Bobby Jones, Golf, and His Instructional Reels

By Schoenecke, Michael | Film & History, July 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

Bobby Jones, Golf, and His Instructional Reels


Schoenecke, Michael, Film & History


The 1920s has been called the Golden Age of American Sport; the decade produced some of the most respected, honored, and cherished sports heroes that Americans have ever seen. As veteran sports reporters Allison Danzig and Peter Brandwein noted in 1948, "Never before, nor since, have so many transcendent performers arisen contemporaneously in almost every field of competitive athletics as graced the 1920s" (xi). The 1920s major sports' heroes became athletic fountainheads: George Herman "Babe" Ruth in baseball, William "Jack" Dempsey in boxing, Harold "Red" Grange in football, William T. "Big Bill" Tilden in tennis, and Robert T. "Bobby" Jones in golf.

Like today, the 1920s public celebrated and revered their athletic heroes because of their performances on the field of play. Babe Ruth's brute power that produced towering home runs and extraordinary records established him as baseball's greatest player. Red Grange's athleticism-quickness and ability to change directions-created dramatic touchdowns that made the "Galloping Ghost of the Gridiron" one of football's most dangerous players. By defeating Jess Willard, the "Pottowatomie Giant," in three rounds in 1919, Jack Dempsey captured the public's imagination; mauling characterized Dempsey's fighting style. These sports heroes achieved instant success and adulation among the American public; as a result, the public enthusiastically identified with and embraced the sports heroes; having been "expelled from their Horatio Alger dream," Americans preferred that their heroes be average; Leo Lowenthal noted that the average American liked "to see his heroes as a lot of guys who like or dislike highballs, cigarettes, tomato juice, golf, and social gatherings-just like himself" (3).

Knowing that the athletes' popularity would make them attractive to moviegoers, Hollywood created cinematic and financial opportunities for the heroes. Jack Dempsey earned $50,000 plus fifty percent gross for his fifteen-part serial entitled Daredevil Jack (1919). The Manassa Mauler's fists, whose brutality was popularized in the boxing ring, were employed to rescue the heroine and/or her property in every episode. In 1920, Babe Ruth appeared in Headin' Home, the story about a likeable iceman who, in his spare time, uses a hatchet to create a baseball bat from a sizeable piece of wood. Of course, the Babe's character is attracted to a blonde, wins the World Series with his homemade bat, and returns home to his mother and his sister. Since Headin' Home was a silent film, Ruth did not need to memorize lines; even though the film was a box-office bomb, Ruth earned $50,000. Like his fellow athletes, Red Grange's cinematic debut, One Minute to Play (1926), did not demand acting skill. As the title suggests, Grange, drawing from his athleticism established on the gridiron, portrays a halfback who, in the last few seconds, wins the game by scoring a touchdown.

Although Bobby Jones enjoyed success on his field of play and remains one of golf's most celebrated athletes, he did not perform in Hollywood features, as did Dempsey, Ruth, and Grange. Instead, based upon careful consideration of what he knew best and what he really cared about, he agreed to appear in golf instructional reels. Jones recognized the film's unique properties would benefit his talents and his cinematic goals: "The talking picture, with its combination of visual presentation and demonstration, with the possibility of detailed explanation, appeals to me as the ideal vehicle for an undertaking of this nature" (Golf Is My Game 173).

Robert Tyre "Bobby" Jones, Jr., the second son of Robert P. "Big Bob" and Clara Merrick Jones, was born on March 17, 1902. Although Bobby's older brother William died of digestive problems after three months, Bobby suffered from the same disorder. His parents decided to have no more children and to focus their love on Bobby; legend has it that Big Bob carried his son around on a pillow to protect him.

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