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Merion The Librarian

ARDMORE, PENNSYLVANIA | It began life as a small golf club attached to a cricket club and has now become arguably the most historic, most atmospheric clubhouse in the US. If you doubt that then step onto its famed veranda, beneath the green and white canvas awning, and watch a three-ball driving off, so close you can read the make of the ball they are using. Then turn around and step inside the clubhouse. It’s a shrine to golf. “I’ve felt for a long time that it’s my favourite course in the world not on water,” David Normoyle, the American-born historian who studied at Cambridge University, said. “Nothing else has the combination of championship history and architecture. The intimacy and charm, mixed with brawn. Unique and wonderful.” Where is the heartbeat of this remarkable place? On the famous turf that has staged 18 USGA Championships including five U.S. Opens, a World Amateur Team Championship, a Walker Cup? In the Quarry where you half expect an ethereal, bearded figure to rise out of the long grass and frighten you as you wait to play your approach to the 16th green or tee off on the 17th? By the Hogan plaque on the 18th fairway or just beneath the surface of the Baffling Brook as it chuckles and gurgles past the 11th green? The answer is in all these places and more and perhaps most of all in the white-painted, part wood, part stone clubhouse. It is not as old as the R&A’s, a fraction the size of Medinah’s, warmer than Shinnecock’s, darker than Oak Hill’s, more homey than Oakmont’s. It is filled with more character than all these combined. Paintings, books, drawings are everywhere – and that is not including the library, which houses between 500 and 600 volumes. Vanity Fair’s 10 golfing prints are on the walls as are some water colours by Harry Rountree and oil paintings by Roy Spreeter. A painting of Hugh Wilson, the club’s founder, hangs in the lobby. The rooms have evocative names: Ballroom, Farm, Grill, Library. You could live in it and feel entirely at home, banging your head on a low ceiling here, adjusting your walk as you pass over a sloping floor there. Look down and you’ll see almost all the floors are marked with spike marks. Others have been here before you and they didn’t change their spikes. If you are interested in the history and social history of golf, in the 19th and 20th century, then this is the place for you. Waiting on the veranda was a burly man with a crewcut, an open neck shirt, a friendly face and a pair of glasses he took on and off. Dr Andrew Mutch runs a company called Golf Curator Inc. He used to work for the USGA in its museum. Then he took a degree at St Andrews and wrote a 100,000-word thesis called History of Golf in Pottery on an International Sporting Theme pre 1930. He knows his pottery. He also knows his onions. If the clubhouse is the cathedral, then the archive is the altar, a surprisingly small room, air-conditioned to 70 degrees Fahrenheit and a humidity of 30-50 per cent. There’s stuff all around the club but here’s the good stuff – Lee Trevino’s pith helmet from the 1971 US Open, player’s badges from 1930, David Graham’s Bull’s Eye Putter with lead on the sole from the 1981 Open, signed flags. The room is painted in fire suppressant paint. There is no ultraviolet light and the floor covering is industrial, sturdy, built to last. Contemporaneous newspaper cuttings from the 1916 US Amateur, 1930 Amateur, the 1950, 1971 and 1981 Opens and a great many more are scanned on an 11 x 7 flatbed scanner sitting on a shelf, then printed on fine art paper that doesn’t fade. “This” says Mutch, “is history as it happens. The key to this archive is to keep it active.” He moved across the room, to stand in front of some book-filled shelves. “There’s some goodies in here” he said, drawing attention to a book called The Little Pioneer by Lena Evans, who was Chick Evans’ mother.


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