All hail the queen! That has largely been the sentiment shared by many in the media center this week about Merion Golf Club’s venerable East Course, which is hosting this week’s 113th U.S. Open.
Very few times flying out to a golf venue have I been so fidgety and anxious. A large part of it is where Merion East fits in the annals of American golf – near the top. And in terms of its classic beauty and the way it is routed around a wonderful piece of property, I certainly was not disappointed.
To give you a peek from my seat this week: I am staying in West Chester, Pa. (home of former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk), which is 15 directly to the west of Ardmore where Merion East resides. Each day, I get on Hwy. 202 and drive a half-hour to Wayne where the media shuttle is.
The shuttle is a 20-35 minute ride south to the course. It pretty much is a tour of some of the tucked-away, affluent neighborhoods of suburban Philadelphia – much in the same vein as heading through the Mamaroneck neighborhood to Winged Foot Golf Club in New York or pockets of Bethesda, Md. to arrive at Congressional Country Club.
It is pretty evident just in the 20 minutes, this is golf and soccer country. Golf Course and soccer fields everywhere. (Just a side note: A school we passed by – The Episcopal Academy – had athletics so fine for a high school, I wanted to take a photo and send to Bellarmine Prep athletic director Ed Ploof as proof of what to strive for. Awesome!).
Our media shuttle is dropped off on the southeast side of the course, a few hundred yards behind a gate that goes directly to the 17th green. The first tee is a ways away – a 10-15 minute walk through heavy gallery traffic. And the whole front nine of the course is even further out.
What everybody seems fascinated by is the middle stretch of holes – Nos. 7-13 – and the brutal closing stream of holes – Nos. 14-18.
Yes, that middle stretch really accentuates how confined we are on this property. The holes, by in large, are short. I was trying to compare it to something back home, and all I could come up, just how it feels, is the back nine holes of Kitsap Country and Golf Club – they vary, they have elevation change and they make you move your golf ball around. Scenic.
Then the teeth comes out:
* No. 14 – The tee is set all the way back into the short game area where players practice. It then goes uphill and doglegs left, right along Golf Road. 464 yards.
* No. 15 – Again, it hugs Golf Road. The fairway zig-zags with a dogleg left (and mass trouble right). Again, finishes going uphill to the green. 411 yards.
* No. 16 – An interesting design. Most players will lay up to the left side and hit over a rock quarry to a green sitting on a perch. The fairway actually diverts right so amateurs can come in from a different, less-intimidating angle. 430 yards.
* No. 17 – A downhill par 3 back over the quarry. Green is pretty big. 246 yards.
* No. 18 – Tee box is as tiny as a kitchen table – and the guys have to step up and hit a drive with 250 yards of carry to reach the fairway (back over a grassy canyon). The rest of the hole is a steady, uphill climb to the green. 521 yards.
“I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like it,” Puyallup golfer Ryan Moore said. “It’s pretty much two different golf courses – long and brutal or short and reasonable. There is nothing in between.”