The club junkie and his Calamity Jane
Bobby Jones loved checking out golf equipment, but he never strayed from his favorite putter
September 20, 2017
By Jonathan Wall, PGATOUR.COM
- A mythical club that turned a good player into one of the greatest to ever grace the sport. (Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)
ATLANTA, Ga. — History will remember the fire that engulfed East Lake Golf Club's clubhouse on Nov. 22, 1925, for the priceless golf artifacts destroyed in the blaze, including the original Havemeyer Trophy that Bobby Jones received for his back-to-back U.S. Amateur wins.
But Jones lost more than silverware on that fateful day. In addition to the trophies, Jones' clubs were consumed during the fire, with one exception: Calamity Jane. It seems fitting that one of the most iconic clubs in golf history was tucked safely away at Jones' residence as East Lake's clubhouse burned.
Of course, Calamity Jane was more than just a putter; it was Jones' Excalibur – a mythical club that turned a good player into one of the greatest to ever grace the sport. But it wasn’t the only one he leaned on.
Over the course of his illustrious playing career, it was commonplace for Jones to test every club he could get his hands on to ensure he had the best possible setup.
"He was a club junkie, and he tried everybody's club," said Sidney L. Matthew, a trial attorney and noted historian of Bobby Jones. "Every club he saw, he swung and tried it, and if he found a better one, he substituted that one."
The one constant in Jones' bag was Calamity Jane, a putter created by Robert Condie, a well-known clubmaker from St Andrews who stamped all of his creations with a rose "cleek mark" that separated his product from other cleekmakers.Bobby Jones rolls a putt at the British Amateur championships at Hoylake in 1921. (Getty Images)
Originally made for William Winton, a golf club dealer from the Acton area of London, the Condie rose putter wouldn't come to be known as Calamity Jane until Jim Maiden -- a Scotsman who emigrated to America and eventually became the head golf professional at Nassau Country Club on Long Island -- placed the name on the putter after hearing about American frontierswoman Martha Jane Canary.
Canary, dubbed Calamity Jane, explained that she received the nickname "because of what happens to my enemies.” Maiden believed it was also the perfect nickname for a putter that would fend off countless challengers in the years that followed. He went on to use the club for roughly two decades before Jones came into the picture.
Following a poor showing during the 1920 U.S. Amateur that led to a heavy defeat at the hands of eventual winner Francis Ouimet, Jones was offered the opportunity to roll some putts with Maiden's Calamity Jane. As the legend goes, he immediately sank no less than eight consecutive putts. It was at that point Maiden offered the putter to Jones. The rest is history.
Jones went on to win his first three major championships with the original Calamity Jane before clubmaker J. Victor East pointed out in 1924 that the club was defective due to years of maintenance. East noticed the Emery cloth caddies used to buff the head had put a twist in the sweet spot, effectively wearing out the face of Jones' putter.
To prove it was the arrow and not the Indian, East took Jones to a billiard room where they used a swinging pendulum device and a new putter, on a slate Snooker table, to produce a perfectly straight putt. However, when Calamity Jane was put in the same situation, the ball went to the right pocket.
The visual proof reinforced the belief that it was time for a new putter. East would go on to make six copies of Calamity Jane — called Calamity Jane II — with one of the putters going into Jones' bag. He would win 10 of his remaining 13 major championships, including the Grand Slam in 1930, with the second version.
"When Victor made the copy of Calamity Jane, he put a special script, Robert T. Jones, Jr., on the back of the head," Matthew said, "and that is the key to identifying the six copies that are out there."
The original Calamity Jane currently resides in a trophy case at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, while Calamity Jane II can be found at the USGA museum in Far Hills, New Jersey.A photo of the original Calamity Jane which resides in a trophy case at Augusta National Golf Club. (Keyur Khamar/Getty Images)
Jones eventually walked away from competition at 28, on the heels of his historic victory at the 1930 U.S. Open that completed the then-Grand Slam that also included wins that year at the U.S. and British Amateurs and the Open Championship. In the years that followed, Calamity Jane would fade into the distance, but from time to time, Jones would reunite with his old friend and the sparks would fly.
As golf writer Bill Fields noted in a Golf Digest story on the famed putter, Jones brought the putter out of retirement at the 1936 Masters and promptly shot 64 at Augusta National with just 25 putts.
"It's just like an old friend now," Jones told The New York Times back then. "The ball kept going up to the cup and acting as though it had eyes."
Compared to the modern putters that are used today, Jones' putter was unlike anything you'll find in the bag of a TOUR professional.
The goose-necked blade had 8 degrees of loft and a lie angle of 66 degrees. For comparison's sake, Jordan Spieth's Scotty Cameron 009, maybe the closest thing you'll find to Jones' Calamity Jane in terms of history and success with a particular putter, has four degrees of loft and a lie angle of 71 degrees.
Jones' putter was also outfitted with a hickory shaft that cracked at one point when the club connected with the ground in a moment of frustration.
According to Matthew, Errie Ball, the former head professional at East Lake, personally helped repair Calamity Jane II with the help of a foul-smelling fish glue and three pieces of black whipping twine that were added to keep the shaft intact. The black whipping can be found on the original and replicas of the putter.
Since 2005, Calamity Jane has been synonymous with the TOUR Championship, with a replica being presented to the winner in Atlanta — in addition to the rest of the spoils that come with conquering the season-ending event.
Starting this year, only one trophy will be presented to the winner of the TOUR Championship — a replica of Calamity Jane built to the same specifications as Jones' prized flat stick.
"It's a club that's connected with Bobby Jones and golf history," said 2014 FedExCup champion Billy Horschel. "I think it's fitting the putter has a more prominent spot in the presentation."
Chances are Jones would feel the same way.
A trial lawyer by trade, Sidney L. Matthew has earned a reputation as one of the most respected historians of Bobby Jones' career. Of the 14 books he's written on golf, eight have been on Jones, including one on his equipment called The History of Bobby Jones' Clubs.
Matthew spoke with PGATOUR.COM at length about Jones' clubs, single-length irons and his history with Spalding Golf.
PGATOUR.COM: As I understand it, after the fire at East Lake's clubhouse in 1925, Jones spent extensive time locating each club for his next set.
MATTHEW: “Jones was meticulous when it came to his clubs. He went through 300 clubs to select the 16 that he won the Grand Slam with. And when they were micro measured, dead weight and swing weight, by J. Victor East, the Spalding engineer, they were within a whisker of each other. Jones had done that all by feel. It's all by feel. The clubs that he used I tracked down, 12 of them are in the trophy case at Augusta National. He gave the Jack White driver to the R&A that's in the British golf museum. He gave the George Duncan brassie to the golf museum at James River Country Club, and he gave Calamity Jane II to the USGA museum. And then there were two clubs that were lost. One of them was a oneup club, and the second one was a Walter Hagen concave sand wedge given to him by Horton Smith in 1930 in Savannah, Georgia.”
PGATOUR.COM: Calamity Jane is the one club everyone talks about when they mention Jones, but I know some of the other clubs in his bag had interesting back stories.
MATTHEW: “The story behind the Walter Hagen concave sand wedge is a good one. Jones' roommate in 1930 for the Savannah and Augusta pro tournaments was Horton Smith, and Walter Hagen had invented the Walter Hagen concave sand wedge in 1929, and he gave a copy to Horton, and Horton gave it to Bob Jones. And Jones made two historic shots with that club. One of them was to knock it out of a gorse bush in St. Andrews, and the other one saved the Grand Slam, which was on the 17th hole at Hoylake. His ball was on the down side of the bunker, so he had to scoop it up and lift it up over the front lip, and it lifted out and finished four inches, and immediately the R&A banned it because they said it promoted a TC Chen-esque double hit because it was concave. So they banned it, and that's why it never survived other than in collectors' hands.”
PGATOUR.COM: Is it true Jones could hit his Jack White driver over 300 yards?
MATTHEW: “Well over 300 yards at certain points during his playing career. At the 1926 U.S. Open, he had to overhaul Joe Turnesa on the last hole to win. His drive was 340 yards, and that was with an 80 compression mesh ball. Now, given the dry conditions and a little breeze, and OK, fine. The ball still went 340 yards.
“He could whip that club. After he got put out in the first round of the 1929 U.S. Amateur, he went to Olympic Club, and until that time the par-5 16th had never been driven in two. Jones was the first to accomplish the feat.”
PGATOUR.COM: Was it Jones' meticulous nature and love of equipment that eventually led him to go work for Spalding Golf when he stepped away from competition?
MATTHEW: “Bob was very modest, genuinely modest, and everybody wanted him to advertise everything under the sun. What he liked about Spalding was he didn't have to be a huckster. He wanted to be an engineer. He had his degree in mechanical engineer in '22 from Georgia Tech. He was an engineer, and he was never a huckster. He was not only a vice president but also director of research for Spalding. He was in charge of inventing stuff. You know, he invented the sequencing of shafts.”
PGATOUR.COM: You mean single-length shafts?
MATTHEW: “It's not the exact setup that Bryson DeChambeau uses, where his irons are all the same length. Jones made the clubs the same height for 23, 45, 67. They weren't all the same but two of them were, which is an even better formula that allowed for one swing and one timing for every club.”
PGATOUR.COM: Jones was also a visionary when it came to registered specs and improving the center of gravity position, correct?
MATTHEW: “That's correct. When Jones went to work for Spalding, he was the one who came up with the registered specs that allowed you to register your club specs with Spalding. So if somebody stole your clubs or they were broken or whatever, you just called up Spalding and they built you a new set because they already had your specs on file.
“Also, when Scottish cleekmakers would forge an iron over hot coal, the sweet spot might be in the center of the club on one, but it would be on the neck or the toe or someplace else — it was never uniform throughout all clubs. But when Jones came on board at Spalding, he was the one who came up with placing the sweet spot in the center of gravity throughout the set. That was Bob Jones. You see in the Spalding clubs a circle of dots in the middle. That's the sweet spot. That's the center of gravity.
“A lot of people don't realize Jones's clubs with his name were sold from 1932 until 1973, two years after his death. That's some longevity.”A copy of Calamity Jane, Calamity Jane II, can be found at the USGA museum in Far Hills, New Jersey. (Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR)