Travis was a prolific writer who wrote extensively on a variety of golf topics, and was published in the leading sports magazines of the time. His first book, Practical Golf, published in 1901, received rave reviews from The New York Times (6/14/1901) for its depth, thoroughness, and clarity as a reference book. Practical Golf dealt with a variety of topics, including golfing techniques, golf equipment, construction of golf courses, the design and placement of hazards, rules of golf, and conduct of golf competitions. His chapter on "Handicapping" was first published in the July 1901 issue of Golf, and described as "the authoritative treatise on handicapping" of its era. A second book, The Art of Putting, was released in 1904.
In 1908, Travis founded and published The American Golfer magazine. The American Golfer was widely regarded as the most influential golf magazine of its time. Travis, and other authors, used it as an effective voice for their views. Travis stayed at the helm of "The American Golfer" as editor until he turned it over to Grantland Rice in the spring of 1920, and severed his connection with the magazine by the end of 1920.
Travis was not hesitant about trying new equipment in his efforts to improve his game. He was the first to win a major event using the Haskell rubber-cored golf ball—the 1901 U.S. Amateur. As reported in the Travis biography, "The Old Man", Travis had "dabbled with predecessors of the Haskell ball, but kept his involvement under wraps until shortly before the tournament" and he "had developed a feel for this type of ball with practice and was not afraid to debut it at the championship". As Labbance reports, "Travis's bold move had not only prompted a change in golf balls but a change in golf as well". It sounded the death knell for the gutta-percha ball, created the need for inserts in the face of wooden clubs to prevent splitting, and soon led to calls for the lengthening of golf courses due to the longer shots made possible by the Haskell.
Travis was innovative in his approach to golf course design. In a Practical Golf chapter on hazards, Travis was critical of the ubiquitous and, to him, unappealing cross-bunkers that stretched all the way across the fairway at predictable intervals. Rather, he argued for more strategically and visually appealing bunkers placed along the edges of fairways, stating, "Hazards arranged somewhat upon the lines indicated, rather than slavishly following the system adopted on the great majority of our courses, would, I think, make the game vastly more interesting, and more provocative of better golf all around."
Many other innovative steps were taken by Travis throughout his career. His use of the Schenectady center-shafted putter in his British Amateur victory attracted considerable comment and controversy. Some six years later, the Royal and Ancient would issue a ban on all mallet-headed putters, including the Schenectady. Travis conducted careful experiments with varying lengths of driver shafts, often using a driver with a shaft as long as 50 inches in his search for greater distance off the tee. At his home course, Garden City Golf Club, Travis installed smaller sized cups on the practice green to help hone the accuracy of his putting.
Though he was innovative with his equipment, and practiced incessantly, Travis disdained the notion of physical training after his first trial of abstaining from smoking and drinking during an 1897 tournament. He reported that he "putted like a baby", and would never again depart from his usual habits.
Throughout his career as a journalist, Travis produced numerous comprehensive and detailed golf instructional essays. Given the reputation he earned as an outstanding putter, it was natural that many of his articles dealt with his well-proven principles of putting. In one of his earliest articles, Travis wrote "The sum of it all is, that my experience shows conclusively that the really good putter is largely born, not made, and is inherently endowed with a good eye and a tactile delicacy of grip which are denied the ordinary run of mortals. At the same time, less favored players may, by the adoption of methods which stood the test of actual experience, materially improve their game." His effectiveness as an instructor was demonstrated in the following example:
In 1916, while observing a 14-year-old Bobby Jones, Travis is reported to have commented that Jones' putting methods were "faulty". There are accounts that suggest that young Jones held Travis in high esteem and eagerly agreed to meet Travis the following morning at 8 am for a putting lesson. Unfortunately, Jones and his party awoke late and were over an hour behind schedule. When they arrived, Travis had left. The lesson did not occur until years later, when Travis suggested a change in Jones's grip, altered his stance and recommended a longer and more sweeping stroke. A key point was to try to "drive an imaginary tack into the back of the ball". There are some who have expressed the opinion that the Travis putting lesson helped Jones to become one of the great putters of all time.
The Schenectady Putter and Walter Travis will be linked together forever in the history of golf. The Schenectady Putter was invented by Arthur F. Knight, a General Electric engineer, who created a model reflecting his ideas in the summer of 1902 at his home course, Mohawk Golf Club in Schenectady, NY. It is noteworthy that Devereux Emmet, the designer of Mohawk Golf Club, was the first golfer of note to be shown Mr. Knight's new aluminum putter while he was visiting Mohawk. Emmet asked to take the putter with him back to his home course, Garden City Golf Club, where he proposed to "play with it, show it at Garden City and at Myopia and will then send it back to you". It is reported that "A day or two later Mr. Knight received a telegram from Mr. W. J. Travis ordering a putter like Mr. Emmet's, and one was hurriedly made and forwarded". Later, a second putter was sent to Travis which was declared "the best putter I have ever used." Travis used this putter to finish second in the U.S. Open Championship held at Garden City Golf Club. "Within a week thereafter, Mr. Knight received over one hundred letters from prominent golfers asking for a putter like Mr. Travis's". Knight was not prepared for such a response and was particularly concerned about what to call it. It is reported that he was "anxious to call it the 'Travis' putter'." He arranged a meeting with Mr. Emmet and Mr. Travis. Emmet had consistently referred to it as the "Schenectady Putter" and Travis agreed that Schenectady would be "a more suitable and lasting name for the putter than his own, in which view Mr. Knight rather reluctantly concurred." After his initial success with the Schenectady Putter in 1902, Travis used the putter to win the 1903 U.S. Amateur and then, of course, the 1904 British Amateur. The putter became an instant commercial success.
Schenectady putters, marked "Patent Applied For", were produced prior to its patent on March 24, 1903. The Schenectady Putter was among the "centered-shafted, mallet-headed implements" that were banned by the Royal & Ancient Golf Club Committee on the Rules of golf in 1910, in response to a request from a golf club in New Zealand. The R&A's ban included the Schenectady Putter. There is no evidence that Travis's use of the Schenectady to win the 1904 British Amateur contributed to this controversial ruling, though the myth persists. The ruling became controversial because, for the first time, an R&A ruling was not wholly adopted by the United States Golf Association. The USGA agreed with the banning of mallet-headed clubs but ruled that the Schenectady Putter, and other center-shafted putters did not fall within this category. The R&A ban on center-shafted putters was finally removed in 1951.
Long after he had retired from active competition, Travis agreed to a match with an old opponent, Findlay S. Douglas, to support the war effort of the Red Cross. The match was held at Garden City Golf Club. Following the match, Travis donated his Schenectady Putter to the Red Cross fund-raising auction. A member of Garden City Golf Club, Lewis Lapham, had the winning bid of $1,700 and immediately donated the Schenectady to Garden City Golf Club where it would remain for the next 34 years. In 1952, it was taken from the club, and never returned.
Travis with 1901 U.S. Amateur trophy and rubber-cored ball
Travis became a student of the layout and design features of golf courses early in his golfing career as the result of trips to Great Britain. In late 1901, Travis wrote an article, published in the Bulletin of the USGA, titled, "Impressions of British Golf". He observed that in "England and Scotland ... you have golf—golf in its best and highest form". He referred to the "radical difference in their physical configurations in relation to our courses." He was impressed with the lack of trees, the number and placement of bunkers, the natural undulations of the greens, and the quality of turf. In a later article, Travis presented his ideas for the design of a "first class" golf course. In this article, Travis emphasized the importance of soil that provides natural drainage, land that is more or less undulating—neither flat nor hilly ... but a judicious blending of the two extremes and trees of any kind are non-existent—as they should be, and holes should be so laid out as to provide for the playing of every conceivable sort of stroke, with every club in one's bag. He noted, diversity of play should be the aim of the architect of a first-class course.
Some have characterized Travis as a "penal designer". However, a careful study of his writings leads to the conclusion that he was a firm believer in "thinking" and "strategic" golf; with the golfer given opportunities to avoid difficulty with well-considered and executed shots.
Travis's first project as a golf course architect was his collaboration with John Duncan Dunn in the 1899 design of Ekwanok Country Club in Vermont.However, much of Travis's early acclaim and notoriety as a golf course designer may be traced to his extensive remodeling of the Garden City Golf Club's Devereux Emmet course, that was unveiled when Garden City Golf Club hosted the 1908 U.S. Amateur Championship. In all, nearly 50 golf courses bear his mark, either as an original design, or as a remodeling project. Through Travis's consultations with the original designers, several noted courses reflect his influence, including Pine Valley Golf Club, National Golf Links of America, and Pinehurst No. 2.
Travis could lay claim to being the first "U.S. Open Doctor" with his remodeling of the Country Club of Buffalo and Columbia Country Club courses just prior to their hosting the U.S. Open in 1912 and 1921, respectively. Travis remained active as a designer to the end, making a last visit to inspect the construction of his course at the Country Club of Troy a month before his death on July 31, 1927.
Travis died in Denver, Colorado on July 31, 1927. His induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1979 was in recognition of his legacy as the first three-time champion in the U.S. Amateur Championship and the first non-Brit to win the British Amateur Championship. His willingness to experiment led to landmark changes in the landscape of golf equipment, especially his use of the Haskell golf ball to win the 1901 U.S. Amateur Championship. His most enduring legacy may be the many premier golf courses he designed or remodelled throughout his career. Four Travis-designed or redesigned courses are regularly included in Golfweek's rankings of America's top 100 "Classic" courses: Country Club of Scranton, Ekwanok Country Club (assisted John Duncan Dunn), Westchester Country Club's West course, Hollywood Golf Club (redesigned Mackie's work), and Garden City Golf Club (remodeled Emmet's work).
Other existing, original Travis-designed courses include: Camden Country Club, Country Club of Troy, Cherry Hill Club, Garden City Country Club, East Potomac Park Golf Club, Jekyll Island Golf Club (Great Dunes), Lochmoor Club (assisted by John Sweeney), Lookout Point Country Club, North Jersey Country Club, Orchard Park Country Club, Pennhills Club, Round Hill Club, Spring Brook Country Club, Stafford Country Club, The Golf Club at Equinox, and Westchester Country Club (South and Short courses).
Noted courses that were extensively redesigned by Travis include: Canoe Brook Country Club (North Course), Cape Arundel Golf Club, Columbia Country Club (with Harban and White), Grand Mere Golf Club in Quebec, Country Club of Buffalo (now Grover Cleveland Golf Course), Sunningdale Country Club, Lakewood Country Club, Country Club of New Canaan, Louisville Country Club, Onondaga Golf and Country Club, Yahnundasis Golf Club, and White Beeches Golf and Country Club. Through consultations, he influenced the design of: Pinehurst No. 2, National Golf Links of America, Pine Valley Golf Club, Cobbs Creek Muni, and Park Country Club in Buffalo.
In 1999, Golf World magazine ranked Travis second in its Top Ten List of Underrated Golf Course Architects.