A National Champion, National Entertainer March 2, 2011 By Michael Trostel and Shannon Doody, USGA

On March 2, 1931, Bob Jones and Warner Brothers Studios began taping “How I Play Golf,” a series of 12 instructional videos that aimed to, in Jones’ words, “exhibit and explain the methods which I employ in playing the shots ordinarily required in playing a round of golf.” Many of the top stars in Hollywood participated in the one-reel motion pictures. Though none were paid except Jones, it was reasoned that the actors, including W.C. Fields, James Cagney, Loretta Young and Douglas Fairbanks, would enhance their own popularity with a national audience simply by their association with Jones.  

Directed by George E. Marshall and written by journalist O.B. Keeler, the stories were simple, witty, and unobtrusive. “There was a story line in each episode,” said Jones, “but we didn’t have a script – they made it up as we went along. There was a lot of horseplay and comedy with the instructional business woven in.” Keeler knew Jones well, having personally witnessed all 13 of Jones’ major victories and traveled some 150,000 miles covering him for the Associated Press. The series was immensely popular at the box office and it is estimated that more than 30 million people in 6,000 theaters saw the first 12 films. Due to its success, Warner Brothers signed Jones to another six-reel contract in 1933, entitled “How To Break 90.” 

The video link featured here is an excerpt from the fifth installment in the “How I Play Golf” series, “The Big Irons,” and tells the story of a gruff boss who is ready to fire one of his employees until he finds out the employee is friends with Jones. It is part of the USGA Film and Video Archive, one of the largest and most complete collections of golf footage in the world, which contains more than 9,500 hours of historic and contemporary footage in a variety of formats dating to the 1920s. 

Michael Trostel is the curator/historian for the USGA Museum. E-mail questions or comments to mtrostel@usga.org. 

Shannon Doody is the film & video archivist for the USGA Museum. E-mail questions or comments to sdoody@usga.org.