Time travel: Welcome to Inverness
TOLEDO, Ohio — I’ve heard time and again from a variety of people in the golf business how today’s young players don’t know – and don’t care to know – very much when it comes to the game’s history.
Being around college golfers for as long as I have, I would tend to agree. Not all of them, but I would say the majority of them.
I hope this week the 156 players in the field at the NCAA Division I Championship take some time to go through the Inverness Club clubhouse and avail themselves of an opportunity to breathe in a piece of golf’s past.
Northwestern coach Pat Goss feels the same way.
“I hope these kids know the venue they’re playing and how special it is in the history of the game,” Goss said. “It’s like hallowed ground. Some of the greatest players ever have played here. And it’s just so great to walk around the clubhouse and see all those photos and trophies. It’s really a very special place.”
Said Bob Stone Jr., general manager at Inverness Club: “Obviously, we take a lot of pride in our history here. We feel Inverness holds a special and unique spot in the game, and we hope that we are able to show that with all the displays we have throughout the clubhouse.”
I did a long, slow tour through the Inverness clubhouse Tuesday and felt as if I were strolling through a golf time capsule.
Since it opened more than 100 years ago, the Inverness Club has been a history lesson.
Just about every one of the greatest players has at one time or another strolled the fairways of the Donald Ross-designed gem.
Inverness has hosted four U.S. Opens (1920, 1931, 1957 and 1979), two PGA Championships (1986 and 1993), the 1973 U.S. Amateur and the 2003 U.S. Senior Open.
Pictures and plaques adorn the walls throughout the clubhouse, telling a unique story from each championship. Expect this week’s NCAA Championship to join the mix.
There’s a Championship Hallway, with photos of winners and players from the Inverness Invitational, a four-ball competition held from 1935 to ’52. Along the walk, there are pictures of Walter Hagan, Ben Hogan, Jimmy Demaret, Sam Snead, Jim Ferrier, Lloyd Mangrum, Byron Nelson, Henry Picard, Johnny Palmer, Cary Middlecoff and Jug McSpaden, to name only a few.
There’s a Donald Ross Room, in honor of the legendary course architect, and a Byron Nelson Room, dedicated in June 1989 to the all-time great who served as the Inverness pro from 1940 to ’44.
An entire wall is dedicated to Nelson, with a large photo and a pair of large plaques listing his accomplishments. Another wall is dedicated to Frank Stranahan, who grew up at Inverness and became a golfing legend in the Toledo area and across Ohio. He was one of the game’s best amateurs, twice winning the British Amateur and finishing second at the 1947 and ’52 British Opens and second at the 1947 Masters.
Another wall has a large picture of Bob Tway. He is standing in a greenside bunker on the 18th hole, arms raised after having holed out for birdie in the final round of the 1986 PGA Championship to win by two over Greg Norman.
Tway is back at Inverness this week as a spectator, watching son Kevin, who is a sophomore at Oklahoma State.
“Needless to say, this is a very special place for me,” the elder Tway said. “I never get tired of walking around the clubhouse and looking at all the memorabilia that depicts the rich history of the club.”
There’s a trophy case displaying the sand wedge and ball that Tway used for that historic shot and another housing the driver and ball used by Paul Azinger during his 1993 PGA Championship victory.
Two trophy cases contain putters from victors here. One was used by Hale Irwin when he won the 1979 U.S. Open, and the other was used by Craig Stadler when he captured the 1973 U.S. Amateur.
“It’s just unbelievable,” Florida senior Billy Horschel said. “It’s just so cool to walk around and see all that stuff and all those photos. I thought it was great seeing a picture of Buddy’s dad,” said Horschel, referring to Florida coach Buddy Alexander, whose father, Skip, was among the competitors in the Inverness Invitational.
Most impressive of all was that Inverness was the site of the first U.S. Opens played by Gene Sarazen and Bobby Jones (both in 1920) and Jack Nicklaus (1957).
On one wall, each of the three have their photos and the original framed letters they wrote to the club.
In Nicklaus’ letter, dated March 6, 1996, he writes: “. . .even though the 1957 U.S. Open didn’t finish for me as I had hoped, Inverness will always hold a special place in my memories.” Nicklaus was 17 in his U.S. Open debut.
Bobby Jones wrote on Nov. 7, 1956: “. . . I have always had a soft place in my heart for Inverness. It was there I first played in the Open Championship and had the great thrill of playing with the Old Master, Harry Vardon, and first met some of the greatest players of this country with whom I have enjoyed so many years of friendship.”
Inverness is quite the place. It offers one of the best and most demanding golf courses in the world, but it also presents the opportunity to drift back in time.
I only hope those competing this week take that trip.