Origins of the Schenectady Putter
At the turn of the twentieth century, A.F. Knight, the top player at Mohawk Golf Club in Schenectady, NY, identified that his putting was rather inconsistent. This was not because of his stroke or green reading, but that his putter design was simply inadequate. Technology within the sport was primitive and almost all the putters available at the time were bladed, heel-shafted designs. The General Electric engineer decided he would take things into his own hands and create a superior, more consistent putter design. He spent the summer of 1902 off the golf course and instead in the workshop constructing a center-shafted mallet putter with a crosshatched face, made from wood and lead.
Only a few rounds of testing convinced Knight that his new creation was exactly what golfers around the country needed to sharpen their game. After affirming the club’s superiority to other available designs, he revised his putter to utilize aluminum instead of wood on its clunky mallet head. A rare opportunity presented itself when pioneering golf course architect Devereux Emmet was visiting a friend at Mohawk Golf Club. When Knight heard the news, he immediately sought out Emmet on the course that day and left him with the putter so that he could test out the new design. Later that afternoon, Knight found out that Emmet had returned to his home in Long Island and took the club with him for “further testing”.
A couple of days later, Knight received a telegram from two-time U.S. Amateur champion Walter J. Travis (who had most likely played golf with Emmet the day or two prior) demanding he craft a second putter for him to use. Travis played with Knight’s mallet putter that same year during the 1903 U.S. Amateur at Garden City CC (site of the inaugural NYS Amateur in 1923) and became the first player in history to win three U.S. Amateur titles. Within days, hundreds of talented golfers from around the country flooded Knight with letters and telegrams attempting to get their hands on a Schenectady Putter, the unofficial name spread around by Emmet and Travis, which eventually stuck.
The following year at the 1904 British Amateur, Travis became the first American to win the venerable title at Royal St. George’s. It’s rumored that out of denial (of an American winning on talent alone), bitterness, and probably shock, the R&A was adamant that this newly created club somehow gave Travis an unfair advantage and the Schenectady Putter was banned from tournament play indefinitely. For decades, the USGA and R&A had back and forth over center-shafted putters before the club design was once again allowed beginning in 1951.
It’s easy to imagine all the legendary golfers throughout the early twentieth century who probably would have used the Schenectady Putter had it not been banned after that remarkable American victory at the 1904 British Amateur. Regardless, it’s legacy is forever cemented in golf history thanks to a local man who created his own luck.