Say “Happy 100th birthday” to the host course of next year’s U.S. Open.
Very quietly, Merion GC is in the midst of pulling off a centennial celebration for its revered East Course, which in less than a decade will have hosted the U.S. Amateur (2005), the Walker Cup (2009) and its fifth U.S. Open (2013).
Not bad for a course that already had been written off in some circles as too short for the modern game when it was about to host its first U.S. Open, in 1934.
The actual birthday of the East Course was Friday (Sept. 14) – opening day in 1912 was a rainy Saturday – but the club is holding off on the cake and candles until Sept. 29, to coincide with its annual commemoration of Bobby Jones’ Grand Slam, held the last Friday of September.
The Saturday birthday party will be a low-key affair: a members-only day of golf, followed by dinner and dance. No black tie, no long-winded speeches.
“We don’t want to make it anything more than a moment to reflect on what a gem we have been given the responsibility to take care of,” said Merion president Harry Hill III.
Of course, for most of us – i.e., non-members – the time to blow out the candles on the East Course birthday cake will be next June, when Merion hosts the grandest of championships, the U.S. Open.
“I am so excited about next year,” said Mike Davis, executive director of the U.S. Golf Association and a man who was instrumental in Merion’s selection for 2013. “We knew going in that it would be a real challenge to try to fit everything in there, but things seem to be falling into place.”
That, of course, is a reference to Merion being space-challenged, set as it is on a mere 125 acres. It gives new meaning to the expression “good things come in small packages.”
That the East Course, which has only two par 5s, plays to a par of 70 and measures less than 7,000 yards, holds up to today’s modern game is a testament to the brilliance of its original design.
True, in the early years, several holes were tweaked – mainly the three holes (Nos. 10, 11, 12) that played across Ardmore Avenue. But those changes barely matter when considering the totality of today’s modern masterwork. Just ask the USGA’s Davis.
“When I think of Merion, what immediately comes to mind is that the East Course is an architectural masterpiece that to this day stands the test of time,” said Davis. “Then you couple that with it being truly one of the most historic venues in terms of important moments in golf.”
Important moments, indeed. Twice during a loop around the East Course, you come across historic markers guaranteed to send a chill up the spine of any golfer with a respect for the history of the game.
First, on a small boulder adjacent to the 11th tee, there is a plaque that notes that on Sept. 27, 1930, on this hole, Bobby Jones completed the “Grand Slam” by winning the U.S. Amateur.
Then, in the middle of the 18th fairway, there is a small, sunken stone that marks the spot of one of the best-known moments in golf, immortalized in Hy Peskin’s iconic photograph: Ben Hogan hitting a 1-iron in the final round of the 1950 U.S. Open.
Golf, and golf history, don’t get any better – at least not anywhere outside of the Old Course at St. Andrews. The East Course at Merion lives on and looms large at 100 because it deserves to, because its superiority cannot be denied. Truth is, the East Course of today is better than the East Course of a century ago. And more history will be made there.
The 2013 Open is hardly a swan song for the East Course. Even as we speak, the Championship Committee at Merion is mulling what future USGA championships to host. Another U.S. Amateur? Another Walker Cup? They haven’t even ruled out another U.S. Girls’ Junior.
You won’t get much from Bill Iredale, chairman of the Championship Committee.
“There are discussions,” he said. “I can’t tell you what it is, but there definitely is a plan.”
Here’s an alert for winter golf junkies: GAP has announced the schedule for the first four events of its annual Winter Series. They are:
* Friday, Oct. 26, Radnor Valley CC (Format: individual net Stableford)*
Wednesday, Oct. 31, Bala GC (Format: individual net Stableford)
* Wednesday, Nov. 7, Radley Run CC (Format: individual net Stableford)
* Thursday, Nov. 15, Indian Valley CC (Format: better-ball of partners).
Four more events will be announced for the spring.
Launched in 2008, the Winter Series is open to all levels of players, and its purpose is to get you out playing golf during what are normally the quiet off-season months. Events are open to all GAP members who are 18 and older, Philadelphia Section PGA members and golf pros at member clubs.
Tournaments begin at 10 a.m., shotgun start. Cost is $35 a person for each event, plus cart fees. Field sizes are determined by the host club; first-come, first-served.
The Winter Series also features a Player of the Year competition. Categories include Amateur Gross, Amateur Net, Senior Gross and Senior Net.
Visit gapgolf.org for more information or to register for an event.