ARDMORE, Pa. – The USGA did not have to come back to Merion Golf Club. In fact, almost everyone thought the 1981 U.S. Open would be the last one played here.
The logistics are brutal. The practice range is on the West Course, about a mile from the first tee, so players have to take a shuttle to the East Course that navigates through fan traffic. And the players’ locker room is in a tent, far from the historic but smallish clubhouse.
To top it off, Bloomberg Businessweek reports the USGA could lose $10 million as a result of limiting galleries to 25,000 per day, about half the size of venues such as Pebble Beach.
So why go through the hassle of staging a U.S. Open on such a small property? Here are four things that make Merion so special:
One of a kind: The tee shot on the 521-yard 18th hole requires a carry of 248 yards just to reach the fairway, but it’s the approach that worries the pros. Both the fairway and the green slope right to left, “so you have to cut it in there,” Keegan Bradley said of the left-to-right ball flight.
And the green is shaped like a turtle’s back.
Said Mike Weir: “If you land it short, it rolls all the way back. Go long and it hits the downslope and runs away from you.”
Bomb it about 315, and the pros will reach the course’s most famous landmark, a plaque commemorating the 1-iron that eventual champion Ben Hogan hit in 1950 to get into a playoff.
Like so many players, Weir dropped a ball there in a practice round. He drilled a 4-iron to the center of the green.
“Pretty cool to hit that shot,” he said. “Hogan is a guy I have modeled my golf swing after.”
All-business Bradley hasn’t attempted a shot from the plaque, saying: “There are a lot of divots around that. It would be disappointing to hit one near there (Thursday) and be in a divot.”
Breakfast ball: The patio is so close to the first tee, members almost can affect a player’s backswing by reaching out with salad tongs.
It’s such an intimate setting that Luke Donald described the gallery for his first tee shot during a practice round last week: “There was Dolly, who was helping serve lunch. She has been here about 35 years.”
The hole is just 350 yards, but it’s doubtful any pros will try to drive the first green because the hole doglegs severely to the right.
Merion has a no-mulligan policy for its members, and diners are expected to stop chatting when players reach the tee. But they continue eating, so the clanking of silverware remains.
Sinking feeling: The 11th hole is where Bobby Jones completed the 1930 “Grand Slam” - U.S. Amateur, British Am., British Open and U.S. Open.
The green is also the lowest point on the golf course, and it came within a few inches of being flooded Monday after heavy rain. A fairway bunker turned into a lake, forcing tournament officials to pump out the water and replace the sand. A giant fan blew air on it Wednesday.
What a hole - a blind tee shot down a hill to wedge distance, followed by a treacherous approach to a small green guarded by rock-filled Cobbs Creek.
Basket-ball: Merion has flags on the property, but not on the greens. The holes are topped by bulb-shaped wicker baskets - red on the front nine, orange on the back.
The origin of the baskets is unclear, but the result is that players will take extra time to study the trees and flip blades of grass into the air.