Walter Travis

This year marks the centennial of Walter Travis’ victory in the British Amateur at Royal St. George’s in 1904. He became the first American to win golf’s oldest amateur championship.

Known as “The Old Man,” Travis didn’t take up golf until after his 30th birthday. It was his fiery competiveness, coupled with God-given athletic ability that would make him one of the best golfers of his time. It could be argued that the zenith of his playing career occurred when he became the first American to win the British Amateur, while no less using the controversial Schenectady center-shafted putter.

After his playing career ended, Travis put his permanent stamp on the game, writing books and articles, one in fact that helped shape the course rating and handicap systems used today. He later became editor of the highly acclaimed The American Golfer, viewed in some circles as the best-ever golf magazine.

Moreover, he proved to be a genius and a visionary when it came to course architecture, ranking with Charles B. Macdonald as one of the most influential men in the early days of golf.

Now experience a slice of history by delving into the Travis photo essay below and viewing an old letter that appeared in the New York Sun . All photos are courtesy of the USGA Photo Archives Department.

 

Walter John Travis was born on Jan. 10, 1862 in Maldon, Australia.

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Walter John Travis was born on Jan. 10, 1862, in a small Australian mining town of Maldon. Walter left for America in 1885 to open a New York office for an Australian hardware firm. Soon he fell in love with Anne Bent, the daughter of a business associate. In several months of courtship Travis penned more than 100 love letters now in the collection of the USGA Archives.

 

Travis played his first game of golf in the spring of 1896.

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In the spring of 1896, Walter Travis played his first game of golf at the newly formed Oakland Golf Club on Long Island. Never a long driver of the golf ball, Travis was instead extremely accurate off the tee. As Travis once recalled of his early years, “My experiments were confined almost exclusively to driving and iron play generally, the gentle art of putting being left to take care of itself, with the result that for the first two or three years I was quite weak on the putting green.”

 

A portrait of Walter Travis taken by George S. Pietzcker

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This portrait of Walter Travis was the work of George S. Pietzcker, who by 1920 was the official USGA photographer with the largest collection of golf photos in the country. His prints continue to stand up to the rigors of time, capturing a slice golf and achieving elegant and artistic pinnacle in photography.

 

Walter Travis played in his first U.S. Amateur in 1898 at the age of 35.

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Walter Travis entered the 1898 U.S. Amateur Championship less than two years after taking up the game at age 35, inspiring his nickname, “The Old Man.” He advanced to the semifinals, where he was soundly defeated by the eventual champion, largely due to his poor putting. Travis confronted the issue aggressively and it paid off; in 1900 he went on to win his first of three U.S. Amateur Championships.

 

Travis came to America as an employee of McLean Brothers hardware store.

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Slight of build but with above average intelligence, the young Walter Travis played tennis and golf competitively, but with little success. Disavowing the mining profession after his father was killed in a mining accident, Walter accepted employment with a local hardware firm named McLean Brothers. When the brothers subsequently decided to open an office in New York in 1885, Walter left for America.

 

The Schenectady Putter made famous by Walter Travis

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Famous for being jealously banned by the R&A due to Walter Travis’ 1904 victory, the story of the “Schenectady Putter” is, in fact, apocryphal. The putter was banned by the R&A from 1910 through 1952, but was done so only because it was considered a “mallet-headed type” putter, not unlike a center-shafted croquet mallet, which actually instigated the ruling in 1909. The putters pictured here are examples of the Schenectady Putter. The putter used by Travis has a foggy history surrounding its whereabouts; the actual current location is not known, though many theories abound.

 

Original blueprint for the Country Club of Troy (N.Y.), which Travis designed

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Champion golfer, author, magazine publisher, editor and golf architect, Walter Travis ranks with Charles B. Macdonald among the most influential persons in early American golf. His final design, in 1927, was the Country Club of Troy (N.Y.), of which the USGA Museum & Archives has an original blueprint.

 

Detail of a green complex at the Country Club of Troy (N.Y.)

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Walter Travis, the architect, is responsible for highly regarded courses such as Westchester (N.Y.) Country Club, and lesser known gems such as Ekwanok in Vermont, Hollywood in N.J., and Cape Arundel in Maine. His final design, in 1927, was the Country Club of Troy (N.Y.), of which the USGA Museum & Archives has an original blueprint.

 

The Country Club of Troy was Walter Travis's final design project.

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Walter Travis’ final design, in 1927, was the Country Club of Troy (N.Y.), of which the USGA Museum & Archives has an original blueprint.

 

Walter Travis was the founder and first editor of The American Golfer.

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As founder and first editor of The American Golfer, Walter Travis promised readers a magazine dedicated to “the best traditions of the Royal and Ancient game, to promote its best and highest interests… liberal, tolerant and conciliatory in tone and spirit.”