Many Masters Tournament visitors might know that baseball legend Ty Cobb lived in Augusta for 28 years, but they may not know that he loved to play golf almost as much as playing baseball.
As early as 1908, The Augusta Chronicle noted, “There is Ty Cobb drifting to golf. Next we will see the champion at Parcheesi.”
Cobb had been living in Augusta four years by that time; having started his professional playing career with the Augusta Tourists team in 1904 when the South Atlantic League was formed.
He joined the Detroit Tigers in 1905 but kept Augusta as his home until about 1932. He married an Augusta woman and four of his five children were born in Augusta.
Cobb lived in a two-story house off Walton Way not far from the Augusta Country Club on Milledge Road.
The country club is where he met with U.S. President Howard Taft in November of 1909. They didn’t play golf together at that meeting but did have a good talk about golf and baseball.
“Baseball is the game for young Americans,” Taft said. “Golf is a better game for older Americans.”
After the conversation with the president, Cobb was photographed with another famous Augustan, U.S. Army Maj. Archibald Butt, who was Taft’s military aide. Butt would go down with the Titanic less than four years later while returning from Europe.
Taft, who also was a baseball fan, and Cobb had met earlier in 1909 because Taft’s son, Charlie, was a huge fan of Cobb’s and insisted that Cobb come visit his father when the Detroit Tigers played in Washington, D.C.
As a result, Cobb and the entire Tigers’ team were invited to the White House to meet with the president.
Taft, by that time, had been making many vacation trips to Augusta, and he greeted Cobb at the White House as his “fellow citizen of Augusta, Ga.”
In March 1922, the Augusta Rotary Club hosted an afternoon barbecue luncheon for Cobb and the Detroit Tigers team. Cobb, by then, was player-manager of the Tigers who did their spring training in Augusta.
The cooking pits at Carmichael’s barbecue place on the Savannah River just south of Augusta were presided over by Clem Castleberry, who later would develop his line of world-famous Castleberry’s food products.
Also attending that barbecue during his first visit to Georgia was baseball commissioner Kennesaw “Mountain” Landis who referred to Cobb as a baseball player who “played the game on the square.”
Landis told the gathering that the previous day he had played a rough round of golf at the Augusta Country Club and wanted to come back to Augusta if for no other reason than “to get even with the golf links” at the Augusta Country Club.
“Never have I seen 18 holes with more innate deviltry compressed into them than the 18 holes at the country club links,” he said.
“The club I used yesterday morning, I will throw away,” Landis continued, “but the others in the bag I will bring back to Augusta next February, and I mean to get even with that course if I have to sleep in a tent.”
In February 1930, Cobb as a player with the Philadelphia Athletics took fellow players Eddie Collins and George Earnshaw out for a round of golf in Augusta. They were passing through heading for spring training at Fort Myers, Fla.
Two months later in April 1930, Cobb hosted a party at his house for his close friend Bobby Jones following Jones’ playing in the first Southeastern Open Golf Championship at the Forest Hills-Rucker Hotel course off Wrightsboro Road. That day’s play marked the beginning of Jones’ 1930 Grand Slam of Golf.
At his party Cobb remarked, “I’ve seen enough of this game of golf to know that baseball is after all only a hit-or-miss proposition compared with it. In golf you have to apply control a couple of hundred yards away. There is no way to estimate the genius of Bobby Jones. I am simply abashed watching him play.
“I want to play golf so much, and it is impossible ever to graze his artistry. He is the greatest competitive athlete I have ever seen.”
In January 1931, Cobb played in one of the most unusual golf games ever staged as entertainment for visitors to the Winter Golf League, which was holding its 26th annual meeting in Augusta.
By that time Cobb had retired from baseball and had become sports director for the city of Augusta.
Dave Ogilvie Jr., golf pro at the Augusta Country Club, teamed up with Cobb while Charley Gray, golf pro at the Municipal Golf Course, teamed up with William Lyon Phelps, professor of English at Yale University.
Ogilvie and Gray were in separate planes that flew over the course at an altitude of 500 feet, and they took turns dropping golf balls as close to the greens as possible from the planes.
On the ground, Cobb and Phelps took turns hitting their dropped balls toward the course holes. The two teams tied at 27 each for the nine holes played.
Two months later in March 1931, Cobb won the Bon Air-Vanderbilt hotel golf tournament by defeating former Augusta Mayor R.H. Daniel.
Ten years later in 1941, golf promoter Fred Corcoran (business agent for Ted Williams and Sam Snead) talked Cobb and Babe Ruth into playing three golf games in three cities to benefit the British War Relief effort and the United Service Organizations. The games totaling 54 holes were played at the Commonwealth Country Club at West Newton, Mass., near Boston; Fresh Meadow Country Club in Flushing, N.Y., and Grosse Isle Country Club in Detroit, Mich.
Cobb won two of the three matches. He celebrated his triumph that evening at the Stadler Hotel with a dinner. He is said at that dinner to have called the three games “The Has Beens Golf Championship of Nowhere in Particular.”
COLUMNIST DON RHODES IS THE AUTHOR OF THE BIOGRAPHY
TY COBB: SAFE AT HOME.