The USGA came back to Inverness Club last week, and what a good thing that was for the game.
American golf’s most important professional senior championship returned to Toledo for the first time since Bruce Lietzke won in 2003. As Loren Roberts pointed out early in the week, “All the greats who have played this game have come through this golf course at one time or another. More guys in golf have been touched by this course and this club than probably any other. This place is special.”
Indeed it is.
Inverness has hosted four U.S. Opens, and now two Senior Opens. It has also played host to two PGA Championships and the 1973 U.S. Amateur. Few will forget Bob Tway breaking Greg Norman’s heart at the 1986 PGA Championship. But the club may be best known for something that took place off the course during the 1920 Open, the first one Bobby Jones played in.
Back then, the job called “golf professional” was not what it is today. Amateurs such as Jones were much more highly regarded sportsmen. The pros were welcome inside the ropes, but generally not in the clubhouse. And where they were allowed in, they often had to enter from the side door. At that Open, Inverness welcomed the pros inside the clubhouse for the first time. When the Open returned 11 years later, in 1931, Walter Hagen and a fellow group of players purchased and contributed to the club a grandfather clock that stands in the front entrance today and still tells time perfectly. On a brass plate attached to the clock reads the following:
God measures men by what they are
Not by what they in wealth possess
This vibrant message chimes afar
The voice of Inverness
There is another interesting artifact at Inverness: the Hinkle Tree. Those who are old enough will remember the 1979 U.S. Open, when in the first round, Lon Hinkle creatively stood on the then par-5 eighth, aimed hard left and zipped a 2-iron into the 17th fairway. He hit the same 2-iron onto the green and walked off with a two-putt birdie, landing at the top of the leader board after the first round. USGA chief Sandy Tatum was unamused; the next day, a 15-foot spruce magically appeared there, planted overnight. Undaunted, Hinkle hit a driver over the tree in the second round, and then hit a mid-iron onto the green, resulting in another birdie. Today, someone would have to point out the tree, as others around it have grown up and closed the route Hinkle found. Unlike the clock, no plaque exists to mark these theatrics.
Inverness was originally designed by Donald Ross in 1918. Ross was so fond of this track that it became just one of seven that he discussed in his unpublished book “Golf Has Never Failed Me.” The course has been tweaked a few times, by A.W. Tillinghast and Dick Wilson in the 1920s, by George and Tom Fazio in 1978, and most recently by Arthur Hills in 1999. It remains highly thought of by the ratings crowd, checking in at No. 41 on the Golf Digest list.
Inverness is, like Toledo itself, old school and hard. It features long, demanding par-4s with tiny, angled, undulating greens. Bernhard Langer called the greens “as difficult, if not more so, than those at Augusta National.” It played a bit softer than the USGA wanted last week, but the greens were plenty fast. There’s nothing fancy about the course, as all the shots are right in front of you.
There was one surprise awaiting players who remember Inverness last week; the routing employed for the tournament was different than any of the previous majors played there. Not everyone was happy about this, particularly many members who had been at the previous championships. Five holes on the front nine and five from the back nine were flip-flopped for the championship. Holes 3-7 became Nos. 12-16 while holes 12-16 became Nos. 3-7. The USGA explained that this was done at the suggestion of the club to accommodate spectators … in 2020. That’s when Inverness hopes to land the U.S. Open, the 100th anniversary of the first Open played at Inverness.
There are so many courses like Inverness that have a special place in American golf history. And that place should be revisited from time to time. Interlachen in Minnesota, Canterbury and Scioto in Ohio, and Newport CC in Rhode Island are among those that come to mind. They are all in great golf markets, where patrons can be counted on to turn out. And the senior players really love USGA championships on these kinds of courses … it’s one of the two times each year that they feel they are playing important golf on a big-time course.
Although courses like these may not be able to host our national championship ever again, remaining relevant through hosting the Senior Open is a wonderful alternative. Here’s hoping the USGA continues to serve up gems like Inverness for this championship.