A year and a half after the 2013 U.S. Open,
Merion Golf Club is almost finished putting the East Course back the way it
was. That was the plan all
along. If anything, the club
expected the restoration work to be completed sooner.
‘We couldn’t get it all done last year because
we had that bad weather so early," said Bob Morey, co-chair of Merion’s Green
Committee, in addition to being the newly-elected president of the Golf
Association of Philadelphia. "We
had to live with some things not being done until this fall."
The restoration project involves removing a
couple of bunkers that were added for the Open, moving two other bunkers, restoring
one bunker that had been removed in he early 1990s, plus widening the fairways
to their pre-Open widths of about 30 yards.
Gil Hanse consulting
The bunker work, by the way, is being done by
Gil Hanse, the Malvern-based architect who recently
completed work on the course for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. Hanse has
replaced Norristown native Tom Fazio, who had been Merion’s consultant on
architectural matters for many years.
"We just felt it was time for a change," said
Morey. "We thanked the Fazio group and said we wanted to go in another
The "we" was Morey and Jerry Kling, co-chair of
the Green Committee. Before
settling on Hanse for the bunker work, Morey and
Kling interviewed several architects.
Besides Hanse’s status as one of the top
architects working today, Morey said, "We like the fact that he is local and
doesn’t have to fly in."
Hanse, who was hired two months ago, is understandably thrilled. "It is obviously a tremendous honor," Hanse said Friday, after spending the morning on the East
Course. "Any time you are given the
opportunity to work with a club of that stature and work with a piece of golf
architecture that is as wonderful as Merion is, we get very excited."
The widening of the fairways was well underway
before Hanse joined the project. For the Open, the USGA had narrowed almost
all of the fairways from their normal 30-foot widths to between 22- to 24-yards,
thereby reducing the course’s total fairway acreage from slightly more than 18
acres to just under 16 acres for the championship.
Widening the fairways on the East Course is not
simply a matter of altering the mowing patterns. Merion’s fairways are carpet-like bent
grass, while the rough is a mix of about 15 grasses, a special-order, mad-scientist
concoction from the mind of superintendent Matt Shaffer.
Before the Open, Shaffer had remarked, only
half-jokingly, that he wanted any player who hit his ball into the rough that
week to pay a price. "I want it to
be like hitting a ball out of a box of rope," he said. And it was.
Widening the fairways on the East Course
involves removing the rough that was laid for the Open and replacing it with
bent grass fairway sod.
(The turf for the rough was grown specially for
Merion by a local turf farm. At one
point last fall, when the club was slow to pick up the rough turf because of
the harsh weather, Morey said the turf farm became concerned. "You’ve got to take this stuff because I
can’t sell it to anybody else," Morey said the owner of the turf farm told him.
Many of the fairways were widened last fall,
before the brutal winter set in.
This fall, the club widened the fairways on Nos. 1, 4, 5 and 18.
In addition to the fairways, here’s a
hole-by-hole breakdown by Morey and Hanse at the
For the Open, the USGA extended a bunker about
40 yards short of the green, on the left side of the fairway, to create a large
cross-bunker that extended into the fairway. The bunker was never popular with
"Mike Davis of the USGA wanted a bunker there
for anybody who hit a big drive and wanted to go for the green," said
Morey. "He wanted them to at least
think about that bunker."
Hanse has restored that bunker its pre-Open location and size.
When Merion undertook an earlier course-wide bunker
restoration project in the early 1990s, there was at the time a bunker on the
left side of the 14th green.
Since the idea of the project was to restore the course to its 1930
vintage, the year Bobby Jones won the Grand Slam, they opted to remove it and
replace it with a mound, which had been there in 1930.
(The greenside bunker at No. 14 had been put in
by William Flynn, in 1934, at the same time he moved the green back 40 yards,
according to Hanse.)
For the ’13 Open, Morey said, there was much
discussion among members about restoring the bunker. But when Morey mentioned the idea
to Mike Davis, Davis balked. "Mike
said, ‘Look, if you are asking me, for the Open, I don’t want it in. If you as a club want it, fine, that’s your prerogative. But I would rather not have it in for
The club did not replace the bunker for the
Open, but it’s back now.
On the par 4 dogleg right, the USGA added a big
bunker in the elbow of the dogleg, plus moved another bunker in the elbow
farther to the left, creating a string of three bunkers that were 283 yards to
they are removing the farthest bunker, which was the newest. The middle bunker has been returned to
its original position farther right of the fairway, creating a larger landing
area off the tee. The closest
bunker off the tee is remaining as is.
members believed the hole had been made too hard for the Open, at least for
everyday play. Now, from the member
tees, the carry will be about 210 yards.
For the Open, on the famous quarry hole, the
USGA moved a fairway bunker in the left rough farther right, into the edge of
the fairway, plus farther off the tee, reducing the landing area.
Now, Hanse has moved
that bunker back a few yards and more to the left, plus turned it into two
bunkers. The fairway will be
extended to the edge of the bunker, increasing the landing zone, although the
new bunkers will be reachable off the tee.
"The best angle into that green is the father
left you can get," said Hanse. "What we are trying to do is create more
space down the left so that golfers can get the best angle. We’re trying to give them room to hit
that shot but still keep it challenging."