Mayor Lark Jones’ first golf tournament was almost enough to make him wonder if he should keep playing the game.
Jones began playing when he was 12. His father had bought him a “ragtag set of clubs” and he had only a couple of golf lessons, he said.
The first time he played rounds of golf was in a junior tournament at Forest Hills Golf Club in Augusta.
The first day, he shot 130; about 120 the second day; and about 115 the third day.
“I can remember – it was the eighth hole then – it was a long par 5 up the hill, and I remember I hit six pretty good shots to get on the green and two-putted for the 8, which was a triple bogey,” he said. “That was about the best I could do and it was all I could do to keep from crying because I felt like I would never be able to play golf.”
He didn’t give up on the game, though. Coming from a family who enjoyed golf, he had plenty of chances to work on his game.
His grandfather and father both played.
“We weren’t a hunting and fishing family,” he said. “We were a baseball, football and golf type family. The beautiful thing about golf is that an 80-year-old, 60-year-old, 40-year-old, 20-year-old and a 10-year-old can all play together at the same time if you can swing the club and play. The beauty of it is that it’s family-oriented. Men and women can play. Boys and girls can play. One of my best experiences in golf was just playing nine holes of golf one afternoon with my son and my daughter.”
He has played at least 50 rounds of golf every year since he was about 14 or 15. Now, he is averaging 80 rounds a year, he said.
The social atmosphere golf creates makes it a fun sport to play with family and friends, he said.
“The older you get and when you don’t hit it as far or play as good as you use to, there’s a social aspect of it,” he said.
“There are people who play golf and become regulars, they just get up and go to the golf course. If they have an injury and they can’t play, there are people who will get up, go to the golf course and ride around with their buddies and watch them play.”
Just as playing golf as a family is a tradition, so is attending the Masters Tournament.
As a young boy, Jones attended the practice rounds. In 1964, his father got him his first ticket to the tournament, and he attended the four full days of play.
The only official play he has missed since then was the playoff between Billy Casper and Gene Littler in 1970, while he was in college. Casper won.
His favorite player is Tom Watson, who was honored Monday during the annual Mayor’s Masters Reception in Augusta. It was at a Masters Tournament where Jones became a fan of Watson.
“It’s unusual for me to root for the top dog, but he was at the top of his game in the ’70s and ’80s,” Jones said. “I saw him one day on No. 7 at the Augusta National during the tournament, and he hit the ball into the woods and he hit somebody. The way he handled himself and talked to the person and his demeanor impressed me. From that point on, for about 20 years, I would follow Tom Watson every shot he hit at the Masters.”
While he considers the 1986 Masters Tournament with Jack Nicklaus’ win the best tournament ever, he believes this year may also be notable.
After Tiger Woods won the Arnold Palmer Invitational on March 25, “on paper, we’re set up for one of the greatest Masters ever. People are just envisioning Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods in a playoff,” Jones said.
Phil Mickelson shouldn’t be counted out as a contender, he added.
“The stars are aligning for a very, very exciting Masters,” Jones said.