THE WAN­DER­ING GOLFER: BREN­DAN MOLONEY

Golf Australia - - CONTENTS -

THE pretty lit­tle coun­try town of Mal­don in cen­tral Vic­to­ria is fa­mous as the home of writer Henry Han­del Richardson and Bill Wood­full, cap­tain of the Aus­tralian cricket team in the in­fa­mous “Body­line” se­ries of 1932-33.

On July 23 it will cel­e­brate an­other noted in­hab­i­tant, Wal­ter Travis, with a golf tour­na­ment where a small group of his ad­mir­ers will dress up in pe­riod cos­tume and play with hick­ory shafted clubs.

The fourth of 11 chil­dren, Travis was born in Mal­don in 1862 and died in Amer­ica 90 years ago on July 31, 1927. In his adopted home he was for a time re­garded as one of the best golfers in the world, and he fol­lowed his play­ing ca­reer by es­tab­lish­ing and edit­ing the Amer­i­can Golfer mag­a­zine and de­sign­ing more than a dozen golf cour­ses.

Al­though a handy crick­eter and ten­nis player in his youth, Travis never played golf in Aus­tralia and first picked up a club at the age of 34 in 1896. He also picked up a cou­ple of in­struc­tion books and taught him­self to play. He be­came so good that he won the US Ama­teur Cham­pi­onship in 1900, ‘01 and ‘03, and in 1904 at Royal St Ge­orge’s in Kent be­came the first for­eigner to win the Bri­tish Ama­teur ti­tle.

The win did not go down well with the Poms and per­haps they were still smart­ing from it when they toured Aus­tralia and bowled at the heads of Wood­full and Don Brad­man all those years later. Travis re­called that they had gone out of their way to make him feel un­wel­come in 1904 by giv­ing him a cad­die who was “a nat­u­ral born idiot, and cross-eyed at that”. Of­fi­cials re­fused to let him change the cad­die so he won in spite of him. At the pre­sen­ta­tion Lord North­bourne re­luc­tantly handed over the cup and said he

hoped that “such a dis­as­ter as Mr Travis’ vic­tory would never hit Bri­tish sport again, and that not since the days of the Ro­man oc­cu­pa­tion had the Bri­tish been sub­ject to such an in­dig­nity.”

De­spite this, he had his ad­mir­ers. Harold Hil­ton, the 1892 Bri­tish Open cham­pion and first ed­i­tor of Golf Monthly mag­a­zine wrote: “In style, the Amer­i­can (he was nat­u­ralised around 1888 af­ter ar­riv­ing in 1886 to man­age a hard­ware busi­ness) cham­pion is es­sen­tially what may be termed a made golfer, for his is a style which by the wildest stretch of imag­i­na­tion could not be called or­nate.

“Still, it boasts use­ful at­tributes; it is busi­ness-like and de­ter­mined, and is one in which no en­ergy is wasted. Like all golfers who re­ally scored a suc­cess at the game, he keeps the right el­bow well into the right side, hold­ing the hands very low, like Messrs. Hutch­ings, Fry and G. F. Smith – three of the best ex­am­ples of golfers who have risen to em­i­nence while lack­ing the ad­van­tage of play­ing the game in their youth. The swing of the club is not long – in fact, it might be termed a three-quar­ter swing – but it is suf­fi­cient to get a free ac­tion with the wrist, and al­though Mr. Travis does not ob­tain an ab­nor­mal carry, he nev­er­the­less gets a long roll on the ball, and against the wind in par­tic­u­lar he is beyond the av­er­age as a driver, es­pe­cially as he ap­pears to have mas­tered the art of the sci­en­tific hook­ing.”

Travis also rubbed shoul­ders with Bobby Jones, founder of the US Mas­ters in 1934, who had a sim­i­lar record as an ama­teur, and ac­knowl­edged him for a putting les­son that changed his game. He also played the Old Course at St An­drews with Old Tom Mor­ris while an­other fan was Ben Cren­shaw who said sim­ply: “He de­signed the best greens in the world.” Ef­forts have been made to tally the num­ber of ti­tles Travis won with most agree­ing that it was some­where be­tween 500 and 1,000. He is also said to have played 4,000 cour­ses in his life­time, smok­ing Ri­coro Corona cigars and af­ter­wards en­joy­ing Old Crow whiskey and a game of poker.

At Mal­don next month they will play for the Wal­ter Travis Tro­phy, a Sch­enec­tady put­ter like the one he used to win the Bri­tish ti­tle in 1904, which was do­nated by noted hick­ory club­maker Ross Baker.

Mal­don Golf Club dates from 1908 and al­though Travis, who was ad­mit­ted to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1979, never set foot on the place, he’d no doubt ap­prove of what has been achieved there en­tirely by vol­un­teers.

The 18-hole sand­scrape course is over­looked by Mount Tar­ren­gower and winds its way through stands of beau­ti­ful na­tive trees. While it can­not claim to have pro­duced Travis, mem­bers point to Matt Jager, the grand­son of life mem­ber Har­vey Lof­tus whose home is 50 me­tres from the course. Al­though he hailed from Mel­bourne, Jager played a lot with Lof­tus when he was young and went on to win the 2010 Aus­tralian Ama­teur Cham­pi­onship.

Mal­don GC sec­re­tary Bob Briggs and cap­tain Jeremy Trip­cony with the Wal­ter Travis Tro­phy

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