U.S. Amateur In 1929 At Pebble Beach Led Bob Jones To Mackenzie And Eventually To Design Of Augusta National Golf Club

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Bob Jones (right) watches Jack Neville tee off during qualifying for the 1929 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links. Jones would lose in the first round of match play to Johnny Goodman. (USGA Museum)

April 13, 2010

By John Fischer III

A surprising turn of events at the 1929 U.S. Amateur Championship links the United States Golf Association, the U.S. Amateur and Pebble Beach, the site of this year’s U.S. Open, to the beginning of The Masters.

In 1929, Bob Jones headed to Pebble Beach for the National Amateur as the two-time defending champion, having won the championship in 1927 and 1928.

Expectations were high. Jones was the current U.S. Open champion, fresh off his victory at Winged Foot Golf Club in June.

Jones was expert in match play and had his personal style: don't play your opponent, just play “Ol’ Man Par,” wait for your opponent to make a bogey and you’ll have a good chance at winning. In the 1920s, under-par rounds were the exception for even the best of players.

The 1929 U.S. Amateur marked the first time the USGA had conducted a major championship west of the Mississippi River. Jones

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Bob Jones (right) congratulates Johnny Goodman on his first-round victory at the 1929 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach. (USGA Museum)
and other hopefuls arrived early to get a feel for the course then known as the Del Monte Golf and Country Club.                                 

Jones played several practice rounds at Pebble Beach and a round at Cypress Point, a new course just north of Pebble Beach designed by Alister Mackenzie.

Jones had no trouble in the 36 holes of stroke-play qualifying, posting a score of 145 to share medalist honors with Eugene Homans.

Then the unthinkable happened. In the first round of match play, Jones drew Johnny Goodman, an unknown player from Omaha, Neb., who had qualified at 158, 13 strokes higher than Jones. But for Jones it was no easy match, and after just missing a birdie at the 17th, Jones found himself one down with one to play.

Jones had to win the 18th to halve the match and go to extra holes. After almost hitting his second shot into the ocean – his ball was deflected by a tree back to the fairway – Jones hit his third to the green, but short of the flagstick, and Goodman, perhaps a bit overanxious, hit his approach shot past the hole, leaving himself a fast, tricky, downhill putt.

Jones’ putt tracked to the hole, but came up short, leaving him a tap-in for par. Goodman then two-putted for par and the win.

Goodman was a bit dumbstruck. He had just knocked the greatest player in the world out of the U.S. Amateur in the first round. Ever the gentleman, Jones walked over to Goodman and congratulated him, adding, “I got all the luck, and I still couldn’t beat you.”

The San Francisco Chronicle stated, “If an earthquake had suddenly rocked the peninsula, the shock could have hardly been greater…” The crowd reacted with mixed emotions. Goodman had played well and beaten the greatest, fair and square, which was a terrific story, but the gallery and the press were clearly rooting for Jones.

Jones might have departed for his Atlanta home, but he had committed to play an inaugural match on the Monday after the championship at Pasatiempo Golf Club, another course designed by Mackenzie, in Santa Cruz, just across the bay from Pebble Beach.

Jones now had some extra time before the Pasatiempo exhibition, and he used it to sit down with Mackenzie, an old acquaintance, and talk golf and golf course architecture. This rekindled relationship would lead to Mackenzie’s selection as the architect for Augusta National, but at the time, building a course of his own was just an idea in the back of Jones’ mind.

Jones was a little relieved to be out of the championship. Tournament golf was taking its toll. Jones would routinely lose weight during a major championship, as much as 15 pounds. This respite and the chance to philosophize with a like-minded man such as Mackenzie might have been just what the doctor ordered.

Mackenzie was from Yorkshire in the north of England, but always referred to himself as a Scot because his family roots were there. He also felt his Scottish heritage would lend more credence to his golf course design business.  Mackenzie even had a formal photograph made of himself wearing full Scottish regalia, kilt and all.

Mackenzie was well established as an architect by 1929, but was probably better known in other parts of the world, having designed courses in Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, South America and now California.

Before embarking on course design, Mackenzie practiced medicine, serving as a surgeon in the British army. He went on to become one of the army’s experts in camouflage.

Jones was from a well-to-do family in Atlanta and had spent most of his time at golf. But the men had a lot in common. Both enjoyed a good smoke, both enjoyed a drink or two – Mackenzie once said, “Being a Scot, I never drink water in its undiluted state” – and both were well educated. Jones had an engineering degree from Georgia Tech, a degree in English literature from Harvard and had studied law at Emory University in Atlanta, while Mackenzie had a medical degree from Cambridge.

Most of all, both men loved the Old Course at St. Andrews. For much of his career, Jones had played golf on “penal” courses.  A ball had to be hit to the right spot, or there was a penalty – a lay-up or a safety shot was required. There were few options or alternate routes to the hole.

In 1921, Jones was exposed to strategic golf playing in the British Open at St. Andrews. On the Old Course, there are many avenues of play. There is an opportunity for a safe shot or a demanding shot, and yet Jones was so frustrated by the Old Course on his first visit that he tore up his scorecard and walked off the course.

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club had retained Mackenzie to make a detailed drawing of the Old Course, which was completed in 1924. Jones studied that drawing before the Walker Cup Match at St. Andrews in 1926 and the British Open in 1927, which Jones won. When Jones retired from championship golf to practice law, he hung his copy of the Mackenzie drawing on his office wall.

“The more I played the Old Course, the more I liked it,” Jones once said, “and the more I liked it, the more I played it.” 

Jones learned to love strategic golf and also learned to love the different shots on the seaside links courses: bump-and-run shots to the green, low shots into the wind, higher shots with a following wind, holding the line in a crosswind, and playing the subtleties of the terrain. But most of all he liked thinking his way around the golf course.

A good idea of what a strategic hole can look like is Mackenzie’s innocuous appearing 127-yard, par-3 15th hole at Cypress Point. It is a relatively easy shot to the middle of the green but, as Mackenzie noted, when the pin is placed on the tongue on the right side of the green between two bunkers, the player has a real choice – go for the center, or go for the pin; play safe or take a risk.

Mackenzie followed Jones at the Old Course in 1926 and 1927, accompanying O.B. Keeler, the noted golf writer for the Atlanta Journal who chronicled Jones’ playing career.

In 1920, Mackenzie wrote one of the early books devoted to golf course architecture entitled, appropriately, “Golf Architecture,” and after Jones’ 1927 British Open victory, he presented a copy to Jones with the inscription, "To Robert T. Jones (Jun), the World's finest sportsman and greatest golfer – with the author’s compliments. A.D. 1927."

In his book, Mackenzie discussed his theory of golf course architecture, stating, "In discussing the need for simplicity of design, the chief object of every golf course architect worth his salt is to imitate the beauties of nature so closely as to make his work indistinguishable from nature itself."  It was a sentiment Jones could relate to.

Prior to the 1929 Amateur, Mackenzie walked with Jones, Francis Ouimet and Cyril Tolley during a round at Cypress Point, then watched Jones’s defeat at Pebble Beach and his exhibition match at Pasatiempo Golf Club. 

Although Jones knew Mackenzie and was familiar with his book, he didn’t get first-hand experience playing a Mackenzie course until he played Cypress Point and Pasatiempo. And while Jones probably didn't know it, Mackenzie had played a role in revamping some of the greens at Pebble Beach a few years before Jones played in the Amateur.

A year later, after winning golf’s four major championships, Jones retired from competitive golf with the thought of building a course that would be strategic in nature, with holes reminiscent of ones he had admired during his playing career. He found an old nursery in Augusta, Ga., and decided the land was made for golf and, in a way, it had to be – in the early 1930s there were no earth movers to alter the lay of the land.

Donald Ross was probably the most well-known architect of the era, and would have been a natural selection for Jones’s new course, but Jones chose Mackenzie based on the shared philosophy that a golf course should be enjoyable to players of all ability, give the player choices off the tee and to the green, and blend with nature. 

All of this is exemplified by the course at Augusta National. Augusta has wide fairways and until recently had no rough. It also features contoured greens, for which Mackenzie was famous, with both big breaks and subtle ones. 

The course flows naturally along the terrain, eventually working its way down to Rae's Creek, then slowly back up to the clubhouse.

A good example of a strategic hole at Augusta is the famous 13th, a 510-yard par 5 that curls around Rae’s Creek on the left of the fairway. The creek then juts in front of the green. 

Jones described the thought process for No. 13: "The player is first tempted to dare the creek on his tee shot by playing in close to the corner because if he attains his position he has not only shortened the hole, but obtained a more level lie for his second shot.  Driving out to the right not only increases the length of the second, but encounters an annoying side hill lie."

Serious thought has to be given on the tee shot and on the second shot, just the type of play Jones enjoyed.

The 13th is frequently referred to as a par 4-and-a-half, and that term defines the essence of what Jones found in Mackenzie.

Jones wanted to make the course fun for his friends, no matter their skill level, and he wanted it to be a challenge for the better player. No thought was seriously given to anyone other than Mackenzie as the architect for Augusta National.  Jones had read his book, studied his Old Course drawing, seen his handiwork, played his courses on his California trip and was confident he and Mackenzie would get along.

Jones is often credited with co-design of the course at Augusta but, as Jones said, being a good golfer didn’t make one a good golf course architect. Mackenzie handled the routing and bunkering, and Jones assisted with determining some of the landing areas and tee locations, hitting hundreds of balls on the site before course completion.  Jones described his role as "consultant" or "junior apprentice."

The result is one of the most beautiful inland courses, requiring much thought to play properly and incorporating many aspects of links courses.

Jones once famously said, "I never learned anything from a match I won." His loss to Goodman gave Jones a chance to spend time with an architect who shared his design philosophy, which eventually resulted in Augusta National and The Masters.

Augusta National was completed in 1932 after 124 straight days of work, from "can" till "can't," meaning from when the workers could see until they couldn't. Unfortunately, MacKenzie never saw his completed masterpiece. He died at his home on the sixth hole of Pasatiempo Golf Club on Jan. 6, 1934, just months before the first Masters.

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