Toledo, Ohio – Sylvanus Pierson Jermain has been deceased for more than 75 years, having passed away in 1935. But even today, as Inverness Club prepares to again host the U.S. Senior Open, Jermain remains, well, germane to any discussion about the growth of golf, not only in his adopted hometown, but also nationally and even globally.
First, consider his gifts to the Glass City, starting with the creation of Ottawa Park Golf Course. A golf enthusiast since he moved with his family to Toledo from Adrian, Mich., Jermain had a strong interest in parkland development and the creation of public-access golf courses. When Ottawa Park’s first nine holes opened in 1899, it was the first public course in the Midwest and just the seventh in the U.S.
Later, along with adding a second nine to Ottawa Park, Jermain also developed courses at Bayview, Collins Park and Spuyten Dyval, and he was a consultant in building three country clubs: Chippewa, Glengarry and Highland Meadows.
Then, of course, there was his instrumental role in the founding of Inverness Club in 1903. He served as the club’s first president, helped select the land upon which the course was built, and secured permission of the Village of Inverness, Scotland, to use the name and village crest for the club’s identity. And Jermain, naturally, was at the forefront of persuading the United States Golf Association to bring the 1920 and 1931 U.S. Open championships to the Donald Ross-designed layout.
He also brought the first U.S. Public Links Championship to Ottawa Park in 1922.
But the man called the father of golf in Toledo, did even much more than all this, including writing a rules book for American golf. Jermain was 48 when in 1907 he wrote the American Code of Golf, a simplified version of the rules guidelines from the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews that served as the first written set of rules for golf in the U.S.
He served as president of the Ohio Golf, Central States and Western Golf Associations in the early 1900s while also serving four terms as president/chairman of the city’s Board of Parks Commissioners and two years as Toledo director of welfare. The lifelong bachelor also held down a job as treasurer of Woolson Spice Company for 26 years.
If all that isn’t enough, Jermain looms large in the inception of one of golf’s most popular events, the Ryder Cup. He proffered the notion of creating an international match between golfers from Britain and America following the 1920 U.S. Open, and at one point prior to the creation of the Ryder Cup in 1927, an American businessman named Walter L. Ross, president of Nickel Plate Railroad and a member of Inverness Club, offered to donate a trophy if such a match would be held. There were, in fact, two unofficial matches held in 1921 and ’26, the latter held in England and attended by British seed merchant Samuel Ryder, who eventually donated the cup that now bears his name.
But Jermain remains a key figure.
The credit for the idea (of the Ryder Cup) should go to Sylvanus P. Jermain of Toledo, who made the suggestion back in 1921, the year after the Open was staged at Inverness, George Sargent, then president of the PGA of America, was quoted as saying in a 1931 story in the Toledo News-Bee. … I remember he suggested the scheme to me, and I tried to put it across without success.
But eventually the idea caught on, and the Ryder Cup, now contested biennially between professional golfers from the United States and Europe, is a wildly successful competitive and commercial sporting event.
S.P. Jermain was a man of vision in golf. He was a man of action, too, something to be remembered as the action of the 32nd U.S. Senior Open unfolds along the course he helped create.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.