Inverness, the first country club in America to open its clubhouse doors to the scraggly touning professionals of golf in 1920, opened its arms again today to the early arrivals for the 79th U.S. Open that begins Thursday.
It is a drastically redesigned Inverness, however, from the tight, snugly trapped test of pin-point accuracy that hosted the Open in '20, '31 and '57.
Four holes on the old (and easy) front nine have been destroyed - replaced by four harder holes that should establish some scoring balance between the nines. Three other holes have beee given different numbering.
"Well, the Fazios (architects George and Tom) have really changed it," the former Maryland player George Burns commented. "Let's just say it's a vastly different course than the old one. Not necessarily harder or better, but different."
Many of the three-dozen-or-so pros who played practice rounds today had never seen the famous course. A whole generation of pros has grown up since Dick Mayer won in a playoff with Cary Middlecoff in 1957.
Others, however, were miffed by the alterations in the great Donald Ross classic design.
"It's darn presumptuous of anyone to touch anything that Ross built," said one pro, not anxious to incur the wrath of the living for praising the dead. "It's like repainting the Mona Lisa to make her a redhead. I'd definitely say they hurt a great course.
"Three of the four new holes are poor. "They're new and they stick out like a sore thumb. You leave a masterpiece alone."
Two names came to every tongue as pretournament favorites: Tom Watson, golf's top player over the past three years, and Andy Bean, who won the Atlanta Classic on Sunday by eight shots with a staggering 23-under-par 265.
Watson, true to custom, finished his practice round with a birdie, then went grumbling to the practice range, saying, "I'm really not hitting it well. I need work."
An hour with lifelong teacher Stan Thirsk made him only slightly happier.
"With one exception - Sam Snead - no one has been a great player without winning the Open," said Watson, who has three major titles, but only one (the 1977 Masters) in the United States.
"You must win in the majors, and win consistently, and you must win the Open to be considered a truly great player."
"Tom wants this as badly as any tournament he's ever been in," said Burns, "because (Watson's mentor) Byron Nelson was the pro here for many years."
While Watson professed to be struggling, Bean Brought "aaahhs" with his practice shots.
"Andy may one-iron this place to death off the tee," said die-straight skinny Joe Inman, a distant second to Bean at Atlanta. "The big moose is hittin' it straighter than me, and I can't do anythin' but hit it straight.
"If somebody'd been on his tail on Sunday, he'd have been just kept making more birdies. The man's in another world right now. But then Watson's been there for quite a while."