For those readers who associate Inverness with a certain shy little Nessie, we can tell you that the Inverness Club has absolutely nothing to do with the Loch Ness monster. With four US Open Championships to its name, the Inverness Club, located in Toledo, Ohio requires little introduction, especially as each Open Championship was packed full of drama.
According to the author and historian, the late Michael Hobbs: "The Inverness Club was founded in 1903 and named for the castle in Scotland where in 1040 Macbeth had King Duncan murdered. Nine holes were planned for a start, but the first architect to work at Inverness had a problem with his arithmetic. As he stood back to admire his handiwork it was suddenly realized that there were in fact only eight holes. Very embarrassing! However, Bernard Nicholls hurriedly tacked on a par 3, which in the event proved to be a very good hole."
The course was extended to 18 holes in 1915 but Donald Ross put Inverness on the map when the club hired him in 1916 to turn Inverness into a full-blown championship course.
It’s worth mentioning that by 1920 Inverness welcomed professionals into their clubhouse, the first club in the USA to do so. The exciting 1920 US Open, saw big hitting Ted Ray birdie the 7th hole in each round on his way to victory. Consequently, prior to the return of the US Open to Inverness in 1931, A.W. Tillinghast revised the layout and Dick Wilson did the same before the club hosted the 1957 US Open. Open surgery was alive and well long before the "Open Doctor" arrived on the scene.
Doctoring continued with George and Tom Fazio making further course changes in 1978 and Arthur Hills in 1999. Today’s Inverness stretches out to 7,255 yards from the back tees and it’s a demanding course for most golfers from way back there.
Second shot accuracy is the key to unlock Inverness and if you can as safely negotiate the last five holes, sometimes called “murderers’ row”, then you might just card a decent score.
The club carried out a course upgrade in advance of hosting the US Junior Amateur in 2019 and the Solheim Cup in 2021, with architect Andrew Green using historical photography to reintroduce Donald Ross design intent.
“The project began as a bunker renovation but evolved after I showed how we could reintroduce the original Donald Ross vision of holes 6, 7, 8 and 13,” explained the architect. “We did this by building new holes along the southern end of of the property that was previously a field.”
Andrew Green continued: “I made the new 3rd a long par three that represented the original Ross 8th. The new par four 4th used inspired concepts from the original 7th. And the new par three 5th was modelled after the original par three 13th.
We continued the theme with a new 8th green that mirrored the strategy of the original par four 6th. To make it all tie together, we also pushed the 2nd green back a hundred yards to a natural high point. That green was replicated using lasered survey information, restoring the feel of the Ross bunkers from the 1920 and 1931 US Opens.”
Worthy of a top 150 course in the U.S. The greens are the highlight of the course. The small greens are extremely challenging to hold when firm and fast. Great variety of holes.
If I had to sum up Inverness in two words: small greens. Inverness has the smallest greens of any golf course I have ever played. Almost every green is a postage stamp green. Not only is each green very small, but the predominant design feature of the course is well guarded greens with narrow openings that require accurate approaches. Each green has either mounds on both sides or bunkers with high lips. It is a fairly easy driving course, with wide fairways. The trick at Inverness is getting on the greens in regulation. It requires very precise iron play.
I liked the layout and routing at Inverness. I especially liked the 7th hole, which is the #1 handicap. You play your tee shot from an elevated tee. The ideal tee shot favors the right side of the fairway, but in shades of Carnoustie, you have to flirt with a burn that snakes subtly throughout the entire course. The second shot is straight uphill and really favors an approach from the right as opposed to left side of the fairway since a big sycamore tree sits at the top of a plateau protecting the green. As is customary in Ross's designs, Inverness has its fair share of holes with shaved areas around the small greens. It’s an old-style Donald Ross gem of a course.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
The par 3 12th was a great medium length one shot hole where the small undulated green is heavily protected and green surface partially blind from the tee box. A lovely hole requiring a carefully placed tee shot into the wind on our day. One of the amazing things about Inverness that attests to the strength of its routing is how easily walkable it is and how well it flows from green to the next tee. Yet the holes still don't feel crammed together.
Inverness is a great members club and a thrill to play. I imagine it's a course that just keeps getting more and more fun to play once you get to know it better. If you ever get the chance to play it jump on it.
The 1979 U.S. Open is remembered fondly because of a tree. The 528-yard eighth hole was designed as a classic three-shot par 5, with a severe dogleg left and five deep bunkers in proximity of the green. Where others saw trouble, Lon Hinkle saw an opportunity when he discovered, during practice, that nothing prevented a player from hitting a tee shot through a narrow opening of trees onto the adjacent 17th fairway, then lofting a long second shot over the trees onto the eighth green, a shortcut that cut 80 yards off the intended track. The USGA was not thrilled about his strategy, which compromised the integrity of the three-shot hole and the safety of the gallery on the 17th hole. After Hinkle revealed his shortcut on day one, a very tall tree was planted in the middle of the night to the left of the tee box to plug the gap. Today you can still see what is now fondly referred to as the Hinkle tree blocking the former route through the 17th fairway. The question still remains: Is it legal to alter a golf course during the course of a championship?
Inverness is well designed and challenging, but I favor courses that have beauty and terrific views. Yet for its challenge alone, this course deserves its spot on the Top 100, even if it lacks the magnificence of Pebble Beach, Cypress Point, or even Black Diamond Ranch. Larry Berle.