Looking at the copious hand-written and typed notes piled on Emily Jones’ kitchen table, it’s easy to believe Robert S. “Bobby” Jones was a “perfectionist.”
Jones’ role as secretary for the board of directors for the Magnolia Tennis Club might explain why the manila folders are packed with nuggets of information that detail the origin and evolution of the club.
From the amount of money ($5,000) it took to purchase the two acres from Jack Kaye, to the name of the gentleman (Wade Herron) who was hired to build the tennis courts, to the start date (1971) for the first senior tournament at the club, Bobby Jones’ records provide countless examples of the hard work and commitment it took to establish the Magnolia Tennis Club as a destination for players from throughout the Southeast.
“They were so kind to tell us it was the best tournament they played in and the best hospitality and the warmest people,” said Emily Jones, the wife of the late Bobby Jones. “We all got excited and had a lot of fun doing it. We always had a nice party, and they would say they were the best courts we play on. They were kept up perfectly.”
These days, players from all over still flock to the club because of the hospitality, care, and pride the Magnolia Tennis Club members and volunteers take in playing host to events. This weekend, some of the best players in the state of Mississippi will come to United States Tennis Association Southern 65 and Over Mississippi Tennis Championships.
Accuweather.com forecasts Columbus will have cloudy skies today with a couple of showers and a thunderstorm for the first day of the three-day event. The forecast for Saturday and Sunday is identical: heavy rain and a thunderstorm.
It remains to be seen how those projections will affect more than 250 players on 33 teams. Play was scheduled to begin at 8 this morning and run through each of the next three days at the Magnolia Tennis Club and at the tennis courts at Mississippi University for Women.
There will be men’s and women’s division matches (3.0, 3.5, 4.0) in a “team” format tournament. Matches will be played on eight clay courts and on four hard courts at the two facilities. The event is free to spectators.
While the rain might dampen the courts and delay action, it won’t ruin the months of planning and the attention to detail that has went into making sure this year’s event is a first-class operation. Emily Jones said her husband, who was president of a group of 12 to 14 people that decided to pool its money in an attempt to build a tennis club. That dream was realized on Feb. 16, 1968, when the first shares of stocks for the Magnolia Tennis Club were issued. The club members had four rubico, or green clay, courts to play on and a whole new list of tasks — clearing, filling, grading — to tackle to complete their vision for their new “home.”
Emily Jones said all of the work the original stockholders did to build the club created a special sense of ownership that made it easy for them to do all of the little things when they started to play host to men’s and women’s 35 and 45 singles and doubles tournaments in 1971. Bobby Jones’ notes show that other divisions were added through the years. With the additions came added responsibilities and an increased willingness to make things just right for the guests from Georgia, Kentucky, Alabama, Florida, and Louisiana. One aspect of the annual tournament was a players’ party that in early years was held in antebellum homes in Columbus. In later years, the party moved to the homes of club members, like Emily and Bobby Jones.
The players’ party at this year’s tournament will be tonight at Lion Hills Center and Golf Course.
“My husband just loved to do it, so we tried to do the very best we could,” Emily Jones said. “We made a lot of wonderful friends and a lot of people in the club helped out.”
Emily Jones said tennis tournaments typically didn’t offer all of the amenities that were available at events in Columbus. She said that thinking holds true today, as does the first-class manner in which the Magnolia Tennis Club organizes the USTA Southern 65 and Over Mississippi Tennis Championships.
Marlies Bearden, who is working as a director of the tournament with Kitty Brewer, said current club members are working hard to continue the tradition and example set in the first tournaments in Columbus. She said club members try “to spoil” their guests by providing snacks and beverages for them throughout the day when they play. She said multiple committees have been organized for months in advance to make sure everything is taken care of for the players to make it a memorable weekend.
“Our club puts on a class act because we have members who understand how past tournaments were run and they always want to put on a good impression,” Bearden said. “They don’t want to slack off on that. It is just a great tournament.”
Bearden said 120 families are involved with the Magnolia Tennis Club. She credited tennis professional Billy Clark for his hard work with the junior members. Her hope is that the players who are 18 years old and younger some day will shoulder the responsibilities that come with running such a well-regarded event.
Pat Wheeler worked closely with Bobby Jones on many of the first tournaments. After 14 years as tournament director, Wheeler saw how sponsors and businesses in Columbus supported the tournament. She also saw Bobby Jones add special things — like serving players strawberries and cream on Saturdays — to enhance their enjoyment. She said the generosity of National Bank of Commerce, which became Cadence Bank, was essential to establishing the tennis tournament as a fixture in the community.
“It was a labor of love for (the club members),” Wheeler said. “The club earned a good reputation because the members that built it had pride in it and they wanted to keep it as an upper-level club. As long as Mr. Jones was running that tournament everything was like it was when it started. That club was neat as a pin.”
Wheeler also said you could count on all of the details — from flowers to food to courts — to be handled and to be done just right.
Even though Bobby Jones died on Oct. 31, 2007, his legacy carries on. You only need to look on Emily Jones’ stove and see the trays of big and small sausage biscuit muffins she made Thursday for the players and will have delivered to the club.
After more than 40 years of tournaments at Magnolia Tennis Club, it’s safe to say hard work, attention to detail, and hospitality are keeping Bobby Jones’ spirit alive and well.
“He loved the tennis club,” Emily Jones said. “He spent as much time at the club — maybe more on the grounds — than he did at home. I just tried to understand. He loved every facet of it. He appreciated it so.
“I think he was very proud of it, which is why he worked so hard, doing anything, pulling weeds, mowing, doing whatever was necessary to maintain the courts.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.