The Early Days of Pinehurst

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In a pattern that continues a century on, it became necessary accommodate the almost feverish enthusiasms of guests so keen upon the fad which had been dismissed by Tufts lieutenants. By 1907 what was called “the New Course” made its debut. The early version – which was subsequently named No. 2 – received considerable design attention by a golfing genius who emigrated to the States from…Australia.

Virtually all of golf’s notables in this era (and every succeeding era) have made their pilgrimage to Tufts inadvertent golfing kingdom. This is another early theme which is still being played out in the same fashion it has since the beginning. That is, since the 19th Century the area has been a magnet for remarkable people who have gone on to make it their home – thus taking the social world of this remote area to a quantum level one would be hard pressed to match in the overall region. Let’s have a look at Henry Longhurst’s take on the matter:

“In clearings off these roads, each protected from the prying eye of the populace by a fringe of pines, are specimens of those lovely, white Colonial-style American homes familiar to the British film-goer. General Marshall rents one. Dick Chapman, the British Amateur champion, and his conversational wife, Eloise have another, and so has the hospitable Earl of Carrick.

As to the others, what with Singer Sewing Machines, Heinz’s 57 Varieties (surely more by now?), Somebody’s Ball Bearings and Somebody Else’s Motors, the guide on my privately conducted tour might have been reciting from a handbook of the industrial nobility.”

The Marshall he was referring to would be the Marshall who saved a place called…Europe. Truman and Eisenhower used to visit Liscombe Cottage cottage to pay homage to this colossus. The park in front of the clubhouse is named for him…even though he didn’t actually play golf.

The list of striking individuals who have gravitated toward the area goes on and on – as do the ramifications. However, there once was an Australian who spent a great deal of time in Pinehurst that deserves consideration in regard to the earliest years.

Walter Travis - Courtesy of Wikipedia

Walter Travis was born in that beautiful country in 1862. At the age of 23 he made the great journey to his new homeland in the States. Twelve years later – most reluctantly and only out of social and business obligation – Travis had his first go at the sport. Within seven months he had won his first tournament. He went on to win dozens more. Among them were four majors – three U.S. Amateurs and one British Amateur. Travis was the man a young Bobby Jones sought out for putting advice – and learned the inverse overlap from. This is what Jones had to say in his autobiography Golf is My Game:

“The Grand Old Man of the putting green, certainly has better right than anyone to be recognized as the master putter of all time.

It is a little difficult to believe that a man who played on such an all time level could match those competitive achievements in other areas of the game…but that was the case.

According to the USGA:

“After his playing career ended, Travis put his permanent stamp on the game, writing books and articles, one in fact that helped shape the course rating and handicap systems used today. He later became editor of the highly acclaimed The American Golfer, viewed in some circles as the best-ever golf magazine.

Moreover, he proved to be a genius and a visionary when it came to course architecture, ranking with Charles B. Macdonald as one of the most influential men in the early days of golf. “

Travis was an authentic golfing renaissance man and fin de siècle Pinehurst was the ideal place for such a person. As a very close friend of the Tufts family and a frequent playing partner with Donald Ross, Travis was a key member of this Southern golfing society. It is generally conceded that he gave no small amount of input to Tufts and Ross regarding the earliest iteration of No. 2.

Courtesy of the Tufts Archives

To get a sense of what occurred in that first era lets consider these highly provocative words directly from an article Travis wrote in a 1920 edition of American Golfer:

“A history of the number two or championship course at Pinehurst may not be inappropriate. For several years I had been at Mr. Tufts, the proprietor, to make this an exacting test. The course was originally designed for ladies. The distances on the hole were fairly good and capable of extension, but there wasn’t a single bunker. It was so tame and insipid that there was practically no play over it. Everyone preferred the number one course, which, comparatively speaking, had some teeth to it.

The suggestion did not meet with favor. Mr. Tufts had an idea that the class of players who visited Pinehurst did not want anything too severe. I thought otherwise. Finally in 1906 I won him around to my way of thinking and he gave me carte blanche to go ahead. I knew the changes that I had in mind would result in a great uproar at the start, and I didn’t feel like shouldering the whole responsibility, so I suggested that Donald Ross and I should go over the course together and, without conferring, each propose a separate plan. I knew what the result would be.

For some time I had been pouring into Donald’s ears my ideas; in point of fact, I had urged him to take up the laying out of courses, as with the certain development of the game a fine future was assured for having a bent in this line. In those days Willie Dunn had ceased to figure and his successor, although credited with laying out some hundreds of courses all over the country, really had no genius for the work. Donald heeded my advice…and golf has been tremendously benefited by his many very fine creations since. However, I am digressing.

At that time he was merely an echo of my own views regarding the fundamental principles of golf course architecture. Whereas the Willie Dunn system called for compulsory carries for both tee and second shots, I was an advocate of optional carries; that is to say, I believe, in the principle of giving the player a choice of carrying a bunker or playing safe. But if he elected to play safe on the tee shot, he would be confronted with the same problem on his second shot.

So I felt quite certain of what would happen. Donald and I were a unit. And the course was bunkered accordingly, with one exception, and that was on the twelfth hole. Here I planned three avenues of play, down the middle, narrow with a big bunker a hundred and eighty yards from the tee, leaving a clear second to the green; at the right quite wide, the second shot having to carry over a bunker at the edge of the green. It was quite revolutionary in those day, such a big carry, but it was decided to construct the hole as outlined. When he came to it, however, Donald’s courage failed him; he weakly compromised by making a straightaway affair of it, with a bunker at the right some hundred and sixty yards from the tee, which didn’t mean anything.

What was the result of this stiffening up? Men who ordinarily did number one course in the lower 80’s tackled number two. Up ran their scores in the high 90’s, possibly over the century mark. Disgusted, they emphatically declared they were through—it was a course only for experts. But— and here lies the lure of the game, challenging the player to match his skill against difficulties—a little sober reflection, pique, never-say-die, or something or other rushed those same men over to number two the first thing the following day, in a laudable effort, also mostly vain, to beat that 97 of the previous day. And at it they kept day after day. Whereas the problem had been how to get players from number one to number two, now a new one presented itself—how to get them back to number one—which was finally solved in a way by stiffening up number one.”

The main thing one can deduce from this striking passage is that it is unlikely Mr. Travis suffered from a shortage of ego. Indeed, it is the imperious tone (“he was merely an echo of my own views”) which draws the credibility of his statements into question. Any discriminating reader would view his words with no small measure of skepticism. It is interesting to note that genius and graciousness are not the most compatible of personal characteristics. Some manage to pull it off – but that is the exception rather than the rule.

However amplified his views may have been, there is no denying the fact that his panoramic vision and capability far exceed that which we are accustomed to today.  There are only a few contemporary golfers who have been able to transpose their brilliance from one area to another – most notably Arnold Palmer who matched his playing prowess with a personal magnetism so great that he almost single handedly moved the quaint Scottish game from the elite fringes of society to the center of world culture.

That this chap could have used a measure or two more in the department of circumspection will have to be taken within a larger context. That context being he did have extraordinary talents and he contributed the full measure of this to the game that means so much to so many.

Regarding the story at hand, this little incendiary which Travis tossed over the wall of American Golfer does highlight the fact that the story of the early days is more complex and colorful than one might suppose.

Although no one can not say that today’s course is reflective of the Travis design perspective, he most certainly was one of the more intriguing elements of the story of this course which has so many chapters. The significance of his participation in the construction of what ultimately became one of the masterworks is not so much what design or routing that might retain ghostlike remnants of his participation. For that is likely minor at best. The real significance is in the story itself rather than in the design. That is, when people reflect upon the epic life of Pinehurst No. 2 they tend to portray this icon as a more cut and dried affair than it was. In actuality, it is a meandering tale which wandered here and there for decades through those longleaf pines, before ultimately, in the mid 1930’s, finally coalescing into the form which made it one of the penultimate courses.

Whether one believes Mr. Travis excited recount of the genesis or not, the magic of No. 2 is in the last fifty yards of the holes. There is very fine work which occurs before one contends with those enigmatic green complexes but it is the later which distinguish the course so spectacularly. That wizardry occurred after our Australian exited this Southern stage.

Never the less, when reflecting upon this masterpiece, Mr. Travis merits some measure of consideration.

Fownes and Travis are intriguing aspects of this particular chapter of the resort. How many more compelling elements can be found within the sepia toned annals? Far more than could possibly be related in this essay. Well, this article may not sufficiently portray the full story, but it should make it clear that the beginning – as well as subsequent chapters – are far more textured than even a substantive review of what remains recorded could tell. And so, that will have to suffice for moment. It’s time to bring this version of the early world which Tufts begat to a close.


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