee shots into the pond and ended up with a seven. He finished the front nine of the second qualifying round and then withdrew. E.M. Wild was the only Baltusrol member to make match play, but he was dispatched (as the papers put it in those days) in the first round of match play.


The Early Play

Even though Von Elm had the highest qualifying score, the Committee continued his pre-tournament number two seeding and put him on the exact opposite side of the bracket from Jones. This confidence must have been tested in Von Elm’s first match, which he won only after nineteen holes, but his play improved as the tournament progressed and he beat his semifinal opponent 11 and 10. Bobby cruised through the early matches without difficulty, but had to deal with Chick Evans in the quarterfinals and Francis Ouimet in the semis. Evans began his day by going three down in the early holes, but played well thereafter until losing 3 and 2. ­Ouimet was three down after the morning round. In the afternoon he shot a two under par 34 on the front nine but still dropped a hole. He got two holes back on the back nine but Jones won in the end, 4 and 3.

The Finals

The stage was set for the Jones/Von Elm final. Bobby won the first hole of the match; Von Elm won the second and thus the 36-hole final match of the 1926 Amateur was underway on the Lower Course. Von Elm was one up following the morning round, but Jones won the first hole in the afternoon and the match was all square until Von Elm birdied the fifth. Von Elm retained his lead for the balance of the afternoon’s front nine, and went two up on the tenth, when Bobby knocked his second shot into the left bunker. For some reason he tried to chip out of that bunker but failed. He then blasted out and one-putted for a bogie while Von Elm parred and went two up. The players halved the 11th and 12th holes with par. On the 13th Von Elm hit a good drive, and Jones, as every Baltusrol member knows, pushed his drive into the ditch. 

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The hole was not, however, decided in that ditch. Even though his ball was mostly under water, Jones took a good swing at it and very nearly hit the green. As it was, he landed in the right greenside bunker. His blast out of the bunker was too strong, and he two-putted, losing to a par. Jones won the 14th, but halved the 15th and 16th. His birdie putt on the 17th missed, and he barely had time to congratulate Von Elm, saying “it was great golf, George, I’m mighty glad you won” before the crowd hoisted the winner on their shoulders and carried him off the green toward the clubhouse.

Talking It Over

Around Baltusrol, they say that Bobby Jones lost the ’26 Amateur in the ditch on the 13th. It’s probably more accurate to say that he lost it in the left greenside bunker on the 10th and sealed his fate on the 13th. It would be even more accurate to say, as the New York Telegraph writer did, that Bobby did not lose the Amateur, rather that Von Elm won it. The 5th hole was very good to Von Elm; he birdied it in both the morning and afternoon rounds.

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The press uniformly agreed that Von Elm played by far the stronger golf, and while out driven on most holes played better iron shots and putted much better than his opponent.

The New York Times deemed Jones’ loss to be a great upset, leading its story with a headline that read, “One of the Greatest Upsets in History Registered When Coast Golfer Wins Amateur Title.” Jones did not see it that way. Grantland Rice reported in the American Golfer that Jones said, “It’s pretty hard to meet an Evans, a Ouimet and a Von Elm on three successive days and beat all three.”

Jones later wrote in his book Down the Fairway (one of the best golf books ever written) with O.B. Keeler, “Then I met George Von Elm for the third time in three Amateur championships, and George was too much for me. I played as well as I could, and played very good golf. I was a single stroke over par for the 35 holes the match lasted; and I had the breaks on a couple of stymies. George did not have the luck. He simply outplayed me. It was coming to him. I had beaten him at Merion and at Oakmont, and the Lord knows nobody is going to keep on beating a golfer like George Von Elm. I wanted to make it three championships in a row, but it wasn’t in the book. It was George’s turn.”

Bobby Jones lost the Amateur at Baltusrol in 1926, but at that tournament he cemented his reputation for sportsmanship, showing that he had come far from his teen-aged club throwing days and had emerged as one of the most gentlemanly and sportsmanlike figures in the history of sport. On the 17th hole of the morning match of the finals, the huge crowd surrounding the green rushed to the 18th tee during Von Elm’s putt. He putted well beyond the hole, but Jones, thinking that Von Elm had been startled by the crowd noise, immediately gave him the return putt. Von Elm looked a little embarrassed, as if he did not believe that he had been startled.

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On the next hole, Bobby knocked his first putt long, and the ball had barely come to rest before Von Elm knocked it away. This exchange of courtesies, perhaps enriched by the famous concession by Jack Nicklaus of an important putt to Tony Jacklin in a Ryder Cup match, set a standard of fairness and conduct to which most golfers today still cheerfully adhere.

We were astonished to learn that Bobby appeared at Bayside, Long Island in an exhibition match against Glenna Collett, the then National Women's champion, and Maureen Orcott, the Met champion, three days after the Amateur ended. The two ladies played from the same tees as Jones and played their best ball against his. Jones won 1 up. It is hard to believe that Bobby Jones would have agreed to this match, which he probably did weeks before, in the full knowledge that he could potentially play 36 holes of golf on five consecutive days during the preceding week, but he enjoyed social golf and played it often.

Tweaking the Upper with Jones the Consultant

The so-called dual courses of A.W. Tillinghast were officially opened in June of 1922, but the Board of Governors continued to adjust and improve them, first concentrating on the Lower and continuing until 1926, all under Tillinghast's watchful eye.

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In October of 1933, the Board of Governors instructed the Club Manager to begin a program of tweaking and improving the Upper. The timing and rationale for the changes is not well documented, although some of the changes were proposed to the Board and duly approved. Others were apparently made without approval. As an example, the 9th tee was moved from the right of the 8th green to the left of it, and the fairway accordingly rerouted; this major change was not mentioned in any of the documents I examined.

In October of 1934, the Board agreed to host the 1936 U.S. Open on the Upper Course. Subsequently, the USGA suggested that the Lower 18th be substituted for the Upper 18th, as they did not like a hump that obscured the green from the fairway. The Board resisted that suggestion and apparently decided to deal with the USGA’s issue with 18 Upper instead. At that time, Bobby Jones and Frances ­Ouimet were retained as consultants. How many trips Jones made to Baltusrol for that purpose is unknown. Newspaper accounts suggest the course designer, A.W. Tillinghast, was frequently on site. I have pored over many old records, most of them indecisive, but I now believe that Jones, probably in collaboration with both Ouimet and Tillinghast, sketched out the re-design of the 14th hole on the Upper. The main elements of the re-design were the building of the present tee with the 10th tee, and the re-location of the green from its original location in a low, swampy area to the right of its present location.

There were a number of other, less important matters dealt with and one concludes that the solutions to them were roughed out in the field and left to Tillinghast. Tillinghast undoubtedly designed the old fairway bunker on the left side of 14th Upper as well as the re-bunkering of various holes throughout the course. The 4th fairway was widened to its present width so that one could aim his tee shot left of the fairway cross-bunker. This must have been a hotly discussed issue, but we find in the records no mention of Jones’ participation in this matter. The relocation of the ninth fairway was completed prior to 1933 before Jones came on the scene, although he may have worked on the redesign of the green. It appears the golf course architects of those days acted easily and collegially among themselves, and that Jones had a wonderful relationship with them. Jones reportedly was a good friend of Tillinghast’s and sometimes visited him at his home in New Jersey when he came north.


Bobby Becomes a Member

The Board elected Bobby Jones to non-resident membership at Baltusrol at its May 1936 meeting. We don’t have any information relating to this membership or how it came about; there was no discussion of it in Board minutes. We don’t know how long Jones retained his membership or how much he used it. It would be pleasant to think that he stopped in from time to time for a social round or two, but we don’t know that he did.

When Baltusrol members think of Bobby Jones, they think of him mostly in terms of East Lake and Augusta, and also in terms of St Andrews and Merion, clubs where he won his greatest championships. I have come to the belief that Bobby Jones contributed much to Baltusrol and more than most are aware. He treated our members in 1917, 1918 and 1926 to brilliant golf and thrilling competition. He designed, or at least collaborated in the design of, one of our most highly regarded golf holes; and he honored us, at least for a while, by becoming a member of our Club.

Acknowledgements

I had a lot of help collecting information for this article. Nancy Stulack, Librarian at the USGA Museum, found some very useful material and mentored me in my use of the USGA’s Seagle Electronic Library. Sidney Matthew, author of a highly regarded biography of Bobby Jones, also led me to some good material. The librarians at the Newark and Mountainside Public Libraries were very helpful, as were Bob Trebus and Rick Wolffe, custodians of the Baltusrol archives.