Bobby Jones: How I Play Golf

Innovative Teaching Techniques

Jones on Jones.
Jones on Jones.

At a time when special effects were rare and dependent on camera tricks rather than computer tricks, the Jones short films employed a surprising number of innovative visual techniques that help get the lessons across. The techniques of freeze-frame and slow motion are used extensively to break down Bobby Jones' legendary golf swing. At the time, slow motion could only be achieved manually, by shooting many more frames per second than the normal 24. The resulting shots are beautiful to the eye and help the viewer to focus on what Jones' hands, wrists, shoulders and hips are doing as he swings through.

Another technique that helps reinforce Jones' instruction is the use of color and light to isolate parts of Jones' body. The lessons in "Hip Shots" use a completely black studio and the colors of Jones' clothing to isolate relevant parts of his body. To show the spine as axis of movement, the filmmaker places a white circle above Jones' head, with Jones dressed all in black. The viewer focuses on the light parts of the frame -- Jones's head and the white circle, and so can clearly see the tilt of his head and neck and the axis it creates.

Jones is seen in a white turtleneck to show how the shoulders pivot and then in white trousers to show the correct hip turn. One of the neatest applications of this technique is when we see Jones in a suit that's all black except for his left arm, which is white. This allows Jones to demonstrate clearly what the left arm should be doing during the downswing and backswing. This simple but elegant approach is as effective as today's complicated CGI compositing in helping the viewer focus on the correct backswing posture.

The films are also remarkable for their choice of lesson material. As per Jones' goal, the skits re-enact realistic situations that might befall the average golfer. Instead of dry and abstract classroom lessons, they function as practical examples that would be familiar to just about any golfer. For example, in "Trouble Shots," comedian Joe B. Brown cooks up a scheme to try to make Jones sweat. He offers to trade off shots with Jones, alternating play of the same ball so that the star golfer has to cope with difficult setups and course hazards. This choice of lesson shows an awareness that recreational golfers want to know how to recover from their own inevitable mistakes, not just how to avoid mistakes in the first place.

Joe B. Brown and Edward G. Robinson. Joe B. Brown and Edward G. Robinson.
Joe B. Brown and Edward G. Robinson.