More than any other golfing icon, perhaps, Bobby Jones had it all:
A sublime swing.
Superb sportsmanship on and off the course.
And a lucky shamrock in his pocket.
“It was on his pocket watch chain,” said Martin Stephenson, tournament director of the 2017 TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. “He had it with him everywhere.”
And now, so does the premier PGA Tour event held annually at the club where Jones, a lifelong Atlantan, learned to play golf and won his first junior tournament at age 6. Born here on March 17, 1902 -- St. Patrick’s Day, hence the gold shamrock charm forever dangling from his watch chain -- Jones’s “mark” is all over this year’s event.
So much so, in fact, some fans and players might mistakenly conclude that the shamrock has replaced kudzu as Georgia’s official unofficial flora.
There’ll be shamrocks on signs around the course and shamrocks on the cookies served up by Henri’s Bakery near the first tee. “Shamrock Seats” offering prime viewing spots at the 9th and 18th greens. And the irresistible chance to yelp, “Waiter, there’s a shamrock in my drink!”
(Well, sort of. A new signature drink, “The Shamrock,” will come in a souvenir cup imprinted with one of four different quotations from Jones).
The Man himself would approve, it seems. On March 17, 1949, a bunch of Jones’s friends in the gin rummy club he and his wife belonged to threw him a surprise birthday party at a home on Habersham Road.
“Nuts were served in green paper cups, representing golf holes, and bearing tiny white flags decorated with shamrocks,” the Atlanta Constitution rather breathlessly reported the next morning. “And to top it all, the birthday cake, holding seven green candles, was frosted in white and decorated in shamrocks.”
Compared to that, they’re showing restraint at East Lake this week. The small gold shamrocks found on various signs, for instance, are in keeping with what Stephenson describes as a “subtle tip of the cap” to one of the game’s original greats. Jones won golf’s “Grand Slam” as an amateur in 1930 and later co-founded Augusta National Golf Club and established the Masters tournament. But he always considered East Lake his home course and played his last ever round of golf there in 1948.
Indeed, if those shamrocks could talk, they’d likely bring up this remarkable fact: That in this era of money trumping everything, including tradition, golf returns each year to East Lake for its season-ending tournament featuring the 30 best players in the world competing for the FedEx Cup.
“That’s the core of our message,” Stephenson said. “It ends where it all began.”