To what lengths will Merion GC go to prepare for the 2013
U.S. Open? Would you believe
they are hitting off artificial mats from the fairway?
"It’s for divot control," said Bob Rex, Merion’s Green Chairman.
The mats, which have been in use since October,
are rectangular, about 5 inches wide by 15 inches long, with a little bulbous
knob on the end.
It’s a simple concept. Each caddie at Merion, which is a
walking-only course, carries a mat in the pouch of his caddie bib. By the time his player reaches his tee
shot, the caddie has lifted, cleaned and placed his ball on the mat.
"They’re just like something you’d find at the
driving range," one Merion member
said of the mats. "I actually find them easier to hit off of than turf."
Are members fuming over the inconvenience? "There has been zero push back," said Rex.
"It’s not the least bit controversial,"
confirmed the other Merion
member. "You have to
understand that Merion has a culture
that we are a club that hosts major championships and in doing so, you have to
make some sacrifices."
The mats aren’t used on every fairway shot on
every hole. They are mostly brought
out for second shots on the course’s shorter par 4s (No. 1, 7, 8, 10), where
most players hit wedge or another divot-gouging short iron into the green.
The mats also aren’t used in the rough, or on
the fringes of the fairways. The
idea is to protect the prime landing areas of the fairways.
"When the pros are playing next summer, if they
land where they are supposed to land, you want to give them good turf," said
the Merion member. ‘If they skull it, or hit long or short,
you are not going to guarantee them good turf."
Merion is not the first club to use
the fairway mats in preparation for a U.S.
Open – they were used prior to the two most recent Opens, at The Olympic Club in San Francisco in
June and before that at Congressional
Country Club in Bethesda, Md.
While the mat concept is relatively new to the
U.S., it’s old hat in Scotland, where the growing season is shorter and its
common for courses to break out mats to protect their turf in winter. In fact, after studying all the
available mats on the market, Merion
opted to go with the manufacturer who provides mats to the Old Course in St. Andrews.
They bought about 200 of them.
Actually, the mats won’t be getting much use in
the for the next few months. The East Course closed Dec. 3 for winter,
as it does every year about this time.
It will reopen in April, with the weather playing a factor in exactly
Once it reopens, play on the East Course will be limited, in
preparation for the Open. In a typical year, most foursomes on a
week day consist of a member and three guests. Come spring 2013, guest play will be cut
to almost nil. The club expects
only three or four foursomes per day, each filled out by members. The mats will be used then, right up
until players begin arriving for the Open.