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Dave played Inverness on Friday, October 21, 2011

Inverness Club

Over the Hills and Far Away

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Course Layout. Notice the awkward routing on holes 4, 5, and 6.
#1 - Right off the bat, Donald Ross gives you a taste of the valley that will dominate your day
#2 - A lack of elevation change here is made up for with strategic fairway bunkering and one of the more interesting greens on the course
#3 - The first of the Fazio holes
#4 - This was one of my favorites. This is a view from one of the more forward tees. The hole looks much longer from the tips.
#4 - "The Love Canal"
#4 - This view gives a little perspective on the sheer depth of the valleys at Inverness
#5 - The tee shot on the difficult Fazio par 4
#5 - Here you get an idea of how closely the creek hugs the green on this long par 4
#6 - The second Fazio par 3. A difficult hole? Yes. An overly interesting hole? No.
#7 - Brutally difficult tee shot on my favorite hole at Inverness.
#7 - The uphill approach. This hole was super hard, and maybe a little unfair, but I loved it.
#8 - This is the only halfway decent shot I got of one of the two par 5s on the course. A shame, cause this was actually a pretty interesting hole. Definitely the best of the Fazio holes.
#9 - Another shot taken from a forward tee. The tips on this par 4 are WELL back from the men's tee.
#9 - Another green that is much more interesting than it looks from the fairway
#10 - This is one of the smallest greens on the course (which is saying a lot, believe me), but still has a sizable ridge running through it. The back edges of this green also fall off sharply to a very narrow ditch.
#12 - An original Ross par 3. This green is very tough and, as you can see, well bunkered.
#13 - A shot from the tee shot landing area. I'm standing on fairway that drops off steeply in all directions but backward. Fall right and you're in great shape. Fall left and you're in thick rough with a hill right in front of you.
#13 - See me golf ball in the fairway? See the very top of the flagstick? Cause I couldn't see the flagstick from my golf ball. I also couldn't see that my approach apparently lipped out. One of the two birdies of the day.
#15 - A look back on one of the most shallow greens on the course - just 22 yards front to back.
#17 - One of the better views to a green at Inverness
#18 - A forward tee shot on one of the rare short-ish par 4s
#18 - The extremely severe green at the finishing hole is one of the most protected on the course. Doesn't stop a guy like Bob Tway from holing out from the greenside bunker on the right. The pin location in 1986 was just left of the one seen here.
#18 - "Death Valley." Note the slope of the green - straight away from a would-be flop shot artist.

With only a few holes left in our round at Inverness Club, my dad turned to me and asked, "So what's the theme of this course going to be?"  Walking down the steep hill from the seventh tee toward the fairway (we started on the back nine), I replied instantly, and without much thought.  I said "over the hills and far away," half-joking and looking around in wonder.  What was pretty much a knee-jerk reaction to his question couldn't have been more descriptive.

The 1973 classic rock hit from Led Zeppelin has been one of my favorites for some time, featuring an intro by Jimmy Page that was one of the first more difficult guitar riffs I ever learned.  I never thought, though, that the words of Robert Plant would serve well to describe a group of golf holes in Toledo, Ohio. 

"Many have I loved, and many times been bitten..."

This golf course has held four US Opens ('20, '31, '57, and '79).  It's also played host to the 1986 and 1993 PGA Championships and the 2003 and 2011 US Senior Opens.  Let's throw in the 1973 US Amateur for good measure.  We're talking about world-class golf, world-class champions, and even world-class professional staff (Byron Nelson was the head pro at Inverness from 1940-1944, during which time he brought home a PGA Championship and a Masters).  There are few courses that have seen as much major championship golf as Inverness.  Walking through the clubhouse, you can almost feel it.  The history is palpable. 

When you have that much professional play, you are bound to have those who want to make changes.  The original course was built by Bernard Nichols in 1903 and only featured nine holes.  Donald Ross came in and completely redesigned the course, finishing the 18-hole layout in 1919.  The course was quickly awarded the 1920 US Open.  Before the '31 Open, A.W. Tillinghast made changes that strengthened the course by some 300 yards.  Before the '57 Open, Dick Wilson added bunkers and another 400 yards, stretching the layout to 6,919 yards.  The bunkers were eventually removed in order to restore Ross's orginal design.  Fast-forward to 1979.  The US Open is again on the horizon, and this time the most famous uncle-nephew team of designers, George and Tom Fazio, were called in to renovate the severely sloped 17th green.  Filled with zeal, the Fazios didn't stop there.  They added four new holes (three, five, and six on new land, and eight on land once occupied by the old sixth, seventh, and eighth) and eliminated the old 13th.  Then, in 1999, Inverness member and famed architect Arthur Hills performed a restoration on Mr. Ross's creation. 

Hold on a second...  I need to catch my breath...

The most noticable thing at Inverness when you first arrive is the area between the clubhouse and the pro shop - home to the first and tenth tees, as well as the practice putting green.  Everything is shaved down, with the practice green splitting the first tee on the right and the tenth on the left.  Immediately in front of the tees is a deep valley that runs for about the first 150 yards of both holes, all shaved down to fairway length.  This is a very simple concept, but adds so much to the aesthetics that hit you before you even get out of the car. 

The most prevalent feature of the golf course is the valley that cuts the property in half.  Much like he did in French Lick, Donald Ross used the valley extremely well - and often.  Frankly, I've never seen a valley used so well and so uniquely.  The main valley affects eight holes, and another valley on the property gives holes four and seven their teeth.  Holes one and four feature approach shots that carry the valley, while holes seven and thirteen call for an uphill approach from the base of the valley.  Holes ten, fifteen, and seventeen provide the best views of the green, with a downhill approach to a low-lying green.  In most cases, instead of running the fairway down the hill to the valley, Ross left long grass on the hills and built small patches of fairway in the valley.  Not only did it make for an interesting view from the sides of the lowland, but it played into the golfer's strategy as well.  You always wanted to make sure that you didn't outrun the fairway on your tee shots, or else you would be left with a precarious approach - a severe downhill lie in the rough to a small and difficult green. 

Back to Led Zeppelin.  Those words ring true when talking about the holes at Inverness Club.  Really true, actually.  Let's start with the first clause, "Many have I loved..."

I loved many of the holes on this course.  Not all.  

Most notably the Fazio holes: three, five, and six.  Now, this course only has three par 3s, two of them built by the Fazios.  I'm not sure what the other Ross par 3s would have looked like, but if the 12th is any indication, I would have much preferred them.  The third and sixth are fairly run-of-the-mill lengthy one-shotters, forcing an accurate long iron shot to a less than impressive green.  While these holes definitely add difficulty, they don't really fit in with the theme and feel of the golf course.  If you are at all a student of course design, its impossible to not feel as though something is wrong when you're on the Fazio holes.  You don't necessarily feel as though you've left the course, but you don't really feel as though you're totally there anymore, either.  What the par 3 12th hole has in spades (a nicely hidden green, outstanding bunkering that messes with your depth perception and makes for some very interesting bunker shots, and an undulating green that makes for interesting pin placements and fun putts), the third and sixth are severely lacking. 

The other Fazio creation - the par 4 fifth - is an interesting hole.  While I still think that it doesn't really fit with the course (and I also think it's difficult to the point of being unfair), I don't dislike the hole individually.  The 450 yard dogleg left hides the green from the tee behind a hill that dominates the left side rough.  A stream runs down the right, demanding an accurate (and long) tee shot, preferably with a draw.  The green is quite interesting, with the stream running quite close to the front right, punishing any weak approach shots.  On a hole that is already 450 yards and demands such accuracy off the tee, the stream running so close to the green is a little too much, in my opinion.  You've already got a long iron in your hand; why not run the stream 10-15 yards shy of the green on the right?  Why does it have to be 4 yards from the putting surface?  It should also be noted that the routing is somewhat ruined by the fifth and sixth.  Instead of walking from the fourth green to the seventh tee (a natural progression), one must walk back and to the right to reach the fifth tee, and then back around the fourth green to the seventh after the par 3 sixth (See the photos for a look at what I'm talking about).  Again, this hole adds quite a bit of difficulty to the golf course.  However, it doesn't succeed in replicating Ross in a way that makes the golfer feel at home. 

"Many times been bitten..."

There are a whole host of adjectives that could be employed to describe Inverness Club.  Unique.  Pristine.  Storied.  Classic.  Lengthy.  The word that rolls off the tongues of most people who have played Inverness, however, is 'tough'.  This course is hard.  Until the 1986 PGA Championship - won in dramatic fashion by Bob Tway, no winning total score in a major eclipsed par.  The course is long.  The greens are small.  The putts are difficult.  The bunkering is deceptive.  There are parts of the course that are borderline unfair; the fairway on the 13th can take a perfect drive and steer it off to an awkward lie in the rough.  A less-than-perfectly struck approach shot on the fifth will wind up wet.  Leak your approach a little right on the final hole and you will have to contend with death valley, the most severe drop-off of a green I have EVER seen.  This long, narrow valley of thick rough promises to leave a near-impossible pitch or flop shot to a green that is running away from you. 

As difficult as Inverness is, though, it's still fun.  A lot of fun.  The design is excellent.  The sight lines are interesting.  The bunkering is true Ross.  The OMG Factor is about as good as it gets without being on the ocean.  There are all these little things on the course that keep you interested, like the speed slot in the fairway on the fourth hole - a crevice that runs down the hill and could carry your ball an extra 40-50 yards closer to the green.  My caddie dubbed it 'the love canal'; but it only shows love if you can muster the required 285 yards from the tips in order to reach the top of the hill.  Another instance that really caught my eye was the bunker short of the eleventh green.  About 40 yards short of the green, the bunker looks as though it is greenside if you are approaching from the right side of the fairway or the right rough.  Even in the age of rangefinders, this deception poses difficulty when you're hitting a 6-iron to a pin that looks as though its a 9-iron away. 

The sheer number of things I like about this course serve to beat down the things I don't.  When you add in the fact that so many of golf's greats have walked the fairways, Inverness Club stands out as one of the more special rounds of golf you can play. 

"Oh darlin' darlin' darlin', walk a while with me.  Oh, you got so much.  So much."

So much.

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