US Open 2013: Quirky Merion is one major pull for the traditionalists

Organisers hit by rain deluge but it cannot dilute charm of historic US Open venue


On the wall of Adam Scott's Bahamas home hangs the iconic poster of Ben Hogan's one-iron to the 18th in the 1950 US Open. The Masters champion bought it from the Merion club shop on a visit a fortnight ago. He could have ordered it online but he wanted to do it here, the place where Hogan further embellished his legend and left an indelible imprint on the game.

Hogan was the Tiger of the day, a name that held within its two syllables all that it meant to be a golfer. He needed a par to take the tournament to a play-off and like the hero he was he pulled it off with the hardest club in the bag, a tool that hardly features today. The photo captures not only the shot but the mood of America in all its post-war ebullience; ambitious, confident, on the move. Hogan – impossibly stylish in tailored trousers, handmade shoes and white cap – is seen from behind with the galleries following the arc of the ball on a sun-dappled day.

"It's nice to come to these places that have played such a big part in golf's history because we don't get to do it that much" Scott said. "I bought the poster in the pro shop. I thought I'd buy it here because then at least it's from the place where he hit the one-iron. I think most of us appreciate the history of the game and understand everything that's happened before, and we all like doing that kind of stuff."

Hogan would go on to beat Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio in the play-off. Twenty years earlier Bobby Jones completed his historic grand slam here with victory in the US amateur. We are back in America's north east, the new world's old country, where the game developed in the suburbs of cities and towns rapidly expanding into the 20th century. Philadelphia is at the heart of the story of America. Five signatories to the Declaration of Independence rest in the Christ Church burial ground, including the city's most famous son, Benjamin Franklin.

Time has transformed a region that once throbbed with revolutionary zeal into a defender of traditions. Merion has hosted more USPGA championships than any in America but it is in every sense a track from yesteryear. Stretched to its current configuration it still falls short of 7,000 yards, and were it built today would not come close to meeting the criteria of hosting a global event and all that comes with it.

The last time the US Open was staged here in 1981 the tented village amounted to 13 small structures on the practice range behind the 17th green. Today there are more than 200 tents and 80-plus support trailers, a good number sited beyond the 127-acre boundary, requiring the indulgence of neighbours acquired through cash compensations.

In coming here the host, the United States Golf Association, is making an important point about the game and its traditions. It is reminding club and ball manufacturers that enough is enough. Golf is on the limit of its own definition with a ball that carries more than 300 yards, hit by graphite devices with heads as big as saucers. Here the players will be hitting the same clubs as their forebears into many of the greens. There are five par-fours that measure fewer than 360 yards, including the 10th, which crests 300 by only three yards.

Though the course is comparatively short the long bits are brutal. There are two par-fives in the opening four holes, the second of which extends 627 yards, the longest hole on any major course this year. Three of the four par-threes come in at more than 200 yards with the third hole a hefty 256 yards. Try hitting that with your wedge.

In the thinking of these boys the course divides roughly into three sections; a testing start and a challenging finish wrapped around a land of opportunity in the middle. The most distinctive feature is the egg-shaped baskets made of wicker that adorn the pins instead of flags.

These were not uncommon on courses in mid-19th century Britain, but romance would rather they originated in the mind of course designer Hugh Wilson, who, on a trip to the old country in 1912, was said to have been influenced by a visit to the American ambassador's residence in St James's, where the ambassador's wife placed shepherd's crooks topped with flower baskets in holes on the private putting green. Today it is just one more quirk in a quirky setting.

The organisers have not been helped by weather from Wales. Think Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor and you will know how quickly a beautiful setting can turn into a ploughed field. Pools the colour of iron ore gathered all over the course as the heavy rains continued to wash out the muddy minerals from the fairway soils. Water was falling at a rate of two inches per hour on Monday afternoon and into the night, turning the public areas of Merion into thermal spas for hippos. Car parks were rendered unusable. Getting around the site was a torment for the golfers, never mind the punters. The distance from practice green, situated more than a mile away on the adjacent West Course, to first tee requires up to 30 minutes to execute on match days, playing havoc with pre-match routines.

But what nature takes away, she returns with the comfort of softer greens and moist fairways that will hold on to a ball instead of guiding it towards a crippling rough and bunkers bearded by long, wispy grass. In their wisdom the green-keepers treated the spring rough with nitrogen-based nutrients to promote growth. It was intended as extra defence to balance the short yardage book. Back then a series of tropical storms were not on anybody's radar. The effect of persistent heavy downpours this past fortnight has turned the rough into a wrist-busting penitentiary. No golfer wants to be imprisoned there this week.

Five quirky things about Merion

1. Egg-shaped wicker baskets not flags on the pins. A tradition borrowed from 19th-century Britain was copied at Merion in 1915, red on the outward nine, black coming in. From a distance they look like lollypops.

2. Covering only 127 acres, Merion is the smallest site on the major championship rota, and measuring fewer than 7,000 yards, the shortest, but it boasts the longest hole at a major his year, the 627-yard fourth.

3. The travelling time from practice range to first tee, a distance of more than one mile, is estimated at 20-30 minutes, raising fears of missed tee times for those not paying attention.

4. Crowds are limited to 25,000 a day. But they will be loud. Philadelphia is a revolutionary town, the city where the Declaration of Independence was signed. Things are calmer now but just as noisy.

5. Merion has hosted more USGA championships than any course in America but has not held the US Open since 1981. To mark its return the clubhouse hosted only the second US Open champions dinner in 118 years.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' is based on historical events
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil