American Society of Golf Course Architects Past-President Tom Marzolf knows people want to hear about the modifications he and Tom Fazio, ASGCA, have made to Merion Golf Club as it prepares to host the U.S. Open Championship June 13-16 in Ardmore, Pa. But they might be missing the main story.
“The story is the history of Merion and inviting a new generation back to play one of the great golf courses in America,” he said. “Merion has hosted more USGA championships than any course in the country. All we have done is helped the club meet their goal to present this property to the next generation.”
Marzolf made his comments during the recent 67th ASGCA Annual Meeting at Greensboro, Ga. The three-day meeting provided ASGCA members with continuing education through high-level presentations from fellow members and industry leaders.
Marzolf was thinking, in part, of Bob Jones clinching golf’s first-ever Grand Slam in 1930 on Merion’s 11th green.
“Bob Jones win at Merion in 1930 may have been more significant than even the 1981 U.S. Open win by David Graham, or the 1950 U.S. Open and Ben Hogan’s famous one-iron to help force the playoff,” he explained. Hogan went on to win the 18-hole playoff against Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio, Tom Fazio’s uncle.
“When we were first studying to work on bunker restoration, we saw photos from the 1930 Amateur with Jones on the course,” Marzolf said. “You feel the presence of Jones when you walk Merion. The place has a distinct link to the history of golf in America.”
Since every golf course is a living, changing evolution through time, club owners had to decide what era they wanted the Merion of today to reflect back upon. When you restore a course with this much history, which era is most significant?
“The Club believes the greatest thing to ever happen here may have been the Jones win in 1930, so that was the benchmark year to restore the course’s visual appearance and strategy,” Marzolf said. “We re-created the visual of the 1930’s. It was a lot of fun and hard work. The 1930’s look presents a character and charm that has added to the feel of history as you walk the layout.”
Marzolf has been working on the compact, cart-path free 130-acre course since 1999, along with Fazio. The course played to 6,480 yards then and will play to just under 7,000 yards for the 2013 U.S. Open.
“People used to say, ‘You cannot lengthen Merion, or the new equipment has impacted Merion,’” Marzolf said. “We answered that by walking the course and finding additional yardage. You can lengthen any hole if there is land behind the tee.”
At Merion, such a move proved easier on the front nine than the back. For the U.S. Open, the front side will play at over 3,700 yards, the back nine at 3,250.
The 14th hole is a prime example of the challenges Marzolf faced.
“The tee is adjacent to the 18th green and in front of the clubhouse area,” he said. “We lengthened the 14th hole onto the members’ putting green. We rebuilt that area and players at the 2005 U.S. Amateur and 2009 Walker Cup played right off the putting green.
“This was well received, and we extended the green and made 14 longer, picking up 35 more yards of putting surface to use as a tee for the U.S. Open.”
Also, the 14th tee was shifted to allow for a larger grandstand on the nearby 18th green.
“From this tee location, adjacent Golf House Road is very close,” Marzolf said. “Some players may try to hit over the bending curve of the road to get further down the fairway.”
Many tees on the back nine – including 10-13 and 16 – already sit up against roadways or out of bounds, so no changes to length could be made. The 12th was lengthened by clearing land and changing the angle of how the hole is played.
“A hole I will be watching closely is 15,” Marzolf said. “It is a mid-length par 4, with Golf House Road on the left side. The road curves along the dogleg of the hole with about a yard-and-a-half from the edge of pavement to edge of the fairway.
“We also moved bunkers in on the right-hand side. So out of bounds is on the cutline on the left and there are three bunkers down the right. Players may lay up in front of the bunker off the tee and have mid-irons to the green; or hit a driver to attempt a long carry over the bunkers.”
The course has just two par 5’s, the 2nd and the 4th. Four plays over 600 yards, while the 5th is a par 4 playing over 500 yards. That’s right, there are no par 5’s on the back nine.
“Now you have an interesting combination of very long golf holes and also many short holes,” Marzolf said. “That describes Merion.”
Editor’s note: More from Tom Marzolf, ASCGA, on Merion Golf Club can be found in the summer 2013 issue of “By Design” magazine. To sign up for a free subscription, visit http://asgca.org/by-design
Merion Golf Club www.meriongolfclub.com