Merion Preserves Rich History Through Archive
By David Shefter, USGA
On a fall day in 2000, three men from Merion Golf Club paid a visit to Golf House.
Olin Belsinger, Scott Smith and Chet Harrington weren’t at the USGA’s headquarters in Far Hills, N.J., to extol the virtues of club’s renowned East Course, which next week will host its fifth U.S. Open and record 18th USGA championship.
For all of Merion’s championship pedigree, which dates to the 1904 U.S. Women’s Amateur, the members of the Ardmore, Pa., club had come to the USGA with a problem: its cherished history was wasting away.
Above the pro shop in an attic, priceless items were improperly stored in cardboard boxes.
Realizing that time was wasting, Belsinger, Smith and Harrington drove to the USGA to discuss a major project with Andy Mutch, then the curator of the USGA Museum.
Would Mutch be interested in helping Merion create an archive?
“There was absolutely no organization to the collection,” said Mutch, who left the USGA in January 2001 to form his own company that specializes in helping golf clubs organize their archives. “Part of my job was to create order out of chaos.”
Three years later, Merion would boast arguably the most extensive archives of any golf club in the country. Its heart is the Trophy Room, which features replicas of trophies from every USGA championship and international team competition contested at Merion. At the center of the display, a glass case contains the “Grand Slam” trophies – from the U.S. Open, British Open, U.S. Amateur and British Amateur – won in 1930 by Bob Jones. Jones completed his historic Slam by winning the U.S. Amateur at Merion, one of the few clubs in the world that has all four replica trophies.
When Mutch started the project in early 2001, there were approximately 15 boxes of haphazardly stored artifacts. It was hard to tell what was historic and what was junk. Nobody had bothered to sort carefully through the materials or to store them in a temperature-controlled environment. As a result, the contents were subjected to suffocating summer heat and sub-freezing winter temperatures.
Belsinger said that if it weren’t for longtime member George Scudder, Merion may never have had the makings of an archives. Scudder had the foresight to save key items from the club’s history; he just never had the financial resources or the knowledge of how to properly preserve the contents.
Merion needed an outside professional to take control of the project.
“[Mutch] was uniquely qualified to do that,” said Belsinger.
The first thing Mutch did was to create a database. He ordered archival storage supplies and began to identify key items. He also asked the club to relocate its boardroom, a self-contained room with minimal sunlight – a near perfect environment for storing historical artifacts. The room’s windows could be blacked out, and it had enough space to store the memorabilia.
“Frankly, they needed a better boardroom,” said Mutch.
Every suggestion was met with positive affirmation from the club.
“My feeling is if you hire a consultant … you are wasting your money if you don’t get out of their way,” said Belsinger.
Once the archives room was in place, Mutch turned his focus to the public displays, particularly the Trophy Room. The club has a room dedicated to Bob Jones, who began his amateur career there in the 1916 U.S. Amateur and also won the 1924 U.S. Amateur there. Another display depicts winners of other USGA championships contested at Merion.
Mutch even negotiated with The R&A to allow Merion to procure replicas of the Claret Jug (British Open trophy) and the British Amateur trophy.
The resulting atmosphere is part clubhouse, part museum. And the archives continue to grow daily.
Longtime member and club historian John Capers, who chairs the committee that oversees the room, said the archives contain 95,000 digitized documents, including 20,000 directly related to Merion. There are separate hard copy files cataloging every USGA and international team competition conducted at Merion, dating to the 1904 U.S. Women’s Amateur (a total of 18 when one includes the 1960 World Amateur Team Championship). There are more than 8,000 digitized photographs and more than 1,000 pieces of china, glassware, championship badges, golf balls and other memorabilia.
Not only have Merion members contributed to this vast collection, but guests often seek out Capers or other Merion officials to make a donation.
Capers personally writes a thank-you letter to any individual who makes a contribution.
Belsinger hopes that the club archives will be maintained in its current location for decades to come. Mutch remains a paid consultant to the club.
“I have friends who come to Merion and want to see the archives,” said Belsinger, who has been a club member since 1971. “It’s a wonderful experience… for our members and guests. It’s very gratifying to see what kind of response this has created.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.