George Jacobus


Why didn’t I listen to my mentors, or take my teachers seriously?” Proverbs 5:12 (The Message)

 Who is George Jacobus, you might ask?  In his day, he was one of the best teaching golf professionals in America. He was president of the PGA in the mid-1930’s.

As the head golf professional at Ridgewood Country Club,  George hired an unknown golfer as an Assistant Professional who went on to win 11 straight professional golf events in a row. It’s a record that stands today.

His assistant’s name? Byron Nelson.  A movie was made about Byron’s life and career titled “Byron Nelson: A Texas Gentleman”. He was also a TV golf commentator for many years and still has an annual PGA tournament named in his honor.

George worked with other golf professionals, including Gene Littler. He saw that the game depended on developing junior players, to whom he gave unlimited free instruction.

He was old school. I can still see him on the golf range dressed in a white linen jacket sporting an ascot and a panama hat even on the hottest and humid summer days. He was an encourager, always asking you after a round how you played.

George taught me and other juniors how to play golf.  He worked on my swing and gave me good swing mechanics for free. It is a game that I still love to do today.

But George taught more than golf. I didn’t realize it at the time, but now, 60 years later, I realize that he wasn’t just a golf pro teaching me good golf swing mechanics. He also taught me about life. He was a mentor to all he taught.

His first life lesson is one that I will never forget: “Remember that you are a gentleman first, and a golfer second. Don’t ever get those reversed.

The term “gentleman” has fallen out of use today.  Sixty years ago, it meant being civil, polite and honorable in all situations. Your behavior matters.

Golf can be a game that tries your patience. You can lose your cool if you aren’t careful. But your conduct as a gentleman is primary, not secondary. It keeps the game in perspective.

Losing your cool and throwing your clubs was not just frowned on; it was something you just did not do. It was a one strike situation. Lose your cool, and you would lose George’s support.

As a gentleman, you are to behave appropriately in all venues, not just on a golf course.  We need more gentlemen today, given our divided culture.

George died in 1965. I didn’t find out until sometime later because I was still in college at the time.  He left a big shadow in my life, and those around who knew him. One of those was A.W. Tillinghast, the architect who designed the golf course at Ridgewood Country Club, and worked on 400 others.

I ran across an article in a golf magazine about the design of Bethpage Black, a golf course on Long Island, NY,  which was selected to be the site of the U.S, Open.

The author had looked into the career of the architect who designed the course, A. W. Tillinghast. There was  a debate as to whether “Tilly” (as he was known) actually designed Bethpage Black.

I couldn’t find a link to the article, but I remember what it said. The writer described Tilly as being “down on his luck” at the time of the construction of Bethpage Black.  He had just had a divorce from his wife and was battling a drinking problem.

George, as the president of the PGA, hired Tilly to go around the country to help clubs redesign their golf courses.  It helped redeem him.

The writer went on to say that, because Tilly was traveling non-stop around the country, he couldn’t have spent much time at Bethpage Black. The writer concluded that, while Tilly did have a hand in its design, the local superintendent, Joseph Burbank, deserved more credit for the result.

The words about George Jacobus leapt off the page when I read the magazine.  He was reaching out from his grave to remind me what a gentleman did for his friends.

I was lucky to have a George Jacobus in my life. Maybe you had a mentor too, if you were lucky. It might have been a coach or an Uncle.  Someone that took an interest in you.  That’s what a mentor does, and it is why the process is so valuable.

The challenge here is that the next generation are searching for mentors, yet having a hard time finding someone to invest in their life. Consider stepping out of the stands and getting on the sidelines as a coach to someone younger. You don’t have to be a golf pro to do it.

 MENTOR TAKEAWAY: The demand for mentors by the millennials exceeds the supply. Consider not only mentoring, but also encouraging those around you to be a mentor.

FURTHER READING:  A biography of George Jacobus is posted on the website of the Ridgewood Country Club. A biography of Byron Nelson at Ridgewood Country Club is here.

WORSHIP:  For the second time in a row, I am linking to“Fall on Me”, a duet by Andrew Boccelli and his 20-year-old son. It is a picture of having someone in your life to depend on.

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