Book Review: The Old Man, The Biography of Walter Travis, by Bob Labbance

Quick Verdict: Well-researched, highly informative, and nicely packaged, but about as interesting to read as the Yellow Pages.


I have been a massive admirer of Walter Travis’ work since I first played Cape Arundel, arguably his best design, a decade ago. Suffice to say, then, that I was excited to read Mr. Labbance’s well-regarded biography of America’s first golfing “superstar”, after finally ordering it from Amazon. Since the book is a comfortable 250 pages in length, I figured upon first glance that I would steamroll through it in two or three days; little did I know, however, that it would take me multiple months, and much struggle, to finish (this coming from a man who has read Infinite Jest, Gravity’s Randow, and Lonesome Dove, among other loose, baggy monsters, to steal a term from Henry James).

Unfortunately, Mr. Labbance’s work, although thorough and minutely detailed, suffers from an all too common fault of the genre: that solely recording a person’s history, step by step, event by event, —as is the case with The Old Man—is not engaging to read and becomes tedious rather quickly. I am far from the first critic to claim that we mainly read biography for the anecdotes, for glimpses of the mortal in the seemingly immortal, to see how our favourite performers behaved backstage. After all, in this Internet age, we can all do our own research into record and performance.

When I finally restored Mr. Labbance’s work to my bookshelf, I had a better idea of Mr. Travis’ competitive record, his background, and his ventures away from golf, but hardly a clearer notion of how he was as a father, husband, friend, and colleague.

Author: Bob Labbance

Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press, Chelsea, Michigan, 2000

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