Feature Interview with Ed Homsey
September, 2021

Ed Homsey is a combination Okie/Jayhawk who, after graduating from Baylor University in 1955, headed east for graduate studies at the University of Rochester.  On an earlier trip there, he met his to-be wife, Shirley and they have two wonderful children and three beautiful granddaughters. Prior to golf, Shirley and Ed were champion road rallyists of Triumph TR-3 and 4s, competing in national rallies from Virginia to Wisconsin.  After their fill of that sport, they were bit by the golf bug. They dealt with the bag lines and 6 hour rounds on their favorite public course until  joining in 1975 Stafford CC, a Walter Travis design.  Shirley was a regular contender for the club’s women’s championship, winning it twice.  The two of them won the couple’s championship a few times as well. In 1997, Ed became the Club Historian followed by a term as Club President in 1999.

In 1994, while serving on the Golf Committee, Ed developed a proposal for an inter-club competition that would celebrate the role that Travis played in golf. Representatives from Orchard Park CC, in Orchard Park, NY, and Lookout Point CC, in southern Ontario met in the fall of 1994 to discuss the proposed ‘Travis Cup.’ There was great enthusiasm, and with a few tweaks, The Travis Cup would proceed.  During that meeting, one of the participants suggested the start of a Travis Society.  The rest is history. Ed has been the Travis Society historian from the beginning. 

1. What is the mission of the Walter J. Travis Society? When and how was it founded? 

The Walter J. Travis Society’s bylaws include this mission statement: To promote an awareness and appreciation of the accomplishments of Walter J. Travis, and the characteristics, history, and traditions associated with the golf courses of his design.

The germ of an idea to form a Travis Society was planted in 1994 during a meeting of representatives from three Western New York and Southern Ontario country clubs (Stafford CC, Orchard Park CC, and Lookout Point CC) that feature Travis-designed golf courses. The meeting had been called to consider my proposal for an event that would involve competition among members of clubs with Travis-designed golf courses. I called it The Travis Cup. During the course of this meeting, George Nichols, a Lookout Point Country Club member, suggested that we should start a Travis Society. Mr. Nichols’ suggestion was met with considerable enthusiasm and an agreement to pursue the idea. For the next 2-3 years, various steps were taken to establish the Travis Society as a viable organization, including extensive efforts to locate Travis’s descendants in order to obtain their consent for such an organization.

During a call to the former Ralph Miller Golf Library, I was advised to contact Bob Labbance, then Editor of the Golf Collector’s Society’s bulletin, to help get the word out about the Travis Society. I joined the GCS, and immediately wrote a letter to Mr. Labbance. His reply letter is one of my prized collections and was the start of a treasured friendship and a significant era of the Travis Society’s existence, culminating in the publication of the Travis biography, The Old Man, by Bob Labbance. I had the special honor of working closely with Bob during the production of the book, providing details of Travis’s life as well as several images that were used in the book.

The only sour note concerning the book was the poor design job done by the publisher. They gave little creative attention to the book and left out the Tom Doak foreword. But, The Old Man still remains an authoritative source of Travis biographical information and represents one of the Travis Society’s finest moments. (The Travis Society has the remaining inventory of the book, and would be happy to sell a copy, or more.) It should be noted that, in addition to the financial support of the Travis Society, each of the Travis Cup clubs donated a sizeable amount towards the cause. In fact, they made it possible. The clubs were Stafford CC, Orchard Park CC, Lookout Point, CC, Pennhills Club, and Cherry Hill Club.

Prior to the publication of The Old Man, the Travis Society was officially established as a viable organization. It was incorporated in the State of New York in July 1999 as The Walter J. Travis Society, Inc, and immediately began attracting individual members from the ranks of golf course architects, golf course superintendents, members of clubs with Travis designed courses, and others wishing to support our endeavor.

As sort of a side note, I want to tell you about an incredibly fortuitous event. As I mentioned above, we spent a lot of time trying to find descendants of Travis. We learned that he had a daughter and a son. Well, one day, not long after we “met”, Bob Labbance called me and said, “Guess who stopped by my office today?” “Who?”, said I. “Walter J. Travis’s granddaughter”, replied Bob!! Elise Anne “Winkie” Roessler, Travis’s granddaughter lives in Barton, VT, and Bob lived in Montpelier, VT. Winkie had read an article that Bob had written about her grandfather and stopped by his office, as she was passing through Montpelier, to thank him. That was the start of another great friendship for each of us. For several years, Winkie would come to the western New York area to attend the Travis Cup events and was always a delightful, gracious, and immensely popular guest. She was pleased and excited about having an organization formed to honor her grandfather, whom she never met. However, she knew and enjoyed her grandmother, and was aware of her grandfather’s career and fame.

In 2002, I was introduced to Albert J. Wright III, longtime member and historian at the Country Club of Buffalo, and the great-grandson of Albert J. Wright, Esq, brother-in-law of Walter J. Travis. Bert and I have spent considerable time, over the years, sharing information of historic interest and value. It is likely that Bert’s great-grandfather was instrumental in Travis being asked to improve the CC of Buffalo’s course prior to its hosting the 1912 U.S. Open. According to Bert’s research, Travis “revamped” all of the bunkering. Travis and his wife, made frequent trips to Buffalo, from their home in Garden City, Long Island, to visit her sister, wife of Albert J. Wright, Esq. Over the years, both Winkie and Bert were very popular and warmly welcomed guests at the Travis Cup event.

2. Who else deserves a shout out for the Society’s continued well-being? 

I want to recognize, and applaud, those who supported and contributed to the founding, growth, and continuation of the Walter J. Travis Society. Original participants included: Gord McInnis, Lookout Point CC golf pro, Archie Hood and George Nichols, LPCC members; Max Mason, Jr., Chris Sayre, and Don Haefele, Stafford CC members; Mark Kirk, Orchard Park pro, Don Fuhrman and Tim Minahan, Orchard Park CC members. Soon after, the following joined us and made significant contributions: John McDonnell of OPCC and Dick Obermeyer and Lew Zande from Pennhills Club. Dale Schaefer, of OPCC, was our stalwart first President, who was great at keeping us focused on our goal, and Tom Snodgrass, from Lookout Point, who joined in 1997, and became Secretary in 2001. Steve Kubiak, of Pennhills Club, became a part of the group in 2003 and is now the Archivist who has created a complete Travis competition record, and an inventory of the Travis Society’s collection of Travis memorabilia. For several years, long-time Travis Society member, Skip Lamont, has served as our Treasurer.

Ralph Garnish of Stafford CC, join the group in 1998, and immediately became highly active in various Society matters. He succeeded Dale Schaefer as President in 2005—a position he still holds. In addition to his updating and improving the Travis Society’s official documents, Ralph has established significant contacts with other golf societies, attracting several individuals who seem destined to carry the Travis Society mission forward. With Ralph’s announcement of his impending retirement, Chip Capraro, a long-time society member, and golf course architectural history buff, has been appointed successor to take effect when Ralph’s retirement officially occurs.

Others, whose friendship and service to the Travis Society were greatly enjoyed and appreciated, included Bill Lyons and Charlie Yeager, of Cherry Hill Club, who joined us in the early 2000s and became active participants.

3. Who compromises the Water Travis Society today?

The Travis Society’s membership roster includes 22 Member Clubs with Travis courses and around one hundred individual memberships.

4. What has it accomplished that makes you most proud?

From the earliest days of the Society, the awarding of scholarships was a major goal. We finally accomplished that goal in 2008. As Scholarship Chairman, I was excited by the response to our nation-wide advertisement of the scholarship. In 2009, we had forty-seven applicants from throughout the country who were pursuing careers in professional golf management, golf course superintendency, and golf course architecture, or were applying as an amateur golfer. That program continues and is a highlight of the Travis Society’s existence.

I am also proud of all that we have accomplished in our research of Walter J. Travis. We have amassed a vast collection of information about Travis and have been able to serve as the public spokesman for Walter J. Travis. As I review the reports that I presented at each meeting of the Travis Society Executives over the years as Travis Society Historian, I am impressed by the number and variety of individuals and/or organizations that contacted the Society, from Australia to Great Britain, and in between; authors seeking information about Travis, individuals and organizations seeking information about Travis, clubs with Travis courses asking for information, etc. Serving as the spokesman for Walter J. Travis has been a pleasure.

Many of our members would pick the annual Travis Society member outings as a significant accomplishment. We are incredibly grateful to those several Member Clubs who have served as host for the Travis Society outings.

For a number of years, Rudy Zocchi, our great friend, colleague, and strong advocate for Walter J. Travis, dedicated his time and efforts to seeking information about Travis. For several weeks he made a daily trip from his home in Poughkeepsie, NY to Far Hills, N.J. where he spent the day searching the files/collection of the USGA Library. He exhausted the online newspaper sources with results of searches that filled several large binders and boxes. Beyond those efforts, he donated a large number of club histories and other books that were found online. Sadly, Rudy passed away in 2017. Rudy developed the early versions of the record of Travis competition results.

5. What catalysts got Travis into architecture?

An interesting and challenging question! In March 1897, the New York Sun published a brief article describing a 36-hole match between Tom Bendelow and Walter J. Travis. The article stated, “In the morning Travis and Bendelow journeyed to the links of the Flushing Athletic Club and designed the course.” If this article were accurate, and given Travis’ analytical mind, I would expect that the experience with Bendelow was fascinating—and provoking for Travis. This occasion may have provided a spark for Travis’s career as a golf course designer.

Another spark likely was Travis’s 1899 trip to Manchester, VT, to inspect a piece of property that his friend, and Manchester summer resident, James Taylor, was considering for a golf course. John Duncan Dunn accompanied Travis. They agreed that the property had immense potential for a golf course, leading Taylor to immediately purchase the property. Dunn and Travis began working together on the layout of the course. Reports indicate that after Dunn returned to New York, Travis remained during the Fall of 1899 overseeing the construction of the golf course and adjusting its routing. The course became the centerpiece of Ekwanok Country Club, and I believe that the experience whetted Travis’s appetite for the design of golf courses.

However, I think that the most significant catalyst was his 1901 golf trip to England and Scotland that introduced him to golf courses with characteristics that he considered “true golf links”. The article he wrote upon returning home revealed an ability to identify and analyze specific features of a golf course in terms of their impact on the golfer. The trip opened his eyes to what was possible. Soon, he was putting his ideas on paper, e.g. The chapter in his 1901 book, Practical Golf titled “The Construction and Upkeep of Courses”. Though he did not immediately get into golf course design, between 1901 and 1916, there were several occasions when he was consulted, and there was the 9-hole course he designed in 1904 for the Mount Pocono Golf and Country Club in Stroudsburg, PA. Recent reports indicate that course no longer exists.

6. How many courses did he touch?

We know of fifty courses that Travis designed or remodeled. There were another twenty-one golf courses (that we know of) where he was involved as a consultant. You will find a listing of Travis courses on the Travis Society website: travissociety.com/directory-of-travis-golf-course-projects/

7. Let’s talk about his greens, some of the best the game has ever seen. Is it as simple as he was a great putter and therefore he took delight in building great greens? So many of his greens are unique and ‘push the envelope’, surely he lavished extra attention in their creation?

I do not believe that there is a 1:1 connection between Travis’s skill as a putter and his skill as a designer of greens, though I am sure it isn’t totally co-incidental. As with other aspects of the game, whether playing it or designing its field of play, Travis had some very definite ideas about putting greens that he presented in several articles, beginning with his July 1900 article in the magazine Outing. In that article, he expressed his belief 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.” He also confessed that it took him some time to realize that “in a perfect round of golf nearly half the number of strokes is absorbed in these little putts on the green.” At that point, “I gave my whole mind to a solution of the problem.” His deadly putting came about from his detailed analysis and dedicated practice (recall his use of small cups on the putting green at Garden City Golf Club).

I believe his design of greens was greatly influenced by his 1901 trip to England and Scotland where he observed greens reflecting the contours of the land. Shortly after returning from this trip, he authored an article titled “Impressions of British Golf” that was published in the December 1901 issue of Golf. The overall impact of this trip can be found in the first paragraph, where he had this to say, “To visit the principal links in England and Scotland is a liberal education in itself……Naturally, the whole thing to me has been a source of the keenest kind of enjoyment, and incidentally, to a certain extent, more or less of a revelation and surprise……The greens are usually just as nature made them, more or less undulating, some in hollows, others on small plateaus.” In his 1909 American Golfer article titled “Constituents of a Good Course”, he stated that in the design of greens, “the natural contour of the ground should be preserved.” And, he stressed the need for “diversity”.

In that article, he suggested that “out of the eighteen greens, I would suggest three fairly flat, two or three gently sloping, one or two on the punch-bowl order, two or three of the plateau type, and the rest more or less undulating.” In his 1908 review of the newly opened Salisbury Links, in Garden City Long Island, he dedicated a very brief paragraph to the greens, i.e. “Nearly all of the greens are of an undulating character, some, perhaps a little too much so. Nearly all these undulations are artificial, but so cleverly constructed as not to suggest their artificiality.”

I would argue that, in his design of greens, like other facets of his life, Travis’s approach was very deliberate, analytic, and driven by a set of well-developed principles and practices.

8. How much writing did Travis do? Where can it be found?

A great question. I do not believe that sufficient attention is given to Travis’s remarkable career as a writer. During my efforts to create a comprehensive bibliography of Travis’s journalism, I have become acutely aware of the magnitude and breadth of his writing career. It began in earnest in 1900 when he produced a series of monthly instructional articles that were published in Golf. Also in 1900, Travis authored an article on putting that was published in the Outing magazine. The following year, the first edition of his book, Practical Golf, was published. A second edition of Practical Golf came out in February of 1902, and a third edition in 1909. In 1904, Travis joined Jack White, 1904 British Open Champ, in producing the booklet titled The Art of Putting. Other examples include the several articles published in the magazine, Country Life in America, and at least one article that appeared in Colliers.

In 1908, Travis founded The American Golfer, a magazine that was published monthly. He served as its Editor until 1920 when he sold the magazine, and Grantland Rice became Editor. During his time as Editor, Travis produced editorials and the “Around the 19th Hole” column each month. In addition, most, if not all, issues of the magazine included a major article by Travis. It was an impressive record of journalism and one during which he addressed many golf-related topics, such as: golf equipment, golf instruction, golf course design, rules and etiquette of golf, the care and maintenance of golf courses, etc.

In 1920, after Travis left The American Golfer, the magazine published a series of monthly autobiographical articles by Travis titled “Twenty Years of Golf”. Finally, though perhaps not last, there was his interesting article titled “Undulating Sand Greens” that was published in a 1923 Golf Illustrated issue.

9. What are some examples of his using The American Golfer to help effect change in architecture?

In the Sept. 1909 issue, he wrote a piece detailing changes at Garden City Golf Club. In a section dealing with the length of the course, he stated, “Golf, real golf, does not wholly consist of long swiping anyway. To lay out a course which would furnish sufficient diversity of play and yet allow the exceptionally long hitter freedom from trouble from the tee under exceptional conditions of hard ground and favoring wind….it would mean a total playing length of about 6,800 yards—but as I have already stated, long hitting isn’t everything, not the Alpha and Omega of golf by any means—.”

The May 1909 American Golf article titled “Constituents of a Good Course”, mentioned earlier, presented his ideas about specific features of golf courses. In the Feb. 1911 issue, he provided guideline for the number of holes of each range of length, e.g. 2 holes from 500 to 550 yards, 4 short holes of 90 to 160 yards, etc.

Travis became a huge fan and promoter of reversible courses. In the August 1915 American Golfer, he presented his ideas about the advantages of a reversible course and gave Ekwanok CC as an example.

There are several other examples that could be mentioned where he authored articles addressing the design of specific golf course features.

10. What additional literature do you recommend to people who want to learn more about Travis?

For a relatively quick, but accurate overview, I’d suggest the Travis Society’s website, www.travissociety.com, where you’ll find essays about six facets of Travis’s life. Of course, a more comprehensive source is Bob Labbance’s book, The Old Man, of which the Travis Society has new copies for sale. Go to the Travis Society website for specific information about purchasing a book.

>>>continued>>>