Friends of Bobby Jones Golf Course

GOLF – IT'S MORE THAN JUST A GAME


History of the Course

Atlanta Constitution, May 20, 1928

Atlanta Constitution, May 20, 1928

History of the Course

Bobby Jones Municipal Golf Course, Atlanta's first 18-hole public facility, was constructed in 1932 as a tribute to, arguably, Atlanta's most famous athlete, Robert Tyre “Bobby” Jones, Jr.  It was built in response to the overwhelming interest in the game in Atlanta generated by Jones' success and the crying need for additional recreational facilities to serve the City's growing middle-class population that was rapidly suburbanizing north of the downtown. 

The City of Atlanta contracted with Wayne Stiles and John R. Van Kleek to design the course.  Stiles was headquartered in Boston and designed more than 140 courses from Maine to New Mexico.  Van Kleek supervised the renovation of the New York City Parks Department golf courses, among the many golfing projects that bear his mark. 

The course was originally a part of Peachtree Creek Memorial Park which extended from Peachtree Street west along the creek corridor to the Chattahoochee River and commemorated the 1864 Civil War battle site.  It was built on land owned by the City and approximately 36 acres donated by real estate developer, Eugene V. Haynes.  Haynes was in the process of constructing Haynes Manor Estate, an upscale residential subdivision adjacent to the golf course.  His only stipulation was that the course be completed by 1933.  The City met this deadline by using convict labor supplied by Fulton County. 

Play began on the new 18-hole course in the spring of 1933.  Later that year, Jones agreed to play an exhibition match there.  On Saturday afternoon, December 30, a cold blustery winter day with onlookers bundled in overcoats and scarves,  Jones was joined by Charlie Yates, who five years later would win the British Amateur, Carl “Chick” Ridley, the 1924 Georgia State Amateur Champion and personal friend of Jones, and Billy Wilson, head golf professional at the City's nine-hole Piedmont Park course.  Despite the weather, Jones managed to break par, reportedly holing out his second shot for an eagle on the par four 4th hole.  The following day, New Year’s Eve, Wilson was named head professional at Bobby Jones Golf Course, a position he held for the next 30 years. 

Mr. Haynes also donated a parcel to the City for a clubhouse.  He required the City to spend $20,000 on the clubhouse to make it an attractive addition to his subdivision.  This was a tidy sum for the City to raise during the Great Depression.  The money came from revenue generated by the operation of the golf course and from the federal Works Progress Administration.  The decorations above the windows on the front of the building were done by a WPA artist and incorporate the game of golf as a theme. 

The building was completed in 1941 and ended up costing $50,000.  On Saturday, November 22, 1941, Jones staged a second exhibition.  Accompanying him this time were 1989 Georgia Golf Hall of Fame inductees Mary Dorothy “Dot” Kirby and Louise Suggs.  Fred Owen, the reigning Bobby Jones club champion, completed the foursome.  That evening a dance was held in the main room of the new clubhouse costing each couple who attended $1.

Bobby Jones Golf Course has been changed somewhat from its original 1932 layout.  Playing to a par 70 at 6,455 yards on approximately 46 acres, it retains many of the characteristics of old style golf courses built in the United States during the first half of the twentieth century.  Among recent improvements was the installation of Champions Bermuda greens which hold up well in the summer heat.  This was accomplished in 2006 when the City of Atlanta turned over operation of the Jones course to the American Golf Corporation.   

The City of Atlanta owns four 18-hole golf courses including Bobby Jones Golf Course, the North Fulton Course at Chastain Park, Browns Mill Golf Course and Tup Holmes Golf Course.  All are operated by the American Golf Corporation.

Author: H.L. Preston

Sources: 

Atlanta Constitution, 1927- 1941

Interview, March 12, 2012 - Otis Gerrard, a long-time golfer at Bobby Jones Golf Course  

H. L. Preston, Automobile Age Atlanta (UGA Press, 1979) 

The Don Gavan Trophy

It may be tarnished and scratched, but the brass trophy awarded each year to the club champion of Bobby Jones Golf Course is a testament to the popularity of municipal golf in Atlanta since 1938. Engraved on the trophy are the names of men who came from all walks of life: lawyers, bank presidents, railroad workers, educators, steelworkers, postmen, and businessmen of all sorts.

Don Gavan Trophy

Don Gavan Trophy

The trophy was given to the Bobby Jones Golf Association, the organization of golfers that governed each year’s tournament, by Atlanta businessman Don Gavan who regularly played on the city’s public courses.  Gavan was not only a muni golfer, but he was instrumental in attracting the first national USGA sanctioned event to be played in the Georgia capital, the United States Public Links Championship. That took place in the summer of 1948 at North Fulton Golf course.  Gavan co-chaired the tournament committee for that inaugural event with Bobby Jones serving as honorary chairman.

The first name of any notoriety to appear on the Gavan Trophy is that of Fred Owen. He played most of his golf at a public course outside of Atlanta named Black Rock, and just weeks before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, joined Jones, Dot Kirby, and Louise Suggs in an exhibition match celebrating completion of the Bobby Jones clubhouse. The club championship was not contested during the war years, but resumed in 1945 when Darwin White won. He was such a remarkably good player that shortly thereafter, he turned professional. In 1953, a man by the name of Chub Kile won. He was described as so proficient with a four wood, he could impart enough backspin on a ball to make it spin backward when it landed on the green: no small feat given the kind of equipment used in those days.

In 1952, 1954 and 1956 the name Abe Massar appears on the trophy. Massar who was associated with the Lutheran Church was the mastermind of a group of two dozen or so golfers who played at Bobby Jones every Saturday and Sunday. The “Chiselers,” as they were dubbed by course pro Billy Wilson, were a competitive bunch, many of whom shot par or better on a regular basis. They were all pretty tightfisted with their money, thus the name “Chiselers.” From the mid 1950s until 1972 every man who won the Bobby Jones Club Championship was a member of this group.

In 1961 “Chiseler” Don Gaebelein was the champion. At the time he was head administrator of the Westminster Boys School.  Later from 1976 until 1991 he served as Headmaster of the entire Westminster School system.  Remarkably, Gaebelain remembers his victory as “somewhat of a fluke.” “Had I faced Jack Awtery in the finals,” he recalled, “my name wouldn’t be on that trophy.” Awtery, who Gaebelein described “as the best player of the bunch” was the 1960 club champion, but somehow lost in the 1961 semifinals, thus enabling Gaebelein to prevail in the finals.  Awtery went on to win the championship three additional times: 1962, 1967, and 1972.

The only other person to win the event four times was Eddie Hoard (1963, 1964, 1966 and 1968). Hoard grew up playing at Bobby Jones, was a member of the O’Keefe High School golf team, went to the University of Florida on a golf scholarship, and for many years held the Bobby Jones course eighteen-hole scoring record: a 63 At Florida he and his teammates won both the 1968 SEC and NCAA golf championships. From 1980 to 2006 Hoard was the head golf professional at the Athens (Georgia) Country Club, and in addition, served on three separate occasions as president of the Georgia PGA, was on the board of the national PGA, and in 1995 and 1999 was a referee for the popular Ryder Cup matches between the United States and Europe. He was the worthy recipient of the PGA National Horton Smith Award in 1996 and was named PGA National Golf Professional of the Year in 1999. That same year he was inducted into the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame.

From 1973 until 2004 no tournament was held. But in 2004 when American Golf, Inc. began to run Bobby Jones Golf Course, not only was the club championship restored but the old Gavan Trophy was resurrected from the basement of the clubhouse. Once again the winner has his name added to the list that dates back over half a century, and he becomes a part of Atlanta golf history.

Written by H.L. Preston

Sources:

Interviews:

Otis Gerrard

Donn Gaebelein

Georgia Golf Hall of Fame

Totten P. Hefelfinger, “The Public Links Championship,”USGA Journal(July 1948): 18.

“Notes on the Public Links Event,”USGA Journal(September 1948): 20-21. 

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