By: Jonathan Baker
Most courses ranked atop America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses have a special component to them. Something intangible that you don’t necessarily expect until you play there. Maybe it’s the history, the grounds, the exclusivity, the views, the course conditions. Whatever it is, it creates an aura around the entire experience that makes you float mindlessly, yet remember everything.
Golf as it was meant to be played: Merion East. Photo credit: Golf Digest.
I’ve been lucky enough to have this happen a few times. It’s come along the Pacific cliffs at Cypress Point, amid the azaleas at Augusta, and most recently among the white faces and wicker baskets at a course that embodies the true essence of golf’s golden age: Merion Golf Club.
Situated among the well-healed neighborhoods along Philadelphia’s Main Line, the Merion Cricket Club was founded in 1865, a sporting playground for the Philadelphia elite. By 1896, a golf contingent had emerged from the membership and with it, an 18-hole course on the club grounds in Haverford. A decade into the 20th century, Merion turned to Scotsman Hugh Wilson, to design and build a new course on acquired land in nearby Ardmore. By September of 1912, Merion Golf Club’s East Course opened for play, and was instantly hailed among experts, “the finest inland links in the country.” Continue reading
Merion Golf Club (East Course)
Location: Ardmore, PA
Architect: Hugh Wilson
Year Constructed: 1912
Played: June 20, 2008
Merion Golf Club . . . so much history has happened here that a book could be written on that alone. With a current count of 17 USGA events having been contested over Merion’s East Course that is more than any other course in the United States. Bobby Jones’ first major was the 1916 US Amateur played here, he won the US Amateur here in 1924 and of course his historic US Amateur win for the Grand Slam in 1930. Ben Hogan executed a miraculous comeback to the game here at the 1950 US Open after a near death automobile accident just 1 year earlier. Lee Trevino defeated Jack Nicklaus in a dramatic 18 hole play off to become the US Open champion in 1971. As much great history as there is, the story is far from finished for Merion. The USGA will be coming back to Merion for the Walker Cup in 2009 and the US Open will return in 2013.
Until 1941 when the club changed it’s name to the current version the club was known as the Merion Cricket Club. There are two courses here, the West and the more famous East. The club was originally founded in 1896 and played on the original golf course in neighboring Haverford. In 1910 the members decided to build a new course and sent member Hugh Wilson, a Scottish immigrant, to Scotland and England for 7 months to study golf course design. He returned with a head full of ideas and proceeded to layout the East Course which opened in 1912 and then the West Course which opened in 1914. That is a pretty incredible turn around time for getting courses built considering that it was done without the help of modern machinery in those days. Another amazing feat is that the East Course covers just 126 acres which is nothing compared to other golf courses. Augusta National covers almost triple that acreage at 365. If you want to get a chance at playing a Hugh Wilson course you have very few options. The only other courses he designed besides Merion’s East and West are Cobb’s Creek and the last 4 holes of Pine Valley.