Summer 2008: Coda

Robbie Brown in Scotland

Scotsman for a year: Bobby Jones Scholar Robbie Brown 07C practiced international relations—through both study and travel—during a year “outside of time” at St. Andrews, Emory’s sister university.

Gary Doak/Special

Swing Again

Bobby Jones Scholar Robbie Brown 07C reflects on academics, adventure, and lessons of the links

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Picture this scene:

It’s windy, of course. It’s rainy, of course. It’s only 2:30 p.m., and it’s already getting dark, of course. Classic Scotland.

I’m standing at the first tee of the New Course, the second-oldest and second-hardest course at St. Andrews, the home of golf, and I’m trying to ignore a frightening truth: that I’m a mediocre golfer even in perfect weather.

Four athletic-looking guys with Callaway jackets, Callaway clubs, Callaway hats, and Callaway bags are watching as I take nervous practice swings. Only three months before, I played my first eighteen holes. Now I’m at the world golf mecca, where the best players fall prey to brambly gorse and shoulder-deep sandpits.

Eyes on the ball. Eyes on the ball. Eyes on the ball.

I swing. I’m twisting my shoulders, I’m lowering my club, I’m uncorking my torso . . .

. . . and I’m whiffing.

The ball is still there. On the tee.

Ooph.

“Don’t sweat it,” a friend assures me. “Just take a mulligan.”

“Mulligan” is golf slang for a free second try. In other words, the whiff won’t affect my score.

So I quickly slap the ball into the fairway and, without glancing back at the Callaway Foursome, I hustle toward my shot. Four strokes later, I’m in the cup for a respectable bogie. God bless the beneficent mulligan!

It occurs to me now—six months and many rounds of golf after that embarrassing moment—that the mulligan is the appropriate metaphor for my year as a Bobby Jones scholar at the University of St. Andrews.

The Robert T. Jones Jr. Scholarship, which sends four Emory graduates to St. Andrews and four St. Andrews graduates to Emory every year, functions as a free second shot at all the wonderful aspects of university life. You could call it an “academic mulligan”—a fifth year in an intellectual environment to launch yourself into a new and improved position.

Founded in 1976 by admirers of Bobby Jones 29L, the golfer and Emory law alumnus, the scholarship awards students a chance to swing again—not to correct an earlier mistake, as with a golf mulligan, but to enhance an aspect of their education or resume or character that they hadn’t fully developed as undergraduates.

The scholarship links St. Andrews and Atlanta—the home of golf and the home of Bobby Jones—and honors Jones’s intellectual voracity. In 1923, Jones had already completed a bachelor’s degree in engineering at Georgia Tech and was one of the world’s best golfers. But feeling his education incomplete, he enrolled at Harvard to study English literature.

Similarly, Jones scholars can study subjects that they overlooked in college.

They can visit places that they’d been too busy to visit.

They can pursue extracurriculars that they’d never found time to pursue.

And they do.

Consider, for example, our group of America-to-Scotland scholars:

Steven Haag 07C 07G. Studied at Emory: classics and history. Studied at St. Andrews: finance and management.

Andrew McCrary 06C. Studied at Emory: biology. Studied at St. Andrews: theology and history.

Caitlin Lyman 07C. Studied at Emory: music and biology. Studied at St. Andrews: environmental science.

Me. Studied at Emory: journalism and history. Studied at St. Andrews: international relations, philosophy, and creative writing.

All four of us took subjects we might never have studied otherwise. We received an invaluable opportunity—a second chance, if you will—to learn for learning’s sake and experience life in a beautiful, historic region of the world.

Of course, the Jones Scholarship is not strictly academic. It’s also cultural, which means we’re encouraged to pour ourselves into British life.

Like the classes, these cultural experiences were ones we never would’ve ordinarily undertaken. But the scholarship urged us to try something new and different, and we did.

The Jones program is unique among international fellowships in providing recipients with a substantial travel stipend and a car, “the Bobby Jonesmobile.” Every year, Joneses on both sides of the Atlantic motor across their adopted country in minivans (remembering, hopefully, to drive on the opposite side of the road).

In America, the record among Joneses stands at forty-two states visited. In Britain this year, we drove everywhere from the northern Isle of Skye to the south of Wales. As Andrew McCrary recalled at our final dinner with the Jones Trustees, “This country has become our home.”

The scholarship also advocates international travel. Our foursome has been fortunate to find time, individually and collectively, to visit France, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands, Italy, Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, India, and China. What began as an exchange between America and Scotland has become an opportunity for Emory students to experience life around the planet.

Jones scholars are treated lavishly, but also reminded that with privilege comes responsibility. Many traditions have arisen within the scholarship to benefit not only the students but also greater society.

At Emory, Jones scholars every year donate time to The Carter Center’s philanthropic and political mission. From St. Andrews, an unofficial link recently has been forged between the scholars and an Emory alumna’s orphanage in India. These are small steps toward passing along the extraordinary generosity we’ve been shown by the scholarship.

Last, of course, there’s the golf. Arguably the most remarkable aspects of the scholarship are golf-related.

Joneses at St. Andrews can play the world’s oldest golf course, the Old Course, at virtually no cost and dine annually at the venerated Royal and Ancient Golf Club. In the United States, scholars receive club memberships at East Lake, Druid Hills, and the Atlanta Athletic Club and play a round at Augusta National, home of the Masters.

When I received the scholarship, none of these perks meant anything to me. I’d played golf only a few times and didn’t understand its hallowed traditions. Honestly, I could barely remember whether Jack Nicklaus or Jack Nicholson was the golfer.

Well, I stand today reformed.

I’m still a dozen strokes behind most good players, but I’m nonetheless an impassioned advocate of the game.

The best aspect of golf, for me, is what sports writer Grantland Rice described as the “philosophy, humor, tragedy, romance, melodrama, companionship, camaraderie, cussedness, and conversation” of a great round.

I’ve had so many fascinating talks and cultivated so many wonderful friendships on the links—which is important, given how many generous mulligans my game requires.

Looking back, the Bobby Jones year feels like an experience outside of time. I never would’ve learned so much about international relations, philosophy, or creative writing; never would’ve visited thirteen countries; never would’ve met so many remarkable people; never would’ve developed a love of golf; and never would’ve felt such kinship with Scottish society without the program’s encouragement.

“Don’t sweat it,” the Jones Scholarship essentially told me. “Swing again.”

God bless the beneficent mulligan!

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