If the Merion Golf Club in suburban Philadelphia did not have the championship pedigree as host of four prior U.S. Opens, it certainly would not have been chosen as the site of the 113th U.S. Open Championship to be held the week of June 10-16.
Too small. The Merion Golf Club’s East Course will be set up at 6,996 yards and will play to a par of 34-36-70, according to the USGA. This is the first time a U.S. Open Championship will be played on a course under 7,000 yards since 2004. Merion G.C. last hosted the U.S. Open in 1981, when Australian David Graham won with a total of seven under par. That year the historic Merion East Course was a par 70 and played at only 6,544 yards. Although the course is now slightly longer than in 1981, and some of the tees have been moved back, its short length will make it difficult to restrain today’s powerful hitters who are physically stronger and are using improved clubs and golf balls.
Location, location, location. When Merion moved from neighboring Haverford to its current site in Ardmore in 1912, the club was in a quiet, secluded, remote location about ten miles west of Philadelphia. But now, a century later, the area has become a bustling, inner-ring, Main Line suburb, with fully-developed residential communities and busy streets. According to the USGA, about 25,000 spectators are expected on championship days. Other recent U.S. Opens have had galleries that often exceeded 35,000. But 25,000 are all that will fit at Merion’s cozy 125-acre site. Even in 1981 the club had to stretch to its limits to accommodate the corporate tents, media and the hordes of pedestrians who converged on the venue. The facilities in this residential area were not designed to stage a modern golf event.
Traffic. According to Haverford Township officials, Haverford Road, between Ardmore and College avenues, as well as Ardmore Avenue, between Darby and Haverford roads, will be closed, beginning the afternoon of June 9 until the end of the tournament June 16 or 17, depending on possible weather delays or an 18-hole playoff. Haverford Avenue is a major thoroughfare that provides a route connecting the Main Line to Philadelphia. This traffic will have to be detoured to Wynnewood Road and onto Lancaster Avenue and could cause quite a few headaches for drivers in this often congested area.
Merion has quite a storied history. It is where the legendary Bobby Jones began and finished his USGA amateur career. In 1930, Jones won the U.S. Amateur at Merion, completing the version of the Grand Slam then in existence. It is where in 1950 Ben Hogan staged his comeback from a near-fatal automobile accident to win the second of his record-tying four U.S. Opens. And it is where Jack Nicklaus lost to Lee Trevino in an 18-hole U.S. Open playoff in 1971. That was the occasion in which Trevino allegedly startled Nicklaus by playfully tossing a toy snake at him. It is this luster that has enabled Merion to win hosting the event again, even though the site is not as ideal as many modern golf venues.
There is no question the USGA and the communities surrounding the Merion Golf Club will put on a professional show and provide the resources necessary for a successful week. And there is no doubt that Merion can be “gimmicked-up” to preclude today’s golfers from overpowering it. For example, when Merion hosted the 2005 U.S. Amateur, the lowest score recorded during the two days of stroke-play qualifying was a 1-under-par 69, according to the USGA. So the short yardage in and of itself does not mean the golfers will eat the course alive. However, to make this course tough enough for today’s players and today’s equipment, the USGA will have to create artificially difficult greens, bunkers and fairways that Hogan and Jones would not have encountered. What happens at Merion this year can’t be compared in any way to what happened in previous visits to Merion G. C. And doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of bringing the U.S. Open back to venerable Merion?