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Prized Grandfather Clock Symbol Of Change In Golf

By Kevin McManemin, USGA

Toledo, Ohio -- One doesn’t usually think of venerable 100-year-old golf clubs like Inverness as flashpoints in the history of social change. But in the Inverness clubhouse stands a monument to one of the epochal, defining moments in golf history.

A 72-year-old cathedral chime clock in the clubhouse bears testament to an act of courtesy and courage by the members of Inverness. The imposing 7-foot clock was a gift to the club from the players of the 1931 U.S. Open. They had presented it to commemorate the day in 1920 that Inverness welcomed the players of the 1920 Open into the clubhouse.

"It’s a piece of golf history," said Judd Silverman, Tournament Director of the 2003 U.S. Senior Open. "The members of Inverness are very proud of the history and traditions of the club, and what the clock represents."

While the act of opening the clubhouse doors may seem mundane today, at the time it was revolutionary.

The Early Days

Americans have not always viewed the job of golf professional as a noble calling. The golf pro was once seen as little more than a servant for his country club patrons. Early club pros were subject to strict rules of conduct designed to make sure they stayed in their place socially.

The attitude was largely imported from Great Britain. The rigid 19th century British class structure made it unthinkable that the gentried elite might mix socially with the hired help at the grand old golf clubs of the day. This meant a strict separation between pros and members at all times.

When Americans began building their own golf clubs in the late 19th century, they imported the rules and equipment from Britain.

As the professional golf tournament scene began to emerge in the early days of the 20th century, no one thought to treat the visiting professionals any differently than the home pro.

Pro golfers were prohibited from entering the clubhouse. Since they weren’t allowed in the locker room, if they wanted to change clothes or out of their golf shoes after the round, they’d have to do it in the parking lot. Or the equipment shed. If they wanted refreshments after the round, it meant a trip into town.

For the first 25 years of U.S. Open history, this system went unchanged, and the USGA enforced the customs of the day. Rather than feeling like honored guests, players felt treated like temporary inconveniences to the host course.

The Break From Tradition

To this day, the grandfather clock that stands near the entrance of the clubhouse, still keeps perfect time. (John Mummert/USGA)

By the time the U.S. Open swung by Inverness in 1920, the golf world was changing, and so too were the attitudes. The 1920 Open at Inverness saw the U.S. Open debut of Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen and Johnny Farrell -- three flashy, popular players who would redefine the public image of golf in the coming years. But by 1920, Walter Hagen, America’s first full-time touring pro, had already begun lobbying publicly for better treatment of pro golfers at country clubs.

One man who took particular notice of the shifting winds of public opinion was Inverness’s co-founder and first president, S.P. Jermain.

Sylvanus P. Jermain was an ambitious player/club designer/course architect/tournament promoter/investor/booster of early golf in America. He founded golf clubs both public and private (including Ottawa Park, the first municipal course in the Midwest). He founded golf tournaments (the Ryder Cup was his idea). Jermain even wrote his own version of the Rules of Golf, the popular American Code of Golf, to rectify some deficiencies in the Rules at the time.

"Everything he did for the game – for the public golf courses he founded, for making Inverness into a championship club – it’s pretty remarkable," said Silverman.

He spurred excitement in the burgeoning sport with his passion and boundless energy and helped the Midwest become a hotbed of public golf. Jermain was heavily involved with both the USGA and the PGA, and it was under his urging that Inverness was chosen as the host site for the 1920 Open.

"He started the tradition of major championships at Inverness," said Silverman.

Jermain became convinced that the current treatment of players at the national championship was completely awry. His personal experience with the best golfers of his day convinced him that they were men of great character and dignity -- "gentlemen" in every truest sense of the word.

Jermain set about lobbying both the USGA and the members of Inverness to agree to a seismic shift in the way the players would be treated in the upcoming 1920 U.S. Open. Both parties agreed, and when the players arrived at Inverness in 1920 to contest the national title, they were welcomed into the clubhouse for the first time in the championship’s history. And the members of Inverness went far beyond just unlocking the doors. They found rooms for the players for the week and provided cars for the players’ use. The kindly Midwestern hospitality of the Inverness members stood in stark contrast to the treatment at all previous Opens.

Once the members of Inverness broke from tradition, there was no going back to the old ways, and the social position of the golf professional radically changed. Touring pros became heroes. Club pros became respected and admired club leaders. Men once treated as servants were now honored guests and friends.

While the story of pre-1920 pro treatment must have seemed like ancient history from an unrecognizable era to some of the young superstars at the 1931 Open, others were fully mindful of the bad old days. When the Open returned to Inverness, they sought a public gesture to thank the members for their historic contribution to their profession. Fittingly, it was Hagen who took the lead in gathering together the pros and organizing the purchase of the gift clock.

Today, the celebrated grandfather clock still stands in the Inverness clubhouse, welcoming new generations of multi-millionaire golfers who pass through this popular tournament location.

"Yes, it still keeps perfect time," reveled Silverman.

And the lines the players of the 1931 Open had inscribed on a brass plate on the front of the clock still ring true today:

God measures men by what they are
Not by what they in wealth possess
This vibrant message chimes afar
The voice of Inverness

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