Merion Golf Club, 21st century edition

April 28, 2009

ARDMORE, Pa. -- When the Walker Cup, the biennial amateur match featuring the United States against Great Britain and Ireland, comes to venerable Merion Golf Club this fall, the 24 participants will traverse a quaint layout that has been "stretched" to somewhere close to 6,500 yards. That's not a typo; the current yardage from the back teeing grounds is 6,482.

But bigger plans await Merion's East Course, which has hosted 17 U.S. Golf Association events and where so much history has been made. Merion is the place where Bobby Jones completed the 1930 Grand Slam with his U.S. Amateur triumph, where Ben Hogan, a year after his near-fatal automobile accident, struck his historic 1-iron that fueled his eventual playoff victory in the 1950 U.S. Open, and where Lee Trevino pulled out a rubber snake to unnerve Jack Nicklaus before beating the Golden Bear in a playoff at the 1971 Open.

After the Walker Cup, the club will prepare for the return of the U.S. Open in 2013 -- 32 years after it last hosted the national championship. And while the land-locked layout will never approach the 7,000-yard-plus spectacles of modern designs, Merion is finding room to grow its East Course, and it could present Open contestants some killer holes.

For instance, a new sixth tee has just been installed that takes the 420-yard par-4 to more than 470 yards, and it might be used during the Walker Cup Sept. 12-13. Behind the 12th tee, which is currently 371 yards, the club recently purchased a home that it has coveted for more than a decade. That will allow them to stretch the dogleg right par-4 to more than 450 yards.

Then there is the famous 18th, where a plaque commemorating Hogan's famous 1-iron at the end of regulation, sits in the left half of the fairway. Even with a new tee in place, most of today's players easily could fly drives past the Hogan marker and down the hill, leaving a short iron into the elevated green. That's why the club is considering cutting a new tee into a hill some 30-40 yards farther back, which would make the par-4 more than 500 yards.

Walker Cup captain Buddy Marucci, the reigning U.S. Senior Amateur champion and a member at Merion, is eager to see how the old gem can hold up against top amateurs. "It will be interesting to watch them play the course with a modern game," he said.

The exercise should give club officials an idea how much their changes will affect play -- and how much more they might consider doing.

--* Dave Shedloski*