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Loren Roberts is a fan of old golf courses. Byron Nelson is his golfing hero. Given a choice, he’d rather play courses graced by legendary architect A.W. Tillinghast.
So, where better for Roberts to play in a U.S. Senior Open than Inverness Club?
“All the greats who have played this game have come through this golf course at one time or another,” Roberts said Monday after his morning practice round. “More guys in golf have been touched by this course and this club than probably any other. This place is special.”
Most of the veteran pros in the field have a genuine warm spot, more than mere lip service, for Inverness, a course that is holding its seventh United States Golf Association championship to go along with two PGA Championships.
But Roberts knows the history of the place as if he had lived it.
“It really does mean a lot for us to play here,” Roberts said. “This is the first place that allowed professionals in the clubhouse during the 1920 U.S. Open. It meant so much to the players that they threw their money together and bought the club that nice grandfather clock that’s in the lobby. So it’s not just what this club means to golfers today. It’s also what it meant to all the guys who came before.”
The original championship course at Inverness was partly designed and fully renovated prior to the ‘20 Open by Donald Ross and it has always been rightfully billed as a Ross course.
But before the club’s second Open in 1931, Tillinghast was hired to modify several holes — building a new tee to make the wonderful 17th hole more of a dogleg may have been his most lasting contribution — and to renovate many of the course’s bunkers.
Roberts may or may not have known that before it came up in conversation Monday, but he didn’t seem a bit surprised.
“If there is one feature you’d pick out to recognize Tillinghast’s work, it would definitely be the bunkers,” Roberts said, standing off the 18th green. “Some of these, like the faces of the bunkers on this hole, don’t look like original Ross bunkers. I see Tillinghast there.”
And he sees Nelson here, too, even if it has been more than 65 years since Lord Byron graced Inverness at its head professional.
“I never knew Bobby Jones,” Roberts said. “But I knew Byron Nelson, and of all the men I’ve known in golf he was the greatest gentleman in the game. That he was the pro here for awhile [1940-44] is just another huge part of the club’s history and golf history.”
Roberts was a bit of a late bloomer as a professional golfer, first joining the PGA Tour — with which he had an on again, off again relationship early on — in 1981 but not winning a tournament until 1994. Once he started winning, though, he never stopped and now has 20 combined PGA Tour-Champions Tour titles. One of the PGA wins, appropriately, was the Byron Nelson Classic in ‘99, when he equaled the tournament scoring record.
More recently, he has twice won the British Senior Open, a major, and entered 2011 with a streak of five straight seasons of at least $1 million in earnings on the Champions Tour. His last win came a year ago on his 55th birthday.
All through his career, Roberts has dazzled fans and competitors alike with his putting prowess. In fact, his nickname is Boss of the Moss.
It’s just another reason to like his chances at Inverness with its small, ridged, angled, normally fast greens.
“Well, you have to hit the greens first,” he said, laughing. “But if I can find them, I always like my chances. I know the course has taken a lot of water, but I think the greens will firm up and get faster as the week goes on. I’d like to see that because some of the pin positions on these slopes, well, it can be a hard place to putt.”
The harder, the better for a confident putter.
This is Roberts’ first visit to Inverness since the 1993 PGA Championship, where he opened with two 67s before tailing off to a 28th-place finish.
He’d like to do a bit better this week.
“This is the one tournament in senior golf that I would really like to have my name on the trophy,” he said.
Then, Loren Roberts would himself become part of Inverness Club’s rich history, something he knows an awful lot about.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.