The past meets the present this week as the U.S. Open comes to Merion, a course both shrouded in mystery and steeped in history. From its wicker baskets, both red and orange depending on pin location, to the club house floor scarred with spikes of players past, Merion is very much a unique course.
Designed by Hugh Wilson and opened in 1912, Merion’s East Course has survived the test of time. The 2013 Open marks the fifth of its kind and the 18th USGA event, a record among courses, to be held at the Philadelphia gem. The rich history that has transpired at the course is nothing short of awe inspiring.
The first event to be held at the East Course was the 1916 U.S. Amateur, where a 14-year-old Bobby Jones was in the field of the tournament that Chick Evans championed. Jones was not used to the “billiard greens” as he referred to them, and was ousted in the semi-final round by the margin of 5 and 3. Little did Jones know, but this course would be the stage where he brought home his first U.S. Amateur Championship a mere eight years later. Merion also played host to the 1930 U.S. Amateur, where Jones, coming off victories at that year’s U.S. Open, British Open and British Amateur needed a victory to complete the final leg of his grand slam. Jones closed out his championship match against Eugene Homans on the 11th green to close out his match and the greatest golf feat known to man.
In 1934, Merion hosted its first U.S. Open, where Olin Dutra took the first-place prize of $1,000 with his winning score of a 9-over, 293. Sixteen years later in 1950, one of the most iconic golf photograph of all time was taken when Ben Hogan hit a 1 iron (or 2 or 3, depending on his account of the story) to the small green on Merion’s 18th hole and two putted for his spot in the 18-hole Monday playoff, where he went on to victory. The famous spot is commemorated with a plaque and has served as a monument to the man who was crushed in a horrific car crash just 16 months previous. Hogan played the tournament with his legs wrapped fully in bandages and hobbled from shot to shot. His victory was a story of determination and triumph of the human spirit as the doctors had told him he may never walk again.
It would be a 21-year wait for the next U.S. Open on Merion soil. This time, the charismatic and quirky Lee Trevino was victorious with an even-par-280 finish. Ten years brought the Open back to Merion and David Graham would better Trevino’s score by seven shots. The score’s were getting better by the year.
Thirty-two years after David Graham’s 7-under, 273 victory, the questions still echo. Has the equipment made Merion too easy? Is the course too short? The 6,996-yard layout is arguably too short for today’s drives of 340-plus yards, however it is still a game of strategy, skill and of history, where the old saying “Drive for show, putt for dough” really rings true. With tight, quick fairways, narrow fairways and soaring rough the next page in the history books should be a tough one to write from whomever’s pen the ink flows.
As the fifth U.S. Open at Merion begins, be sure to listen to the echoes of Dutra, Evans, Jones and Hogan as they whisper through the fescue and trees and carry the trophy into the hands of the winner. Will the Tiger replace the Hawk or will there be a new gentlemen golfer holding America’s trophy? We will have to wait for history to write itself.
- U.S. Open finally arrives at Merion (readingeagle.com)
- Merion’s meticulous design makes for many magical moments (jacksonville.com)
- US Open returns, tradition remains at Merion (utsandiego.com)