- Feb 10, 1862
- Maldon, Victoria, Australia
- Aug 31, 1927
Ultimately known as the “Grand Old Man” of the early 20th-century golf scene, Travis didn’t even pick up a club until 1896 and he was in his mid-30s, a decade after he had moved to the United States from his native Australia. But he made up for lost time, becoming one of the world’s great amateur players practically overnight. Barely two years into golf, Travis was a semifinalist in the 1898 U.S. Amateur, a tournament he would win in 1900, 1901 and 1903.
Unlike most of his contemporaries, Travis was not a son of high society. His thoroughly middle-class roots - the son of a miner in Australia, he initially worked for a hardware and iron merchant - made him something of an outsider among the aristocracy that dominated the early amateur game. Nevertheless, his game earned him the respect of his peers and the admiration of golf fans.
His first foray into golf course architecture was in 1897, when he assisted architect Tom Bendelow in building a course in Flushing, Queens. But his best-known early work came in 1899 and 1900 at Ekwanok Country Club in Manchester, Vt., which he laid out with veteran Scottish architect John Duncan Dunn.
Walter Travis: selected golf course designs
Among Travis’ many writings, perhaps his most influential piece was “Hazards,” an eight-page treatise published in 1902 in the USGA publication Golf. “Travis argued that interesting and thoughtfully placed bunkers placed generally along the sides but also towards the desired line of play brought interest, intrigue, challenge, and a sense of adventure to a round of golf,” writes golf historian Michael Cirba, in a three-part profile on Travis.
"It is high time we awoke to a proper and appreciative realization of what real golf is - and constructed our courses accordingly.”
Few golfers are aware that Travis actually had some influence at Pinehurst as well. In 1906, he conferred with the great Scot about the potential benefits of toughening up the No. 2 course, proposing some bunkering that was eventually adopted to make it more fearsome. This added teeth helped establish it as one of America’s great destination courses, then and now. No. 2. is a Ross course through and through, but nevertheless, Travis was behind the scenes at a key point in its history.
Travis was involved in two key equipment evolutions in the early American game. He won his first U.S. Amateur with the new “Haskell” golf ball, which replaced gutta percha balls around the turn of the century. And in 1904, Travis won his lone British Amateur title with the new mallet-headed “Schenectady” putter, which would later be outlawed by the R&A, causing a schism between it and the USGA, and a permanent rift between Travis and friend and fellow influential architect C.B. Macdonald.
Today, it is Travis’ courses that represent the clearest link between centuries of American golf. Many of his designs are private, but the semi-private Cape Arundel Golf Club in Kennebunkport, Maine, is a well-preserved example of his work that is open to non-members. And at Sea Island Golf Club in Georgia, Davis Love III’s design team redesigned the Plantation Course in 2019 in part to pay tribute to Travis’ style.
It might be said that Walter Travis’ prime playing and designing days didn’t so much coincide with the birth of great American golf course architecture as encourage it. Though born overseas, he lived the American Dream as well as any golfer of his time.