Merion's USGA Legacy

Known for its trademark wicker-basket flagsticks, Merion Golf Club has been the scene of numerous historic moments in American golf. (USGA)

Known for its trademark wicker-basket flagsticks, Merion Golf Club has been the scene of numerous historic moments in American golf. (USGA)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

By David Shefter, USGA

Few venues can boast the championship pedigree and tradition of Merion Golf Club. The Ardmore, Pa., club has hosted more USGA championships than any club in the country. This year’s U.S. Open will mark its 18th USGA championship and fifth U.S. Open.

Pebble Beach and Augusta National might be more recognizable, and Oakmont (eight), Baltusrol (seven) and Oakland Hills (six) have hosted more U.S. Opens. But Merion doesn’t take a backseat to anyone when it comes to its place in the game’s storied history.

Some have called Merion “the finest inland links in the country,” while 18-time major champion Jack Nicklaus famously said of Merion: “Acre for acre, it may be the best test of golf in the world.”

Merion is where Bob Jones started and ended his brilliant USGA amateur career, finishing with the 1930 U.S. Amateur victory that completed his Grand Slam, which has never been duplicated. It’s where Ben Hogan capped a remarkable 16-month comeback from a near-fatal automobile accident to win the second of his record-tying four U.S. Open titles. One of the game’s iconic images was produced at that 1950 championship: Hy Peskin’s photo of Hogan’s 1-iron approach to the 72nd hole.

Ten years later, a young Jack Nicklaus shot a record total of 269 at the World Amateur Team Championship, a mark that stands as the lowest 72-hole score in the event’s history. Nicklaus compiled rounds of 66-67-68-68 as the USA rolled to a 42-stroke win over Australia, the largest margin of victory ever in the biennial competition.

Nicklaus would also be a partner to history at Merion 11 years later, losing an 18-hole U.S. Open playoff to Lee Trevino in 1971.

Since moving to its current location from neighboring Haverford in 1912, Merion Golf Club has always been about championship golf. The new course, which was designed by Merion member Hugh Wilson, was some 500 yards longer than its predecessor, and former USGA president Richard S. Tufts called it a “model test of golfing skill and judgment for future architects to copy.”

Trophies from every USGA championship contested at Merion are displayed in the clubhouse, along with a special case that contains replicas of Jones’ Grand Slam hardware – the U.S. Open, British Open, U.S. Amateur and British Amateur trophies.

By today’s standards, Merion is not a long golf course. It will measure 6,996 yards for the 113th U.S. Open, several hundred yards shorter than some layouts we’ve seen recently at major championships. 

Nevertheless, when Merion hosted the 2005 U.S. Amateur, the lowest score produced during the two days of stroke-play qualifying was a 1-under-par 69. It’s a testament that length isn’t the only determining factor for a great championship venue, and that Merion can hold its own in the modern era. 

Each Tuesday over the next four months, the USGA will recount one of the championship moments at Merion, beginning with the 1904 U.S. Women’s Amateur won by Georgianna Bishop on the club’s Haverford, Pa., layout. In fact, the first two USGA events were contested on the Merion Cricket Club course. The East Course opened in 1912 and its first USGA competition was the 1916 U.S. Amateur, a championship that was won by Charles “Chick” Evans and was also noteworthy for being Jones’ first USGA appearance, at age 14. The Merion Golf Club, including the West Course, became a separate entity in 1942, and its champions include the likes of Hogan, Nicklaus, Trevino, Olin Dutra (1934 U.S. Open) and David Graham (1981 U.S. Open).

All of these stories and videos will lead into the 113th playing of the U.S. Open Championship from June 13-16, a competition that will add to Merion’s proud USGA legacy.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA.

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