The Grand Slam: Bobby Jones, America, and the Story of Golf

What do you get the guy that has everything he already wants (a beautiful family living in a beautiful house in a beautiful neighbourhood by the lake)? Well, all I wanted for Christmas was this book. It’s not all I got but I’m thrilled that I did.

The Grand Slam sat on my bed stand until last week when we headed down to Cuba for a long over due holiday. I couldn’t wait to get down there and crack open the spine (appologies to all purists). Mark Frost wrote one of my all time favourites with The Greatest Game Ever Played and I truly looked forward to read his latest and learn a little more about the great Bobby Jones.

I don’t consider myself a golf historian but I am fascinated by the evolution of the game and it amazes me that the key figures throughout (from Old Tom Morris to Tiger Woods) have given us so many colorful tales that would otherwise leap from the pages of fiction. But these men (and women) were real. We can see their pictures. They are standing on the very grounds we can stand on today. they are mortal and immortal.

But I digress. Frost has once again written and thourghly enjoyable history of the game that dramatically puts the reader in the middle of the action. His skill is best used while describing the various rounds the golfers play. His detail and turn of a phrase put the reader on the course with all of the tension, smells and sounds that come with tournament golf.

He also gives us a U.S. history lesson along the way. He takes us from Woodrow Wilson’s slow, inevitable decision to enter World War I to Hurbert Hoover’s ill-timed proclamation that America has never been in better shape (nine months before the stock market crash).

Bobby Jones’ remarkable 1930 season galvanized a country that was falling apart just when it needed a hero the most. Through Bobby’s incredible career, America grew up from a baby into a big old spoiled brat that ruined itself and pratically collapsed. Through it all though, Bobby Jones was a perfect gentleman who turned out to be America’s good-will ambassador to the world.

Bobby Jones’ talents with a club are undeniable. The number of times he hit “the best shot ever seen” with his four iron alone could fill an entire chapter – never mind the number of times he hit drives of over 300 yards! But what makes the story all the more human is how lucky Jones was when he played. Whether it was a fortunate bounce or the collapse of an opponent, Bobby always seemed to be able to take advantage. Although The Grand Slam paints a totally flattering portrait of Jones, it does remind us on every page that he is human.

As brash young teen he exploded onto the national golf scene at the US Amateur but then learned that losing has its own lessons that need to be treasured as much as winning a trophy. It took years for Bobby to break through with a win on the international scene and the wait for that first triumph is agnonizing. But, when he finally breaks through, the flood gates open and there is no stopping the games greatest amateur.

Along the way, Frost reminds us of so many of the builders of the game. Vardon, Ray, Ouimet and Hagen are just a few of the men who shaped the game we play today. Their style, grace and humour are all captured in these pages.

Having read his account of Robert Ouimet’s triumph at the 1913 US Open and now of Bobby Jones’ Grand Slam year of 1930, I am hoping that Mark Frost has a few more in him. I’d love to read his telling of the incredible Ben Hogan story.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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