Amateur SpotlightMay 3, 2010

An Oldie And A Goodie

Celebrating its centennial, the Travis Invitational remains a must-play tournament on the mid-amateur circuit

Walter J. Travis bunkered Garden City GC.

Walter J. Travis bunkered Garden City GC.

Billy Edwards is the last member of New York's Garden City GC to win the Walter J. Travis Invitational, capturing the title four times in the 1960s and 1970s against the likes of U.S. Walker Cuppers Dick Siderowf and Jerry Courville Sr. Just shy of 80 years old, Edwards was recently asked to describe the atmosphere at his club, from the metal lockers in the locker room to the dormers above the wood-frame clubhouse and the golf course that stretches out from its back patio, just a few yards from the back-right pin position at 18. When he did, Edwards defined not only the 108-year history of the mid-amateur match-play tournament, but also the essence of Garden City itself. "It's the same place that it was 100 years ago," Edwards says. "It just reeks golf, and that's what you're there for."

For the 130 amateurs who received invitations to The Travis' centennial playing, May 14-16, their trip to Long Island will allow them a chance to channel the event's legacy while being treated to one of the purest, most popular experiences in amateur golf -- right down to the mandatory jacket in the clubhouse.

"It's like you're a member for the week," says Dave Reneker, a two-time club champion at Bel Air CC who is making the pilgrimage from Los Angeles. Perks include no entry fee and getting to play the gem that New York socialite Devereux Emmet designed and Travis bunkered, a layout that has hosted a U.S. Open (1902), four U.S. Amateurs (1900, '08, '13, '36) and a Walker Cup ('24). Edwards tells the story of Rocco Mediate raving to the tour pros assembled at Westchester CC after playing Garden City for the first time, "No bulldozers have been on that property."

Bob Lewis, the U.S. Walker Cup captain in 2003 and 2005, won the Travis' senior division in 2004 before spotting Mike Deo 28 years and winning the regular division on the 23rd hole in 2005. "You can't even believe there's a golf course there," Lewis says. "It's such an old traditional club, but it's like playing a links course in the middle of a city. I fell in love with the place. "

Eoghan O'Connell, who grew up playing links courses in Ireland, had a similar reaction. Just after winning the Coleman Invitational at Seminole GC in 2006, O'Connell took the Travis' title by beating John McClure of Los Angeles CC. "I drove by the entrance five times before I figured out where it was on the corner of a junction," O'Connell says. "It's bizarre. But of all the events you play in, this is the one where the members really get behind it the most. They're on the course watching. They really take pride in the event."

In years past they watched Gary Koch defeat two-time defending champion George Burns on the 18th hole in the 1975 final, and David Eger, last weekend's winner at the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic on the Champions Tour, claim three straight Travis titles in the 1990s. Chris Lange, a former Crump Cup champ and member of Pine Valley's winning team at 2008 World Golf Team Championship, is defending champion. But as Lewis says, the competition isn't what it's all about.

"[Garden City is] just a tremendous place to go and feel the tradition of the game," he says. "There aren't a lot of places like that left in the country."