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Golf History (and More) from an Old Golf Poem about Walter J. Travis

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I am always on the lookout for old golf poetry books that I can afford. Recently I bid on a book published in England in 1905 called The Golf Craze ─ Sketches and Rhymes  by “Cleeke Shotte, Esq.” It was offered by the PBA Galleries in San Francisco. And I won it. The book was actually written by John Hogben, a member of the Duddingston Golf Club in Edinburgh and its captain in 1921.

Included among the rhymes was one titled “To Mr. W. J. Travis ─ Amateur Golf Champion, 1904.” For our purposes, you need to know that Walter J. Travis was born in Australia in January 1862. He came to New York City at age 23. He began playing golf in October 1896, three months short of his 35th birthday. He soon began playing competitively. Now comes the most remarkable part: In 1900, 1901, and 1903 he won the U.S. Amateur Championship; and, in 1904 he became the first American (he was by now a naturalized citizen) to win the British Amateur Championship. He went on to do many other impressive golf-related things before he died in 1927. You can read more about Travis at http://bit.ly/Q0VKvX.

The poem, though a tribute to Travis, raises a question about the “strange putter” that he used. There is also a reference to staying “the mighty war.”

To W. J. Travis
Amateur Golf Champion, 1904

The cry is still “They come!” for we may say
The lust of conquest reigns in U.S.A.
Another Cup goes Westward; ‘tis a shock
We owe, sir, to that aluminium block

That taught your golf-ball all roads lead to Rome,
And sent it straight, and far, and surely home.
There is no name whereby to call the utter
Amazement that we owe to your strange putter.

It was not thought that in our chosen game
A foreign player could make good his claim
Against the prowess of the Britisher,
Without whom neither golf nor golfer were.

Forgive me, for you know the game is ours;
We sowed the seed; the world has reaped the flowers.
Yet, after all, no grudge we owe you, for
The mimic helps to stay the mighty war.

No Frenchman are you, German, or what not
But of our generous cousin-blood begot─
Nay, I forget, for closer still the ties,
Were you not cradled under Austral skies?

The “strange putter” was the so called Schenectady Putter invented by a General Electric engineer in 1902. Travis made the putter famous when he used it in the 1902 U. S. Amateur Championship. The aluminum Schenectady Putter was mallet-headed and center shafted. Travis used it again to win the 1903 U. S. Amateur and, of course, the British Amateur in 1904. In 1910 the R & A, the ruling body for golf in Great Britain, banned the Schenectady Putter and others of similar design. The U.S.G.A. did not follow suit. But still, in light of the current controversy regarding “anchored” putters, it is interesting to note that there is a precedent for a ruling body to ban a class of putters being played.

The reference to a possible future “mighty war” foreshadows the first world war. Ironically, the one reference to the poet John Hogben that I was able to find describes him in June of 1921 presiding over the unveiling of a memorial tablet to commemorate members of his golf club who had died fighting the great war. (See http://bit.ly/NSFski)

If you have a comment, I would be pleased if you would share it below.

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