American Golf Treasures: Bobby Jones and Donald Ross

By Erin Escobar

America’s love affair with golf was transformed by two great forces in the early 20th century: Bobby Jones and golf course architecture.

Typed Letter Signed from Bobby Jones to Walter Hagen, wishing him a happy 73rd birthday

Bobby Jones rose to stardom in 1916 when at fourteen years old he won the Georgia State Amateur Championship. He emerged from oblivion to become an immediate sensation; a young, good-looking, American prodigy. For the next 14 years he was golf’s media darling with accomplishments to match the hype surrounding him.

Jones’ charm and killer instinct on the golf course helped fuel a new generation of golf fans, some of whom still golf and collect memorabilia today. Those who collect Jones memorabilia are in luck: On Thursday, September 17th, we are offering 9 lots of Bobby Jones typed letters, signed. Dating from 1945 to 1969, the letters are written to a variety of important people who helped shape golf: Cyril H. Tolley, Walter Hagen, golf reporter Charles Price, sportswriter Lincoln Werden, and LA Times reporter Jim Murray. For historians and fans alike, these letters provide a rich source of first-hand material written by the greatest golfer of all time, not to mention a lawyer, author, and co-founder of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament.

Simultaneous to Jones’ rise to stardom, Americans’ interest in playing golf expanded rapidly in the first half of the twentieth century, as seen by the sheer number of quality golf courses being built around the country. The talented group of golf course architects that were building American courses from 1910 – 1940, produced such immaculate and unique courses, that this period of time is called the “Golden Age” of golf architecture. Architects like Charles Blair Macdonald, William Stephen Flynn, A.W. Tillinghast, and Donald Ross, were building in America and abroad.

Map of De Soto Heights Golf Course in Gainesville, Ga. signed by architect Donald Ross

Those who collect books about golf course architecture are also in luck: The auction will feature many of the most collectible titles on the subject, including Aleck Bauer’s rare little 1913 book devoted to hazards. There are also hand-drawn maps of two southern golf courses, signed by golf course architect Donald Ross. Ross was Scottish born, but moved to the United States in 1899. He went on to have an illustrious career in golf course design across the states. All in all, Ross designed 413 courses, including Pinehurst, Oak Hill, Inverness, Seminole, and Interlachen. Sadly, many of his original designs have been re-done, so to obtain original plans for a Donald Ross course, is obtaining an irreplaceable piece of golf history.