Travis International Celebreates the Amateur Game

GARDEN CITY, NEW YORK | The PGA Tour just played the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio, while the women pros teed it up in something called the Bell Micro LPGA Classic in Mobile, Ala. But to purists, the most compelling competition staged last weekend was a gentleman’s tournament at a gentleman’s club that is home to one of America’s great courses.
I am referring to the Walter J. Travis Invitational, which is held each May at the Garden City Golf Club outside New York City. And it deserves recognition not only for the wonderful way it celebrates the essence of amateur golf but also for its rich history, as this year marked the 100th playing of the event. That makes the Travis one of the oldest golf competitions in America.
But the tournament is distinguished by much more than its age. In fact, it must be considered one of the most esteemed events in a game full of them.
For the legacy it represents. For the players it attracts. And for exuding an aura that, in the words of Tournament Chairman Pat Fogarty, is all about “the spirit of friendship, the integrity of fair play and the keen sense of competition.”
Founded in 1899, the Garden City Golf Club annually invites more than 100 players to compete in the Travis, which is named for the player who won the U.S. Amateur three times, the British Amateur once and also remodeled the celebrated Devereux Emmet layout in the early 1900s.
A club member sponsors each contestant, and entrants are selected as much for being good guys as good players. The majority has qualified for multiple USGA events over the years, and more than a few have Mid-Am medals and Walker Cup jackets. They pay no entry fees, and for one week, are de facto members of what is rightfully regarded as one of the more exclusive clubs in the country. They play practice rounds on the 6,800-yard course that has hosted a U.S. Open, four U.S. Amateurs and a Walker Cup. Afterward, they sit at tables arrayed under a green awning that covers much of the terrace behind the clubhouse, savoring amber ales and icy Transfusions as they watch golfers play the last hole of the par-73 track, a testy par-3 with a devilish green famous for the heartbreaks it so often induces when matches are on the line.
The Travis officially begins with a Friday qualifying round, and that evening Garden City hosts a cocktail party for members and competitors in its clubhouse. The dark wood paneling, shelves of classic golf books and historic photographs made the building feel like a golf museum – which, in many ways, it is. On one wall is a case containing one of Old Tom Morris’ clubs, for example. On another are clubs once used by Laurie Auchterlonie, who won the 1902 Open that was played at Garden City.
A plaque listing the past winners of club championships speaks even more loudly to the place Garden City holds in golf history. It announces that Walter Travis took that honor every year but one from 1900 to 1907. And the winner the one time during that stretch he did not prevail? The great course architect and so-called Father of Golf in America, Charles Blair Macdonald.
Attendees wear sports jackets for Friday’s fete, as Garden City requires they always be worn outside the locker room. Most players know each other from amateur circuit events, and they mingle with a sort of boyish energy that conveys a very simple truth – there is no place they would rather be.
The field is cut to 72 after qualifying, and match play begins the following morning, on an inland-links-style course perfectly suited for that brand of competition, with par 4s that range in length from 302 yards to 441. Not surprisingly, much of the attention is focused on the championship flight; the winner receives the Travis Bowl and joins a heady group of victors that includes George Burns III, Gary Koch, Jerry Courville Sr., Dick Siderowf and Travis himself, who captured the event three times before he died in 1927, and before the club decided to rename what had been known as the Spring Invitational after its most famous member. But the other brackets merit interest as well, especially one called Legends, which is comprised of some of the better senior Amateurs in the land.
Ask any Travis invitee what he likes about the event, and he answers pretty much as 15-time competitor Casey Alexander does: “Being a part of such a wonderful club for a week is very special, and Garden City members go out of their ways to make you feel welcome,” he says. “I also love the opportunity to compete among top amateur players like this, and to be among people who love the game the way I do.”
A three-time club champion at Garden City who has competed in the Travis since 1986, Fogarty nods his head when he listens to Alexander’s comments.
“The founders of this club established traditions that have lasted well over time and have resulted in our long having a membership devoted to golf and dedicated to maintaining those traditions,” he says.
The Travis is one of those traditions, and it is thanks to that attitude at Garden City that its annual invitational has now been played 100 times – and will no doubt be played for many, many years to come.


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