Decision to stage US Open at under-sized Merion should be commended
USGA choosing Merion could pave way for Royal Portrush to host major opens in the future
Grounds crew workers remove water from the second fairway during a weather delay on the first round of the 2013 U.S. Open golf championship at the Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. Photograph: Reuter/Adam Hunger
Aside from the weather, which was out of their control, the USGA’s decision to return Merion Golf Club to its rota of US Open courses posed numerous logistical complications.
For starters, the course takes up just 111 acres – a Golf Course Superintendent Association of America report puts the average course size in the USA at between 150 and 200 acres – and, consequently, surrounding land space, including public roads and gardens of houses adjoining the course, was acquired to facilitate the 113th staging of the US Open at the famed venue.
Even so, it constituted a very, very tight squeeze.
Indeed, players and spectators have had to make allowances to enable the hosting of the event. Instead of being located in the (small) clubhouse, players are being housed in a temporary tented “locker room”, while the driving range, usually in close proximity to a championship course, is on the second course and requires a 10- minute cart ride for players to the first and 11th tees, the two starting points for the opening two rounds.
Why not the 10th hole? Well, that’s a story in itself: the owners of the house backing on to the 10th tee declined the offer of the USGA to hire out their back garden for the week and instead decided to erect their own platform and invite family and friends in for private parties with one of the best views of any hole. Their call, their right; but an indication of the problems that faced the USGA in order to bring the US Open back to the famed course for the first time since 1981.
To make a comparison, the site area in use here this week is approximately half that at the Olympic Club in San Francisco last year.
The compact course has also resulted in many attending basing themselves in the giant grandstands (or bleachers) erected, to limit the numbers walking in the galleries.
So, the decision to return to Merion – after a 32-year gap – was a brave and bold one, but also a gamble. Has it paid off? Not on the financial front, with the estimated loss to the USGA of $10 million. One reason for this is daily ticket sales were limited to 25,000, down from the usual 40,000-45,000.
Yet, the logistical nightmare apart, and despite the unfortunate weather which they couldn’t possibly legislate for, the decision to put Merion back on the map was the correct one.
Professional golf is all about money but the USGA go beyond that and the decision to return to a famed venue (where Bobby Jones completed his “Grand Slam” and where Ben Hogan, a year after a near-death experience, won the US Open) reminded us all of the history associated with the game and the legacy that such feats has left behind.
Indeed, the USGA’s decision should also serve as an indicator to the R&A that it isn’t all about money when nominating a course to stage a Major.
And if Merion can play host to a US Open, why can’t Royal Portrush – in the frame for a return of the Irish Open, possibly as soon as 2015 – be ear-marked for the British Open? Certainly the manner in which logistical problems have been overcome here should be noted.
“There were a lot of people in the USGA, including myself, that never thought this would happen . . . we couldn’t figure out how to fit a modern day (US) Open on this amount of property,” conceded Mike Davis, the executive director of the USGA.
It would have been a shame if today’s players didn’t get the chance to play Merion.
So, despite the logistical nightmare involved, hats off to the USGA – and their 5,000 volunteers – and to the community around Ardmore for making it happen.
It proves anything is possible, that where there is a will, there is a way. And that money isn’t everything.