15th Annual Gerry Dulac Parkway West Rotary Charity Classic
Monday, July 29th
Sewickley Heights Golf Club
Benefits Robinson Twp. Parks & Recreation Department and Parkway West Rotary Charities
Includes: 18-hole Scramble, Gift, Continental Breakfast, Dinner, Auction.
Register online at parkwaywestrotary.com
Special Editions of the Golf Show
ARDMORE, Pa. -- When David Graham won the 1981 U.S. Open with a near-perfect final round at Merion Golf Club, the United States Golf Association was convinced it would not come back to the club that has authored some of the most memorable moments in golf history.
And has those cool and distinctive wicker-basket flagsticks.
Never mind that Merion was the site in 1930 when Bobby Jones closed out his match on the 11th hole of the U.S. Amateur to become the first player to win golf's four major tournaments in the same year.
Or that in 1950, Ben Hogan hit a 1-iron from the middle of the 18th fairway to par the 72nd hole and force a three-way playoff that he eventually won -- just 16 months after a horrific auto accident nearly claimed his life. The photo of Hogan's shot, taken from behind and capturing his classic follow through, remains the most famous picture in golf.
Merion was even the site for Lee Trevino's 18-hole playoff victory against Jack Nicklaus in the 1971 U.S. Open, a match remembered for Trevino pulling a rubber snake from his bag on the first tee and playfully tossing it at Nicklaus.
It didn't even matter that Merion has played host to more USGA Championships (17) than any other club in America.
The USGA was convinced it could not continue to stage the U.S. Open there because, well, Merion was just too small.
"When we closed up in 1981, we really thought this was the last time, at least at a national Open championship, you would ever see Merion played on TV," said Mike Davis, the USGA's executive director. "And really it had nothing to do with the golf course in terms of how it played, in terms of a test of golf. But it had everything to do with how do you fit a modern-day U.S. Open on this 111 acres."
At 6,996 yards -- the first Open course less than 7,000 yards since 2004 at Shinnecock -- Merion will be an exacting test for the players. It is Oakmont-esque with its deep bunkers and fast greens and has maybe the five toughest finishing holes in golf.
But staging the championship will be an even more demanding test for the USGA. That's because the club is shoehorned into a quiet, charming neighborhood with almost no room to maneuver.
The driving range for the players will be 1 1/2 miles down the road, at the club's West Course. Most of the corporate hospitality tents are more than a quarter-mile from the club's entrance, along County Line Road, with absolutely no view of the course or even the clubhouse. Thankfully, a neighbor across from the 14th hole has donated his front lawn to be used for some type of hospitality tent.
Merion is so compact it makes Oakmont Country Club look like Disney World.
"For us, this is taking what has become just a huge championship and saying, you know what, for the good of the game, we can't not come back to a place like this," Davis said at a recent media preview of the championship, scheduled for June 13-16. "It's too important from an historical standpoint, and it means too much architecturally, and it's still a great test of golf. So credit to our board of directors that they were willing to take an Open and shrink it in terms of the number of people and corporate and so on."
All because of the sheer charm, intrigue, and challenge of Merion, one of golf's grandest clubs.
There are only two par-5s -- none after the fourth hole -- and three of the four par-3s can play at least 230 yards. Of the 12 par-4s, six play 380 yards or less.
"There's going to be more birdies made, trust me, at this U.S. Open than any we have seen in recent history," Davis said.
But, after walking off the green at the 115-yard 13th, Merion quickly becomes one of the Broad Street Bullies. The final five holes -- four par-4s and a 245-yard par-3, are rife with trouble, showing everything from heavy fescue, deep sand bunkers, boundary stakes and a rock quarry.
And, oh, those wicker baskets for flagsticks.
"I tell people all the time it is my favorite golf course in the world," said Webb Simpson, the defending U.S. Open champion who played in the 2005 U.S. Amateur at Merion.
"Merion is on virtually everybody's hit list of great golf courses, great architectural features," Davis said. "To come back here is truly magical."