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Inverness Returns to Ross Roots July 19, 2019 | Toledo, Ohio By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Longtime Oakmont superintendent John Zimmers started at Inverness just as the club launched a restoration project. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

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It had been close to 40 years, but Jerry Lemieux still referred to holes 3, 5 and 6 of the Inverness Club as “the new holes.” Back in 1977, Inverness was preparing to host the 1979 U.S. Open, and there were concerns about congestion around the tight confines of the Donald Ross course that had hosted the first of its four U.S. Opens in 1920. The classic layouts of the early 20th century made little or no accommodations for the infrastructure and the massive crowds that accompany a modern major championship.

Architects George and Tom Fazio proposed a solution to the logistical issues: take out three of the existing holes, two of them par 3s, and build three new holes on some of the unused former farmland that Inverness had purchased in the 1950s. Those holes became Nos. 3, 5 and 6 for the 1979 U.S. Open, and for the ensuing 40 years.

“They took the original Ross holes 6, 7 and 8 – two short par 4s and a long par 3 – and combined them into one hole: the par-5 eighth,” said Mike McCullough, the chairman of the Inverness historical committee. “They also removed the par-3 13th hole. There were concerns about all the people on the course and balls flying over spectators’ heads.”

The improvements in the logistics of conducting three majors over the next 14 years – Inverness also hosted the PGA Championship in 1986 and 1993 – were seen as worth the elimination of the original Ross holes. At least until recently, when a bunker renovation project spurred a wider review of the club’s future, and its past.

Inverness has always been proud of its heritage. The club was founded in 1903, and the Ross layout debuted in 1919. The following year, it hosted the U.S. Open for the first time: it was Bob Jones’ debut, Harry Vardon’s swansong and Ted Ray’s only victory. Jack Nicklaus played in his first U.S. Open here in 1957, and Hale Irwin won his second here in 1979. This week’s U.S. Junior Amateur is the club’s eighth USGA championship.

“When we made the changes in the late 1970s, there was much less reverence than there is today for restoring Ross or [A.W.] Tillinghast or [Seth] Raynor,” said Lemieux. “It didn’t seem like anyone was doing that; they were doing what was popular at the time, putting their own imprimatur on the course. There were also time constraints on getting the work done.”

In 2017, the club hierarchy took a more thoughtful approach as it mulled the aforementioned bunker project and developed a master plan.

That coincided with the hiring of John Zimmers in the spring. Zimmers, the longtime course superintendent at Oakmont Country Club, had overseen two U.S. Opens at the venerable Pittsburgh-area club, and he took over the same role at Inverness.

The club also hired Andrew Green, a course architect who provided research and guidance as Inverness undertook a restoration of its Ross heritage. Green pored over original plans and old photographs of Inverness, many of them unearthed on a trip to the USGA Museum in Liberty Corner, N.J.

“I think if it hadn’t been for Andrew’s thoughtfulness, we would have probably just redone the bunkers,” said Lemieux. “He found several course surveys and photos in the USGA archives that we didn’t know existed. He would send us photos and say, ‘What do you think of this?’”

The result is three new holes that replace the Fazio holes from the late 1970s and bring back the design principles of the Ross originals in a different part of the property. Another hole was lengthened, and a green was shifted and rebuilt to mimic the design of the long-lost sixth hole. The work was completed in a year’s time and without closing down the course, since members were able to play the existing holes while the new ones were being constructed.

Three holes that were added before the 1979 U.S. Open have been replaced by replicas of three original Ross holes.

“There was a plan in place when I arrived, and we probably did more than we were capable of in a short period of time,” said Zimmers, who worked with McDonald Design Group, of Jessup, Md., his construction partner in previous projects at Oakmont and Congressional Country Club, in Bethesda, Md. “But we’re really glad that we did. The club, the board and the membership should get all the credit.”

The changes in a nutshell:

  • Hole 2 has been lengthened by nearly 100 yards (from the back tees – about 50 yards for the members), with the original green of the par 4 replicated in a new setting;

  • Hole 3 is a new hole, a replica of the long par-3 eighth hole on Ross’ original design that was lost in the consolidation of Nos. 6-8 by Fazio;

  • Hole 4 is a new hole, a par 4 that evokes the original Ross seventh, a dogleg-left with a two-tiered green that the long-hitting Ted Ray birdied all four days in winning the 1920 U.S. Open. The hole can play anywhere from a stout 500 yards to a risk-reward 290 yards (which it did during Thursday’s match-play rounds of the Junior Amateur); it sits partially on the footprint of the Fazio fifth hole and plays in the opposite direction;

  • Hole 5 is a new hole, a replica of Ross’ original par-3 13th hole that plays to a green set within yards of where the Fazio par-3 third green sat, but the shot is from an entirely different angle;

  • The par-5 eighth hole has a new green that replicates the contours of the old Ross sixth green; the hole has been lengthened by about 20 yards and its severe dogleg has been softened.

“When Andrew came in, the first thing he plotted was the par-3 third,” said Lemieux. “I don’t think we moved a tablespoon of dirt. He said, ‘Why didn’t anybody put a hole here?’”

“An important aspect of this is letting the land tell you what to do,” said Green, who will start similar projects at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y., and Congressional later this year. “Early architects couldn’t move a vast quantity of dirt, so they had to be very creative in how they used the land. The minute you put a bulldozer on it and you start thinking about what you want instead of what you have, something gets lost. There was a period of time where designs got a little more sterile and repetitive.”

Now Inverness evokes a more timeless quality.

“My whole vision was to have the golfer step up to the first tee and feel like they’re back in 1920,” said Green. “Understanding that the game has changed, but using strategies from some of the early drawings that we had, it’s amazing how Ross’ vision stands up with just a little tweak of distances.”

Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at

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