For years, Johnny Goodman was known as “the boy who beat Bobby Jones.”
That unlikely outcome may have impacted the creation of Augusta National Golf Club.
In 1929, during the onset of the Depression, Jones and his business partner, Clifford Roberts, were in the early planning stages of building a golf course “that would be a tribute to Jones,” according to historian David Owen. “They hadn’t yet found the property in Augusta, Georgia, but they were moving forward.”
Donald Ross was a likely candidate to build their golf course. Arguably the foremost architect of his day, Ross had an already established relationship with Jones.
As a boy, Jones belonged to Atlanta’s East Lake Golf Club, which Ross redesigned in 1913. A decade later, when Jones reigned as the game’s preeminent amateur, he competed often on another Ross design, Pinehurst No. 2, in North Carolina.
“It would’ve only been a natural connection for Bobby Jones to hire Donald Ross,” said Pinehurst historian Lee Pace.
When Jones went to Pebble Beach to compete in the 1929 U.S. Amateur, it was assumed that Ross would design Jones’ new course.
In the first round of match play, Jones faced the then-unheralded Johnny Goodman, a 19-year-old from Omaha, Nebraska. Goodman would go on to win the 1937 U.S. Amateur – and the 1933 U.S. Open, becoming the last amateur to do so – but it was his performance against Jones that would create a ripple effect throughout the game.
Goodman won the first three holes. Jones staged a furious rally, but Goodman hung on, 1 up.
Jones, presumed by many to make a deep run in the championship, had to wait several days before his scheduled return trip home. He spent his time on the Monterey Peninsula. He played Cypress Point, designed by Alister MacKenzie, then took part in an exhibition at nearby Pasatiempo, also designed by MacKenzie, who attended the event and talked with Jones throughout the round.
Jones and MacKenzie already knew each other. It is believed that they first met and struck up a friendship in the 1920s, when Jones made routine trips overseas to compete in The Open, British Amateur and Walker Cup. But it was their time together on the Monterey Peninsula that played a fateful role in Jones’ decision to hire MacKenzie – not Ross – to design Augusta National.
Both were highly educated. Jones earned a mechanical engineering degree from Georgia Tech and a degree in English literature from Harvard. He also passed the Georgia bar exam.
MacKenzie was originally trained as a surgeon.
They also shared a similar aesthetic for golf course design, highlighted by their affinity for the Old Course at St. Andrews.
“MacKenzie had drawn the map of St. Andrews for the R&A, so he knew every little feature of it,” said golf course architect and renowned historian Tom Doak. “That was the thing that really bonded them together.”
“They developed a friendship, a kinship,” said Pace. “That’s what tipped Jones into hiring MacKenzie to design Augusta National, instead of honoring what some thought was a handshake agreement with Donald Ross.”
When the news reached Ross, he was “miffed and insulted,” said Pace. “His pride was attacked.”
Jones hired Mackenzie. And Ross renovated Pinehurst No. 2 to rival their creation. But any animosity between the two men was short-lived. On the day that No. 2 re-opened, Jones showed up to play in an exhibition.
As for Johnny Goodman – “the boy who beat Bobby Jones” – his improbable triumph has been catalogued as a pivotal hinge of history.
“If he had not upset Bobby Jones, perhaps Bobby spends the whole week playing in the 1929 U.S. Amateur,” said Pace. “And he doesn’t develop a kinship with Alister MacKenzie that led him to hire MacKenzie to build Augusta National.”