The first issue of the magazine The American Golfer hit the newsstands in November 1908, a little over 100 years ago. It would fold in 1936 during the Depression.
In the beginning, much of the news provided by the magazine’s correspondents related to amateur golf matches sponsored by local golf clubs in various regions of the country and in Great
Britain. These reports were written under such headings as: “Eastern Department”, “Western Department,” “From the South” and “Foreign Notes.”
Within a year, the local news reports became more local with “Around Philadelphia” and “Pittsburgh Notes” added to chronicle the activities of the golf tycoons Wanamaker, Havemeyer, Carnegie and Frick. As time went on and golf became more popular, more areas, New York State, Ohio, the Pacific Slope, separately reported in as well. This primary focus on amateur golf was gradually replaced with articles on professional golf and golfers and instruction articles by writers and golfers such as O. B. Keeler, Bobby Jones, Bernard Darwin, Tommy Armour and others.
Early issues of The American Golfer also included reports on U.S.G.A. sponsored championships, decisions of the Rules of Golf Committee, descriptions of new golf courses and articles on golf history, and golf course maintenance. And from the beginning, the magazine offered its readers golf poems in every issue.
The first editor of The American Golfer was a transplanted Australian named Walter J. Travis. Grantland Rice, the only other editor of the magazine, wrote of Travis, “In many respects [he] will stand as the most remarkable golfer that ever lived.” Travis began playing golf in late 1896 at the age of 35. He won the first tournament he ever entered about a month later. In 1900 he won his first U.S. Amateur Championship and over the next four years would add two more plus a British Amateur Championship as well. He ended his tournament career by winning the Metropolitan Championship at age 54 in 1915. In this, his last tournament, he beat Jerry Travers, the U.S. Open Champion of the same year.
In addition to his magazine work and his tournament play, Travis designed golf courses and wrote one of the first golf instructions books, Practical Golf, published in 1901. Straight and to the point, Travis began his book with the sentence, “The main object of the game of golf is to get the ball into the hole in the fewest possible number of strokes.” And in his prime, he led by example.
Grantland Rice’s article about Travis is titled “The Old Man.” The poem below is for those of you who can relate to this title and who still believe they can play the game.
I saw a lonely golfer
As I was passing by
And so I hailed this golfer
With an old familiar cry—
“Fore, there!—you ancient golfing man,
I’ll give your game a try!”
This very modest golfer
Was so very, very shy
He hardly dared to bother me,
Who am so young and spry;
But, just to cheer my loneliness,
He’d limp along and try.
I learnt a sorry lesson
From this golfer old and shy,
Who hardly dared to bother me
Because I am so spry.
He made me look like thirty cents—
The old decrepit guy!
When next I hail a golfer
As I am passing by,
If he is over fifty,
And likewise very shy,
You can bet your bottom dollar
I’ll have other fish to fry.
The poem appeared in the January 1916 issue of The American Golfer. And allowing for age inflation, “fifty” would be at least seventy today!