Uncovering Bobby Jones' ideal 18-hole golf course
In the summer of 2018, after a round of golf at The Country Club in the Pepper Pike suburb of Cleveland, I spent some time perusing the numerous artifacts on the walls of the cavernous locker room. Not far from the original match-play bracket of the 1935 U.S. Amateur played at “Country” was a reproduction of what appeared to be an 18-hole scorecard. But looking more closely, I saw it wasn’t a scorecard at all, but a list titled, “Bobby Jones’ ‘ideal’ course.”
Examining the list in more detail, I noticed that the first hole on Jones’ course is the par-4 15th hole at The Country Club, which explained why a course-proud member posted it. I then became curious as to the list’s origins. One history-conscious member suggested I reach out to Sidney L. Matthew, the Tallahassee, Fla., attorney who has written several extraordinary books about Jones. “Sid will know,” the member said. “He knows more about Bobby Jones than anyone.”
When I contacted Sid and emailed him an image of Jones’ ideal course, it turned out he hadn’t seen it before. This was surprising, because over the years Sid had amassed 22 linear feet of file cabinets stuffed with the most comprehensive Jones-related material on the planet. In 2014, he donated all of it to the library at Emory University in Atlanta, of which Jones was an alumnus. What an incredible gesture that was.
Sid loves a challenge, and sure enough, he found the original source was the 1936 edition of an annual publication called The National Golf Review, long since defunct. The list was accompanied by an essay written by Jones.
As we peruse the list, we’re left to wonder what might have percolated in Jones’ heart and mind as he formulated his course. Here’s my hole-by-hole take:
No. 15 THE COUNTRY CLUB CLEVELAND PAR 4
Jones walked the grounds in 1935 as Lawson Little swept to his second consecutive U.S. Amateur title. The hole must have lef a huge impression on him.
No. 16 MERION (EAST) PAR 4
Interesting choice, as he closed out his 1930 U.S. Amateur—and completed the Grand Slam—on Merion’s par-4 11th.
No. 6 AUGUSTA NATIONAL PAR 3
A fine hole, but who would include it instead of the storied 12th?
No. 14 ST. ANDREWS (OLD) PAR 5
The Elysian Fields. Hell Bunker. One of the strategic masterpieces at Jones’ favorite course.
No. 8 PEBBLE BEACH PAR 4
A second shot that spans part of the Pacific Ocean had to have taken Bobby’s breath away.
No. 5 ROYAL ST. GEORGE’S PAR 4
Every course needs a breather, a relatively easy hole or two.
No. 8 OAKMONT PAR 3
In 1935, it was “only” 253 yards. But given old equipment, it might have been at least as hard as its current 288 yards.
No. 13 AUGUSTA NATIONAL PAR 5
The course was only a few years old, but Jones knew it was an instant classic.
No. 4 PINE VALLEY PAR 4
Not the most spectacular par 4 at Pine Valley, but the lef -to-right shape gives Jones’ course balance.
No. 15 ROYAL LIVERPOOL PAR 4
No doubt a sentimental choice, as Hoylake was the scene of Jones’ final Open Championship victory, in 1930.
No. 10 NATIONAL GOLF LINKS PAR 4
No bells and whistles, just a straightforward test in a gorgeous setting.
No. 8 ST. ANDREWS (OLD) PAR 3
Most players would opt for the par-3 11th. Jones clearly saw something we do not.
No. 4 LIDO PAR 5
The dual fairway on C.B. Macdonald’s spectacular course (now extinct) probably was a revelation to Jones.
No. 13 ST. ANDREWS (OLD) PAR 4
One of the toughest holes at St. Andrews.
No. 16 ST. ANDREWS (OLD) PAR 4
Jones in his essay called it “the finest [par 4] of less than 400 yards in the world.”
No. 16 CYPRESS POINT PAR 3
Not long after Jones played this hole in 1929, he enlisted Alister Mackenzie—Cypress’ designer—to apply his genius at Augusta National.
No. 18 BALTUSROL (LOWER) PAR 5
Jack’s 1-iron second to the green in the 1967 U.S. Open proved why the hole was made for drama.
No. 14 AUGUSTA NATIONAL PAR 4
With no greenside bunkers and with a feature reminiscent of the Valley of Sin on St. Andrews’ 18th, it’s clearly an homage to the Home of Golf.
To me, Jones’ dream 18 is one of the more exciting modern Jones discoveries. Thanks, Sid. Thanks, Bobby. And thanks to the mystery Country member who posted the list without knowing it would enrich our knowledge of the immortal Bobby.