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The Story of Great Dunes Golf Course—A Walter Travis Masterpiece

By Andrea Marroquin and John Hunter of the Jekyll Island Museum
 

Great Dunes Golf Course - Image Courtesy of the Jekyll Island Museum

In the Spring of 1939, pro golfer Frank Walsh wrote to say how much he had enjoyed playing the Great Dunes Golf Course on Jekyll Island, Georgia. He stated that after ten years of tournament golf at such fine courses as Pine Valley, Cypress Point, Seminole, and Pinehurst No. 2, “now I feel, after a round over your Dunes course, that I have found a new gem, and easily as fine a test as these courses mentioned.”

The credit was due to golf legend Walter J. Travis, who designed the seaside course during the Roaring Twenties for the exclusive Jekyll Island Club. Club Members donating funds for the new golf course included George F. Baker, J.P. Morgan, Jr., Richard T. Crane, Cyrus McCormick, Jr., Edwin Gould, Cornelius Lee, and Dr. and Mrs. Walter James.

Travis took up golf reluctantly at age 34 but soon became “an infatuated devotee” of the game. His relatively late entry into the sport earned him the respectful title “The Old Man.” Within a month of hitting his first golf ball he began earning first place trophies.

Travis quickly became the country’s top amateur golfer. He won the U.S. Amateur Championship in 1900, 1901, and 1903, making him the first three-time champion in the tournament’s history. In 1904, Travis became the first non-British citizen to win the British Amateur Championship, which no other American would accomplish for another 22 years.

Travis first visited Jekyll Island in 1900 to suggest improvements after Willie Dunn, Jr. completed Jekyll’’s first links located just north of the island’s cottage colony. He had previously collaborated on work with John Duncan Dunn, Willie Dunn, Jr.’s nephew. Travis said he also mentored Donald Ross, the revered golf course architect who built Jekyll Island’s second golf course. Completed in 1910, the Ross Course was located in the area now occupied by the lakes on the Oleander Golf Course.

In 1910, Travis recommended Karl Keffer as the Golf Pro for the Jekyll Island Club. Keffer won the Canadian Open in 1909 and 1914, one of only two Canadians to ever do so. It was likely Keffer who oversaw the creation of Jekyll’s first “holes in the dunes” in 1913. This began a period of course construction along the ocean, intended to shift play from the damp Donald Ross Course.

Keffer’s holes were completed in 1924. That year the Jekyll Island Club celebrated a new 18-hole golf course. It included a portion of the Donald Ross Course and nine new holes laid over the sand dunes in the vicinity of the current Great Dunes course. Golf Illustrated reported that the island’s new links “remind those who have already played them of the Scotch seaside courses.”



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