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Published: Wednesday, 5/18/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Last chance for Inverness to bag Open?

Between 1920 and 1979, four U.S. Opens were staged at Inverness Club. That's roughly one every 15 years, which put Toledo in the United States Golf Association's regular rotation for the nation's top tournament.

The U.S. Open has not returned to Inverness since '79 and considering the next available date is 2018 that would be a minimum drought of nearly 40 years. There are reasons for this.

Shortly after the '79 Open, Inverness agreed to host the U.S. Senior Open in 1990, the year Jack Nicklaus turned 50 and qualified to compete. Nicklaus is an Ohioan and he'd played in his first U.S. Open at Inverness in 1957, so the time and place were perfect fits.

But there was some dissent. And upon a major shift on the club's board of directors Inverness changed its mind and rescinded the invitation. For awhile thereafter Inverness was perceived like a nine-hole track in Bono by some embittered USGA officials.

Inverness then threw a little salt in the wound by romancing the "rival" PGA of America, a move that paid off with PGA Championships in Toledo in 1986 and '93.

You may note that the PGA hasn't been back in 18 years, which brings us to the final issue -- the local economy and the thinning of our corporate herd. Major championships are expected to be big money-makers and there is hesitation by both the USGA and the PGA to locate their premier events in struggling mid-sized markets.

Because the two compete for top clubs, courses, and communities, many have been locked into so-called rotations. The USGA's includes Oakmont, Pebble Beach, Pinehurst No. 2, Shinnecock Hills, and Olympic Club with some other favorites like Winged Foot, Congressional, and Merion sprinkled in. It also has embraced public-access courses like Bethpage (twice) and Torrey Pines during the past decade and will hold upcoming Opens at two newer courses -- Chambers Bay in Washington and Erin Hills in Wisconsin -- that have little history.

So that's the old and new that Inverness is battling. The club and the USGA long ago kissed and made up, and Inverness paid its penance by hosting the 2003 U.S. Senior Open, hoping that would open the door to another regular Open championship. It has been eight years, a number of future sites have been announced, and Inverness is still waiting. Instead, the club will host another Senior Open this summer from July 25-31.

Inverness is not deterred. I asked board president Tom Geiger Jr. if his club was still pursuing an Open and he said:

"Absolutely, we're still committed to the same position followed here for over 100 years. We still embrace national championship golf and we very much believe this golf course is a U.S. Open course. We have a great relationship with the USGA and they have never questioned our facilities. It is more of an economic marketplace issue."

The argument could be made that, with the exception of Augusta National, Inverness has an infrastructure equal to, or better, than any historic club in U.S. golf. The course and practice facilities are world class, the clubhouse offers every amenity, there is on-site parking for every car (no shuttles necessary), locations for corporate hospitality villages are nearly endless, and the Senior Open will employ a new routing that should prove the course can handle spectator movement as well as any.

Marketing officials have already met their corporate hospitality goals -- frankly, they were modest; a regular Open would be much more of a regional sell -- so the rest is up to us, the ticket-buying public.

July's tournament may be our last chance to prove to the USGA that an Open once every four decades isn't asking too much.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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