Tom Marzolf, the former president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA), has spoken about the Merion Golf Club’s preparation to host the US Open Championship in June.
Speaking at the recent 67th ASGCA Annual Meeting at Greensboro, Georgia, Marzolf highlighted the prestige and history of both the event and the course.
“The story is the history of Merion and inviting a new generation back to play one of the great golf courses in America,” said Marzolf. “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.”
And the history of the event and the course was taken into account when modifications were made ahead of June’s showcase competition.
“Bob Jones’ win at Merion in 1930 may have been more significant than even the 1981 US Open win by David Graham, or the 1950 US Open and Ben Hogan’s famous one-iron to help force the playoff,” said Marzolf. “When we were first studying to work on bunker restoration, we saw photos from the 1930 Amateur with Jones on the course .You feel the presence of Jones when you walk Merion. The place has a distinct link to the history of golf in America.”
Special attention was paid to giving the course a feel reminiscent of a previous era, but which era to pick was a topic of discussion.
“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 1930s. It was a lot of fun and hard work. The 1930s look presents a character and charm that has added to the feel of history as you walk the layout.”
Marzolf and Fazio have worked in partnership on the Merion since 1999, in which time the course has been lengthened from 6,480 yards to just under 7,000.
“People used to say ‘you cannot lengthen Merion, or 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.”
The front nine at Merion has proven easier to lengthen than the back nine, with the front nine playing nearly 500 yards longer. One particularly problematic hole highlighted by Marzolf was the fourteenth.
“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 US 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 US Open.”
The tee on the 14th was moved in order to accommodate a larger grandstand on the 18th, but many tees on the back nine sit up against roadways or out of bounds, meaning no length changes were possible by moving these. Land was cleared to lengthen the twelfth hole, and Marzolf spoke of the holes he is particularly keen to see what approach is taken.
“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 only features two par-5s, holes two and four, the latter of which plays over 600 yards. Hole five is a par-4 that covers over 500 yards, and no par-5s feature 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.”