Back 9: Inverness Has Major HistoryWritten by Fred Altvater | | BackNine@toledofreepress.com
Since its opening in 1903, Inverness Country Club has been steeped with history. Famed golf course architect Donald Ross is credited with designing Inverness, but local legend recognizes S. P. Jermain, who had designed and built Ottawa Park in 1899, for much of the original layout.
The course has a rich and storied tournament history and has hosted four U.S. Opens. The famous British golfer Ted Ray won in 1920. Billy Burke outlasted George Von Elm in the longest playoff in American golf history to win the 1931 Open. Dick Mayer overcame severe weather and high winds to take the U.S. Open title in 1957. That same 1957 U.S. Open field included a little-known amateur golfer from Columbus, Ohio – Jack Nicklaus – who shot 80-80 and missed the cut. Hale Irwin captured the title in the 1979 U.S. Open held at Inverness. That was the year the famous Hinkle tree was planted on a Thursday night before the second round teed off on Friday. Lon Hinkle had found a shortcut on the par-five eighth hole by playing his drive into the 17th fairway, leaving a shorter approach into the eighth green. The tournament committee searched for solutions and decided to plant a 25-foot-tall blue spruce just in front of the eighth tee box to protect spectators and prevent players from driving into the 17th fairway. The greens crew worked all night and the tree planting was completed by 5:30 a.m. Friday morning.
Golf prodigy Bobby Jones made his maiden appearance in the 1920 Open. The experience affected Jones for the rest of his life. Young Bobby, just 18 at the time, had quite a temper, and in reaction to an unfavorable bounce during the tournament he walked off and quit the competition. Toledo’s “Father of Golf,” S. P. Jermain, the consummate gentleman, followed Jones into the clubhouse and offered some wise consul to the young player. Jermain understood that Jones’ true talent as a golfer could not be realized until he learned to accept adversity and control his emotions. He had to learn to accept the fact that golf was only a game and there were far more important things in life than just golf. Jones retired from competitive golf in 1930 after winning the “Grand Slam,” but returned to Toledo to play his last competitive round at Inverness in the 1931 U.S. Open. He wanted to play in the Open at Inverness to show the respect he held for S. P. Jermain, who had given Jones that sage advice so many years before that had helped him amass 14 major championships in just 11 years.
Hall of Fame golfer Byron Nelson was the Inverness Club professional from 1940-1944. “Lord Byron” was renowned as one of the finest gentlemen in the history of golf and in 1945 won 11 consecutive golf tournaments on the PGA Tour. It is a record that will stand forever.
Inverness hosted the world’s top amateur golfers in the 1973 U.S. Amateur Championship. A relative unknown, Craig Stadler from USC defeated a stellar amateur field that included Vinnie Giles and Bill Campbell to take the trophy. Stadler later went on to have a successful PGA and Champions Tour career and became affectionately known as the “Walrus.”
The PGA Championship was held at Inverness in 1986 and again in 1993. Both times Greg Norman ended up on the short end. Bob Tway hit one of the most memorable shots in PGA history as he holed out his bunker shot from the sand on 18 for the win in 1986. Paul Azinger bested Norman in a two-hole playoff in 1993 after Norman had lipped out his birdie for the outright win on the 72nd hole.
Bruce Lietzke outlasted Tom Watson in the 2003 U.S. Senior Open. Inverness showed its teeth that week as only three players finished under par for the tournament.
Inverness has seen some of the world’s greatest golfers compete over its fairways and greens. It is a true gem and we in Toledo are lucky to have such a historic golfing legacy right here in our backyard. As you stroll about the grounds next week, take a moment to reflect on its past and revel in its beauty while enjoying all of the fantastic golf from today’s senior golfers.