THE NASSAU INVITATIONAL TOURNAMENT
The tradition at Nassau of hosting a men‘s fall golf event started at the Club‘s predecessor, the Queens County Golf Club. Arguably this is the oldest amateur event in the country, held annually (with some interruptions) at Nassau Country Club since 1897. This tournament was won by Walter Travis five times dating back to 1898. Jerry Travers was successful twice, and Tommy Armour captured the title in his second appearance in 1921. In recent years, the tournament has been won by the country‘s leading amateurs, including George Zahringer.
One of the more colorful figures to capture the crown was John Montgomery Ward. In addition to being one of the top amateur golfers on Long Island. Ward was an outstanding professional baseball player for the New York Gothams (later re-named the Giants), first as a pitcher and later as a shortstop. During his career, he established fifty major league records, a total second only to Babe Ruth. One year his won/loss record was 47-19, with eight shutouts including a perfect game. While playing baseball, Ward graduated with honors from Columbia Law School. He formed the first baseball player‘s union, and was the first President as well as one of the founders of the Long Island Golf Association. Though he was over 50 at the time, Ward won the Nassau Invitational Tournament in 1919. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown in 1964.
The most famous match occurred in 1904, where the relatively unknown youngster Jerome Travers faced the “Old Man” of golf, Walter Travis. Travis, 42 years old, had just returned from being the first American to win the British Amateur, an event filled with controversy. Not considered to be one of the golfers with a chance to win the tournament, Travis was not permitted the use of a locker, and was assigned a caddy which he described as “mentally defective” by the officials of Royal St. George. Travis won the Amateur thanks to a brilliant streak of putting with his center shafted “Schenectady” putter, a club so controversial that the Royal & Ancient banned the club six years later. Upon his arrival back in the States, Travis was eliminating all of his competition with his putter, until he faced 17 year old Jerry Travers in the finals of the Nassau Invitational. Travers, a junior member at Nassau since 1900 remarked, “if I could borrow that funny looking putter Travis is using, I think I could beat the old boy at his own game.” Fortunately for Travers, Nassau member Guy Robertson had the exact putter in his locker. After a few practice putts, Travers abandoned his cleek and put the “Schenectady” in his bag. The two men put on a putting exhibition that afternoon, but it was the young Travers sinking of a twelve-footer on the third extra hole that decided the match. The magazine Golf reported “the sensation of the event was the play on the last day when Travers beat Douglas in the morning and Travis in the afternoon. This is an unexpected feat for a boy of seventeen. He played golf of the highest quality throughout.” Travers victory was the springboard to his success, which includes winning the U.S. Amateur title four times (1907, 1908, 1912 and 1913) and the U.S. Open in 1915, one of the few golfers to capture both titles. According to Golf magazine, “Travis later looked back at the match and commented: ‘There is no bitterness in such a defeat. It is a match I shall always recall with pleasure.” This was the first of may meetings between these two champions: Travers triumphing in the 1905 Met Amateur, the 1908, 1911, 1912 and 1914 U.S. Amateurs, while Travis was victorious in the 1906 U.S. Amateur and the 1915 Met Amateur.
One of the more fascinating aspects of the history of the Tournament is how often success followed failure, and in many instances lead to major triumphs. Fred Hereshoff avenged his defeat in the semifinals in 1908 by defeating John M. Ward to capture the title in 1909. In 1910 he would win the Metropolitan Championship, and two years later was runner-up in the National Championship. Tommy Armour was able to overcome his defeat in 1920 when he four putted on the 18th hole by winning the tournament in 1921. Armour was one of the greatest golfers to win the Nassau Invitational, and as a professional he went on to win the 1927 U.S. Open, the 1930 PGA Championship and the 1931 British Open. Eddie Driggs won the Tournament in 1932 and 1933, and went on to win the New York State Amateur in 1933 and 1934, and made it to the sixth round of the U.S. amateur in 1934. Other golfing legends who have played n the Invitational include three-time winner Gardiner White, and Nassau member Findley Douglas, winner of the 1898 U.S. Amateur.
While the “Schenectady” and wooden shafted clubs have been replaced by belly putters and titanium, the championship spirit is as alive today as it was 105 years ago when golfing legends sought the Nassau Invitational title.