I should start this with a caveat: all due credit to Justin Rose for winning the US Open.
But the real winner last month in Ardmore, PA will not be traveling to Muirfield for the Open Championship or down Magnolia Lane next spring for The Masters. This winner will still be in Ardmore next week, next month and really, forever. It’s Merion Golf Club.
Remember before the US Open when all the pundits questioned Merion’s ability to stand up to the modern golfer and the technology of today’s game?
Brandel Chamblee wondered aloud on Golf Channel’s pre-tournament coverage if a player might break 260. That’s 20-under par…at the US OPEN!!!
In the June issue of Golf Digest, former USGA Executive Director David Fay pointed out that at each of the first four Opens at Merion hosted the winning score dropped substantially: 293 in 1934, 287 in 1950, 280 in 1971 and 273 in 1981. Fay also made the point that if the trend continued and the winning score was around 266 it wouldn’t matter.
I think it would have mattered a great deal. Merion had been exiled from the unofficial US Open rota for 32 years. The USGA doesn’t particularly like to see 7-under-par winning US Opens, as David Graham did at Merion in 1981.
But none of that happened. For the first time at Merion the winning score was higher than the previous US Open contested there. As a matter for fact, Justin Rose’s 281 winning score was not only higher than David Graham’s mark, it was a stroke more than Lee Trevino and Jack Nicklaus shot to get into a playoff in 1971.
Merion was the winner. Unfortunately her name will not appear on the US Open trophy alongside Justin Rose.
Merion proved itself as more than worthy of not only hosting the National Open as a “one-off” but also that it belongs with Pebble Beach, Winged Foot, Oakmont, Bethpage, Shinnecock and Pinehurst in the unofficial rota of US Open courses.
Consider the pros on Merion’s side:
1) Location: the club is nine miles from downtown Philadelphia, the nation’s 6th most populated city****
2) Historical significance: 2 US Amateurs won by Bobby Jones including his Grand Slam in 1930, Hogan in ’50, Trevino & Nicklaus in ’71, and more USGA Championships than any other course in America.
3) Willing membership: The stories were well documented throughout the week of how the members of Merion worked to bring the US Open back to their course – among them purchasing land off the sixth hole and giving up their homes along the 14th and 15th holes for player registration.
4) A well-respected course: consistently ranked in the top 10 of America’s greatest courses, the east course at Merion is a challenging layout to be sure. What sets it apart is that there is that there is no in-between. The short holes are extremely short (the 1st, 10th and 13th for example) while the long holes are nearly stretched as long as they can be (3rd, 5th, 18th).
5) Roster of champions: Dutra, Hogan, Trevino, Graham and Rose were all among the best in the game at the time of their win. There have not been any fluke winners at Merion in the same way a course like Olympic Club, for instance, has produced.
I do understand that there is one overwhelming con for Merion, the size. Not of the golf course, but the property. A mere 111 acres is not ideal for the event that a US Open is today. It has been reported that the USGA lost about $10 million on the 2013 open. This event is the largest source of revenue for the USGA annually. It’s a matter of logistics.
I attended the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach and I could see that the logistics are a challenge there, too. The driving range is not near the first tee, the practice green is small, the nearest major city, San Francisco, is a two hour drive from the Monterey Peninsula. Spectators are shuttled from the parking lot at a nearby college on 17-Mile Drive, a two lane road that twists and turns through the Del Monte Forest. Logistics are a challenge at Pebble Beach, which is all but guaranteed a US Open every decade, why not Merion?
As Adam Fonseca, Ryan Ballengee and I discussed on the DimpleHead Podcast, there are some very intriguing anniversaries coming that could set up nicely for Merion. The next available date is 2021. One of the favorites is Torrey Pines, site of the 2008 championship’s epic playoff between Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate. The other favorite is Oakland Hills Country Club. Already picked to host the 2016 US Amateur, the unofficial tune-up for a US Open, Oakland Hills has a long history of major championships and will most likely receive the 2021 Open if the USGA’s form holds.
But remember that 2026 will be the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which occurred in Philadelphia (in a previous life I taught American History), the USGA has certainly held on to significant dates in the past when selecting US Open venues. If not in 2026, perhaps in 2030, the 100th anniversary of Bobby Jones’ Grand Slam, completed at Merion, albeit in the US Amateur.
At any rate, Merion is certainly one of the great courses in the United States. In its latest examination of the greatest players in the world, Merion defended herself like a champion. There were no record-breaking scores; none of the longest players were able to make Merion look like a pitch-and-putt by driving each of the short par 4s. There is no question in my mind that Merion has earned a place in the regular rotation of US Open courses. It should not and cannot be simply about the money the USGA loses on a Merion Open. It is in the best interest of American Golf to see this course test the elite players at least once every 15 years.