Golfer Bobby Jones, the Red Cross, and the 1917 U.S. Open that didn't happen
By Alyssa Carter
One-hundred years ago this week, the 1917 US Open was cancelled due to the recent American involvement in the First World War. Even though he wasn’t playing in the Open, Bobby Jones made some of his most important contributions to the war effort and to the game of golf.
He often played and traveled with Alexa Stirling and Perry Adair. Through the two years spent touring, Jones earned $150,000, all of which he donated to the war effort.
At the time of the cancellation, Jones was a teenage golf prodigy. In 1916, he had won the inaugural Georgia Amateur Championship at the age of fourteen, earning his first invitation to the U.S. Amateur Tournament at Merion near Philadelphia. He was eliminated from the tournament after the third round, but his level of play greatly impressed the spectators and the golf community as a whole.
Instead of attempting to qualify for the US Open in 1917-18, Jones toured the country playing exhibition matches in front of crowds. These matches were organized by the American Red Cross, and one of the more successful of these events took place in September of 1918. The exhibition was held at Baltusrol Country Club in northern New Jersey.
The night before the event, members of the club raised $2,000 to add to proceeds from the match. The morning of the match--before Jones and his partner, Chick Evans, played against Oswald Kirkby and Max Marston-- a set of golf clubs and the privilege of caddying for one of the players was auctioned off, and this part of the fundraiser combined with the ticket sales made $4,000 dollars total. In 2017 dollars, this is about $50,000. The four-ball match went to hole 16, with Jones and Evans winning 2 and 1.
The donations that Jones made allowed him to famously keep his amateur status. He would never turn pro -- but in 1930, he would win his grand slam by winning the Amateur Championship, Open Championship, US Open, and US Amateur in the same calendar year.
The exhibition matches, such as the World War I Red Cross events, raised a great deal of of money for the war effort. Further, the experience of playing in front of huge galleries, helped Bobby Jones adjust to playing in similar conditions for his rise to national-level competition play.
Alyssa Carter is a Summer 2017 intern with the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission.