One of Bobby Jones’ First Foursome
Augusta businessman Fielding Wallace was part of the foursome in 1932 when Bobby Jones played his first 18 holes at the Augusta National, but Wallace also loved horses, tennis and music with equal passion.
When it came to horses, it was successful local businessman Fielding Wallace who championed making Augusta one of the great equine centers of the South.
When it came to tennis, it was Fielding Wallace who taught thousands of Augustans about the sport in its pioneer days and played at a championship level himself.
And when it came to music, it was Fielding Wallace who not only sang bass in local vocal groups but was a key organizer of Augusta’s largest classical music presentations at the turn of the 20th century.
But in spite of all those significant accomplishments, it is not horses or tennis or music for which Wallace is most celebrated by worldwide journalists, historians and sports fans.
It is for being the first secretary of the Augusta National Golf Association when it was formed in late 1931; a role he served until his death in 1954 at his 1006 Johns Road residence.
It was Wallace’s home on Johns Road that the Duke of Windsor stayed when he came to Augusta in April of 1952 to attend the Masters Tournament.
Margaret Twiggs, political reporter for the afternoon Augusta Herald, recalled of the abdicated king of England, “His arrival had been kept such a close secret that we had literally no advance notice. I was phoned at my desk just 15 minutes before his train was due to arrive and told to get down there and interview him! . . . I finally got to interview him, of all places, on the front lawn of the Wallace home on Johns Road as cars kept passing back and forth on the street; their drivers straining for a look. We had a delightful conversation. He was perfectly charming.”
Mary Carter Winter, a reporter for The Augusta Chronicle, interviewed him the next day at the Augusta National Golf Club. She later wrote that Wallace himself was a little bit uneasy at first having British royalty staying as a guest in his house.
“Everything’s fine, however,” she quoted Wallace as saying. “He came down to breakfast in his bathrobe.”
And even more impressive is that Wallace was part of the foursome when Bobby Jones himself played his first 18-holes on the “dream course” he helped design.
That history-making foursome on that historical summer day of August 26, 1932, also included Jones’ father, Robert Purmedus Jones, and their close friend, Lansing Burrows Lee.
“The Augusta Chronicle” in an editorial upon Wallace’s death noted, “A close friend of Bobby Jones, he was largely responsible for the decision of the famous Atlanta golfer to build the Augusta National Golf Club here and establish the Masters Tournament in Augusta.”
So who was this amazing guy who also was president emeritus of the Augusta Country Club and served two years as president of the United States Golf Association which governs the rules of amateur professional golf in America?
There is no question that Fielding Wallace, the son of John W. Wallace and Mary Walker Wallace, was an over achiever.
At the time of his death on Nov. 14, 1954, Wallace was president and treasurer of the Southern Press Cloth Manufacturing Co. on Milledgeville Road and previously had owned and operated the Planters Oil Co.
He also was a past president of the National Cotton Seed Production Association and a director of the First Railroad and Banking Co. and the Georgia Railroad Bank and Trust Co.
The family tradition continued with Wallace’s descendants also becoming prominent members of Augusta’s civic and professional life.
It was in the late 19th century and early 20th century that Wallace became a pioneer tennis player.
The Augusta Tennis Club had been organized in 1898 with Joseph Yarborough as its promoter and first president. Early popular courts in the area included ones of the Augusta Y.M.C.A. in the downtown area, the Augusta Country Club on Milledge Road, at the Hampton Terrace Hotel in North Augusta and the Bon Air Hotel on The Hill and “courts on lower Broad Street.”
Its annual tournament in August of 1902 found Wallace being described in The Augusta Chronicle as “one of the best all round tennis players entered.”
His competition included Hinton J. Hopkins listed as “a member of the Atlanta Athletic club” and John Whitney regarded as “easily the best player at Clemson College.”
Wallace wasn’t a winner of the singles or doubles matches, but he did gain the admiration of many local and out-of-town fans.
His love of horses was such that Wallace became secretary of the Augusta Horse Show Association and traveled in March 1908 to Atlanta to entice owners to come show their best equines in Augusta.
“Mr. Wallace says the Augusta show this year will be the biggest thing of the kind in the state of Georgia and one of the greatest events in the Southern states,” reported an Atlanta publication.
“He interested quite a number of Atlanta people in the show, and as a result of his visit many of the best horses owned in this section of the state will be entered and shipped to Augusta.”
Later that same year, Wallace became general manager of the Augusta Music Festival which was being planned at the Grand Opera House, then at Eighth and Greene streets.
He would be given much credit for the success of the festival held in April 1909 featuring the New York City Symphony Orchestra under conductor Walter Damrosch. The “four eminent soloists” included the great opera star Emma Eames.
In reporting on Eames “The Chronicle” boasted, “The great diva is in (her) best voice and will undoubtedly give the great audience tonight thrills of pleasure at her wonderful singing.”
The capstone of his athletic achievements, of course, came from his friendship with Bobby Jones developed through the Augusta Country Club of which Wallace was president.
That culminated with the announcement in July of 1931 that Jones would build his “dream course” in Augusta on 365 acres purchased on Washington Road.
“One may naturally ask how was ‘Bobby’ Jones, recognized as Atlanta’s most famous citizen, induced to come to Augusta to build his first and only golf course?” The Chronicle related in the purchase stories.
“The answer is that Bobby began coming here a few winters ago with O.B. Keeler, the famous sports writer of the Atlanta Journal who is his particular friend and fell in love with [local] golf courses and the people, became a chum of President Fielding Wallace of the Augusta Country Club and of Thomas Barrett Jr., vice president of the Bon Air-Vanderbilt hotel.”
Jones also had close ties to Augusta through his wife, the former Mary Rice Malone, whose ancestors lived in Augusta. Her grandparents, Mary and Matthew Rice, are buried in Augusta’s Magnolia Cemetery.
And how did Keeler and Wallace apparently earlier know each other?
The Chronicle article disclosed, “It was O.B. who came to Augusta first some years ago to cover a horse show and tennis tournament and has been coming back ever since.”
Jones and his father came by train from Atlanta to Augusta for a meeting held Tuesday, Dec. 1, 1931, on the eighth floor of the Marion Building in the 700 block of Broad Street in the law offices of Cohen and Gray.
That gathering became, as The Chronicle reported the next day, “the first organization meeting” of the Augusta National Golf Association.
Jones was elected president and his father was elected to membership on the executive committee controlling the club’s operations.
Other officers of the club elected at that meeting were Alfred S. Bourne, a winter resident of Augusta and heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune, as vice president; Charles Phinizy, prominent Augustan, as treasurer and Wallace as the club’s first secretary.
Others initially chosen for the executive committee besides Jones’ father were cotton broker Thomas Barrett Jr., sports writer Grantland Rice, and also two names to become well known in golfing history: Clifford Roberts, a New York investment banker, and William C. Watt, board chairman of the United Drug Co.
The first Masters’ Golf Tournament would be held in March of 1934 with Jones predicting a few months earlier that it would attract “a field of as fine golfers as any tournament in America.”
Jones had come to Augusta to attend a dinner on Nov. 2, 1933, in honor of Chronicle editor Thomas J. Hamilton.
That partly cloudy day he went out to inspect his dream course with his walking entourage including course designer Alister MacKenzie and club secretary Fielding Wallace.
“He said the fairways are in as fine condition now as any in the country and the grass which has recently been planted on the greens gives every promise of being the perfect putting surface by the time the course is open,” The Chronicle said of Jones’ evaluation.
“He also expects the tournament to attract thousands of visitors from all sections of the United States and Canada to this city, which will be of untold worth revealing to them the possibilities of Augusta as a winter golfing center in addition to the money they will spend while here.
“Mr. Jones pointed out that the tournament is already creating world wide interest and has turned the eyes of golf enthusiasts of America and Europe toward this city.”
It is no wonder that when Wallace died 21 years to the month later from walking the course with Jones that The Chronicle would say in deep gratitude, “Modest and retiring, he was loved by all who knew him. He was truly a Southern gentleman, a man whose friendship was cherished, and his presence in the community will be sorely missed.”
Photo courtesy of Augusta National Golf Club
From left: Lansing Burrows Lee, Bobby Jones, Colonel Jones, and Fielding Wallace at one of the first rounds at Augusta National Golf Club in 1933.
Article appears in the April 2021 issue of Augusta Magazine.
Article appears in the February/March 2019 issue of Augusta Magazine.