It's Christmastime and your favorite golfer has already seen the sun set from the 18th at Pebble Beach, has played the Old Course at St. Andrews, owns the latest "miracle" shafts and has a complete collection of insignia sweaters from every course that has played host to a U.S. Open since World War II. But if you think your golf nut has it all, you're wrong. Now you can give a set of golf lessons from Bobby Jones.
No, not through a sèance. Jones, who died in 1971, left an invaluable cache of instructional films made for Warner Bros, in the early '30s. Now those black-and-white films are available on videotape in a package called How I Play Golf. For $245, you receive two 90-minute cassettes and a copy of Charles Price's A Golf Story, a 161-page hardcover book about Jones, the Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters.
The 18 individual lessons on the tapes, each about 10 minutes in length, feature Jones tutoring various Hollywood celebrities. Robert Cantwell wrote of those films in his article The Reel Life of Bobby Jones (SI, Sept. 23, '68), noting that only one full set of prints was known to exist and it was inaccessibly locked away in an Atlanta safe deposit vault. But last year Ely Callaway, a longtime friend of Jones's, made the wonderful discovery of a second set of the Jones prints in a Kansas storage vault.
Warner Bros. made the films because Jones, winner of 13 major golf tournaments, was famous the world over. He was 28 years old when he retired in 1930, with no mountains left to scale. He had just won the Grand Slam (which then consisted of four events, the U.S. and British opens and amateurs). Such was Jones's stature as an athlete and celebrity that the likes of W.C. Fields, James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Walter Huston and Loretta Young took roles in the hokey stories that were fashioned around whatever golf club or shot Jones was discussing.
December 21, 1987
In one plot, Young and an actor playing her beau are supposedly eloping when they are tracked down on a highway by her father and a couple of cops. The highway abuts a golf course, and, wouldn't you know it, Jones picks that moment to hook one through Daddy's windshield. In short order, the elopement debate moves to the fairway, where the father asks Jones for help with his game. The accommodating Jones gives Dad—and the viewer—a lesson on the two-wood, and as Dad listens to Jones, the lovebirds sneak away and head off down the road to wedded bliss.
Jones insisted that the first set of reels, 12 that were shot in 1931, be titled How I Play Golf Boy, how he plays golf. It seems inconceivable that anyone else could have had the metronomic tempo of Sam Snead, but seeing Jones swing is hypnotic. He moves smoothly and easily, yet explodes through the ball with a powerful hip turn.
In the final six segments, collectively entitled How to Break 90, Jones's lessons—and the film techniques used—were more advanced. Slow motion, then a marvel, was used extensively in these shorts. Jones illustrated his principal point in each lesson by standing against a black background wearing clothing that was all black except on the part of the anatomy he wished to discuss. On his left arm, say, or a leg, he wore white. It is an ingenious and effective technique that seems to have been forgotten by instructional filmmakers since. Jones also manages to have some fun. In "Trouble Shots," for example, he deliberately ricochets a chip off a tree.
Is this collection of Jones films a gold mine? Surely it is for the golfer who would appreciate watching one of the most dominant golfers of all time explaining precisely how to hit a golf ball.
The Bobby Jones Limited Collector's Edition (50,000 tapes) can be ordered from SyberVision Systems Inc., 6066 Civic Terrace Ave., Newark, Calif. 94560. By phone: 800-227-0600.
Ivan Maisel covers college sports for the "Dallas Morning News."