“Good men are the stars, the planets of the ages wherein they live, and illustrate the times.” – Ben Jonson
He was the kind of star whose light you can still see twinkling in the heavens a decade after it’s a burned-out cinder. And not just any old ordinary dime-store variety star, mind you. Like the Northern star, Travis Hudson made people want to follow him, and he showed them just how to do it.
One of the eleven children of Brack and Lois Hudson, Travis grew up on a farm near Jasper during the Great Depression. “All the families of the community felt the effects of the Depression,” says his brother, Hansel Hudson. “We didn’t have a lot of material things growing up, but we had a good and loving family.”
Travis was first introduced to golf as a small boy. “It was about 3.2 miles from our house to Musgrove,” Hansel explains. “Our grandfather, Tommy Scruggs, helped build Musgrove, and he lived where the pro shop was. We would walk out there and caddy nine or eighteen holes. We’d get thirty cents for nine and sixty cents for eighteen, and if the golfers did good, they might give you a dime or a quarter extra.”
A natural leader, Travis was captain of his football and basketball team at Curry High and was named class president. He graduated in 1943, but before the ink on his diploma was dry, he’d received his draft papers and was on his way to Europe. His division, the 105th Infantry, suffered eight thousand casualties in the Battle of the Bulge. For his service, Travis was awarded a Soldiers Medal, a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star for Heroism, and a Korean War Service Medal, but it was several years before he ever saw them. “A lot of those guys never received medals when the war was over,” says his middle son, Steve. A local veteran suggested Steve write to the government and request his dad’s medals.
“I did that, so they mailed those to him. That was a neat experience, him receiving those,” he says, his voice wavering.
After the war, Travis attended the University of Alabama, where he earned two masters degrees. He married his high school sweetheart, Mae Johnsey, and had five children: Pam, Tab, Steven, Susan, and Phillip.
Travis returned to Curry in 1953, where he coached football, baseball, and basketball until 1964. He coached Curry’s first undefeated football team and the first All-Star football player in the school history.
When Travis was offered the golf pro job at Musgrove, he agonized over the decision. “He loved being called ‘coach,’” Steve remembers. “He told a story once that when he was trying to decide on leaving coaching, that he stained his pillow at night with his tears.” In the end, it turned out to be the right decision.
“Coach” Hudson seemed to attract success wherever he went. In almost thirty years as a golf pro, he played in the first two U.S. Senior Opens with a Top 20 finish in the inaugural event. He was a member of the Dixie Section of the PGA for twenty-six years, was honored Pro of the Year, and gave lessons to Bear Bryant.
Travis adored kids and often took his own children to work with him during the summer. “Dad left the house at six o’clock for work,” Steve recalls. “I remember he would wake me up in the morning and would be walking toward his truck. I’d jump up and put my clothes on. You could hear his truck rolling on that peat gravel in front of our house. I was scared to death he was going to leave me, but looking back, he never would have.”
“He was very much a disciplinarian, but he showed a lot of compassion and love as well,” says his eldest son, Tab. “He loved young people, helping some that had gotten a little off track. He’d put his arm around them and help them understand that there’s a correct way to do things. He required ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir.’ I didn’t realize until I got older what a mentor he was to so many people. We had a farm and many of the members’ sons would go work for free or for a Coke and a hamburger, just to be around Daddy. At some Christmases, Daddy must have had over a hundred men come by and say, ‘Hey Coach, I wouldn’t have made it in my life without you.’”
Phil Green, who succeeded him as golf pro, says Travis came by the pro shop almost every day. “He just enjoyed being around people,” Phil says. “Travis never met a stranger. You would be somewhere with him and he would know everybody and remember their names. He was always in a good mood, just a joy to be around. It’s hard to put into words all he did for me and what he meant to me. He was just so good to me.”
Phil remembers one bit of advice Travis gave him. “He said, ‘Pro, you can’t get in trouble for what you don’t say,’” Phil recalls. “‘Silence is golden,’ he used to say.”
When Travis’ heart began to fail in 1989, he waited one hundred and ten days at UAB Hospital for a heart transplant. After three days, he persuaded a friend to take him home. “Dr. Bourge told him, ‘If you ever do that again, I’ll have you arrested and never let you out of here,’” Hansel laughs.
On October 9, 2004, the heavens mourned when the light in Travis’ life went dark. He had celebrated his eightieth birthday just three days before.
In his lifetime, Travis gave golf lessons to just about anyone who asked, from small children all the way up to Coach Bear Bryant. He did it because he wanted to, because he was a teacher, and because he cared. And he always threw in a few bonus lessons along the way.
Many of his students went on to achieve great success because they knew they could, because Travis Hudson dared to believe in them. 78