by Bradley S. Klein, Golfweek
ARDMORE, Pa. – Merion Golf Club’s East Course
isn’t the only layout in America with a theatrical
quality. But it’s among the most carefully
staged of all golf-course productions, and
certainly one of the longest-running. In fact,
this Hugh Wilson-designed layout from 1912
conveys all the narrative structure of a three-
act play, with Act I (holes 1-6) comprising
Drama; Act II (holes 7-13) Comedy; and Act
III (holes 14-18) Tragedy.
With the Walker Cup in 2009, Merion achieved
a milestone - The club holds a U.S. Golf
Association-record 17 championships at Merion.
For the Walker Cup the par-70 course was
stretched to 6,887 yards, still short by modern
Merion sets an early challenge at the 362-yard,
par-4 No. 1. A massive cross bunker demands
a layup left or a bold drive approximately 300
yards over trees right.
Were the Walker Cup format – foursomes
(alternate shot) and singles – to include better-
ball play, each pairing likely would consider an
aggressive play at some of the shortest par 4s.
Alas, the risk/reward genius of Merion will yield
to a frumpy elegance.
Merion’s Act I includes the only two par 5s –
Nos. 2 and 4 – on the card, both reachable in
two with big drives.
The seven-hole stretch from Nos. 7 through 13
might be the most maddening run in U.S. golf.
Temptation lurks amid the short yardages, with
steep fall-offs, creeks fronting greens and false
fronts that funnel well-struck irons into
penalizing chipping swales.
From there, all hell breaks loose. The tragedy
of Act III unfurls in a series of long, tough
holes that reward angles and position.
The par-3 17th, stretched to 246 yards, offers
a green with an unpin-able thumbprint up front
that fall offs into sand and hollows everywhere
Then there’s the famed par-4 18th, the scene
of Ben Hogan’s legendary 1-iron approach that
helped him clinch a playoff berth at the 1950
U.S. Open, which he won the next day.
From the 505-yard tee, it’s a 240-yard carry to
the fairway, though the real challenge is a
plateau green where a little short falls back and
a little long rolls over.
For a relatively short course, Merion always has
been a wonderful test. No U.S. course better
showcases the virtues of pronounced ground
features. That will be even more apparent in
2013, when Merion hosts its fifth U.S. Open.
Rater’s notebook: Merion Golf
Club – East