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John Ellis Knowles

“Golf is for a lifetime”

We all hope to play golf for life, but few continue to play at the level of Ellis Knowles (Class of 1907). Born in Pensacola, Florida, he attended St. Paul’s School in Garden City, Long Island. It was there as a fourteen-year-old that his interest in golf began, hitting balls against the wall of the school. Students were allowed to practice at the nearby Garden City Golf Club on weekdays. At age eighty, he told the New York Times that he still remembered the thrill of a member asking him one day, “Laddie, would you like to play a round with me?” That member was Walter J. Travis, who went on to win one British Amateur and two US Amateur titles.

As a sophomore at Yale, Knowles was runner-up to senior Robert Abbot for the intercollegiate golf championship in 1905. He won the championship as a senior in 1907. He settled in Rye, New York and became a partner in the Marine Transport Lines of New York City. He was prominent in the shipping industry and pioneered the development of chemical and LPG gas tanker design and operation.

One suspects that Ellis Knowles was prouder of his golfing record than his professional accomplishments. He won twenty-nine club championships: eight at Pensacola, one at Pine Valley, four at Round Hill in Greenwich, Connecticut, and sixteen at the Apawamis Golf Club in Rye. In 1936, at age fifty, he was listed as a thrteen-handicap by the Metropolitan Golf Association, along with Jess Sweetser, age thirty-three. He was a member of the team of amateurs captained by Sweetser that played a charity exhibition against the US professional Ryder Cup team in 1933.

Ellis Knowles got better with age. The usga Senior Amateur tournament was started in 1955. It was an expansion of a tournament conducted by the US Senior Golf Association, which itself had grown from a senior amateur event at the Apawamis Golf Club in the early 1900s. Knowles won the senior amateur tournament six times, and he captained the US senior amateur team that played teams from Canada and Britain at Pine Valley in 1959.

On his eightieth birthday, the members of Apawamis held a celebration for him, and the club pro (Jack Patroni), who himself had won the Met Open at age 56, toasted Mr. Knowles as one of the outstanding men in golf: “He has been scoring under 70 for the last forty years.” Indeed, from age seventy-two on, Knowles felt he was off his game if he didn’t shoot his age. (Knowles thought that his best round had been a 39-28 = 67 at Apawamis, way back in 1933.)

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