Golf has been a favorite sport in Aiken for more than a century. Our own Palmetto Golf Club is one of the oldest golf courses in the United States, founded in 1892 by the winter colonist Thomas Hitchcock. Aiken is a close neighbor of one of golf's most famous venues: the Augusta National Golf Club, which hosts the Masters Tournament every year. Each April, golf enthusiasts from all over the world vie for tickets and travel to Augusta, Georgia and surrounding areas (including Aiken) to watch four days of competition between the best golfers on the professional circuit.
Robert "Bobby" Knowles was a winter colonist from Boston who came to Aiken in the 1930s when he was stationed in Augusta at Camp Gordon (renamed Fort Gordon in 1956). His great-grandfather was the illustrious American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Aiken, with its unpaved roads still traveled by buggies, enchanted Bobby, and it was here that he met his future wife Barbara, the only child of Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd, who was famous for having had a longstanding and well-documented relationship with President Franklin Roosevelt.
A Passion for Golf
Bobby, an avid golfer since he was a boy in Boston, soon joined the Palmetto Golf Club. From 1945 to 1953, Palmetto held a professional golf event called the Devereux Milburn tournament the weekend before the Masters. Winners of this tournament included such golf notables as Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson. Bobby, as a member and a gifted player, helped organize the tournament in Aiken. Then, in the 1950s, he became one of the scorekeepers at the Masters Tournament.
Golf scoring is based on standardized rules. In a tournament, the number of strokes is counted and the winner of the event is the player who sinks the ball into 18 holes with the fewest number of strokes. The number of strokes assigned to each hole is classified by its par. "Par" indicates the number of strokes it should take a practiced golfer to complete play of a hole. One of the main factors in determining the par of a hole is the distance between the tee and the green.
Color-Coded Scoring System
Bobby devised a color-coded system to show on the main scoreboard the progress of tournament participants for the first six holes. Numbers shown in red indicated how many strokes were "below" par, and green numbers indicated how many strokes the golfer had made that were "above" par. Before this, the golfers and their caddies kept individual scores that were not displayed. As a result, the terms "above par" and "below par" became part of the scoring vocabulary in the game of golf.
Bobby Knowles became an accomplished golfer and was considered one of the best amateurs in America. (Amateur golfers play in tournaments but do not receive prize money.) In 1983, Knowles was inducted into the South Carolina Golf Hall of Fame for having an "extensive international amateur playing career." He won many South Carolina championships, was a member of the Walker Cup team and served as a Masters Committeeman for 29 years.