Bobby Jones at St Andrews

The great golf writer and broadcaster Henry Longhurst wrote in his newspaper column:

“Every instinct tells me that Bobby Jones was the most popular golfer to visit our shores in my lifetime. We all, I suppose, lift our hats to the professionals for their skills, their prowess and their millions but reserve the warmest spot in our hearts for the gifted amateur par excellence.

How good was he? How would he stand beside the heroes of today? Well, it does not seem to matter at this moment and anyway Jones himself settled this old locker room argument when he said:

“all a man can do is beat those who are around when he is around, He cannot beat those who went before him or those who are yet to come”.

It is a matter of history that he retired in 1930 after conquering all worlds by the age of 28. Six years later, his game now rusty, he crossed the Atlantic to visit the Olympic Games in Berlin and, having met some friends on the boat, accompanied them to Gleneagles for some golf. Being near to St Andrews, where he had won both the Open and the Amateur, he went to the town on a sentimental pilgrimage to play a round on his last morning.

He arrived, unheralded, just before lunch. By the time he reached the first tee, the word had spread round the town “Bobby’s back!” and no fewer than 2,000 people were assembled to greet him.

“I shall never forget that round” he wrote later “It was not anything like a serious golf match, but it was a wonderful experience. There was a sort of holiday mood in the crowd. It seemed, or they made it appear at least, that they were just glad to see me back, and however I chose to play golf was all right with them, they only wanted to see it”.

So he did the first nine holes in 32 and on the eighth tee he was paid “the most sincere compliment I can ever remember” one which he did not reveal until 25 years later. As he put his club back in the bag his young caddie kooked up at him and said “My, but you’re a wonder sir”.

In 1958 Bobby, now in the throes of that crippling ailment which took so tragically long to end his life, was back at St Andrews, mainly to Captain the United States Eisenhower Trophy team but partly to receive the freedom of the city, only the second American to do so. The first had been Benjamin Franklin 199 years previously. Already, though, the people had accorded him the freedom of their hearts. “It is a wonderful experience” he wrote ” to be able to go about a town and have people wave at you and call you by name, often your first name and where a simple and direct courtesy is the outstanding characteristic”.

The ceremony at which he received the Freedom of the City from the Provost of St Andrews (thus becoming entitled to “take divots and hang out washing on the first and last fairways”) was one of he most moving occasions in the memory of those of us who were lucky to be there. The great golf writer Herbert Waren Wind summed up: “Bobby spoke for about 10 minutes, beautifully and movingly and he said “I could take out of my life everything except my experiences at St Andrews and still have a rich, full life”.

He left the stage and went off in his electric golf cart and the whole audience burst into the old Scottish song “will ye no come back again?” so honestly heartfelt was this reunion for Bobby Jones and the people of St Andrews that it was a full 10 minutes before any of them could speak.”

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