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