Most consider St. Andrews to be the home of golf, but when it comes to the home for American golf there are a few courses in the discussion. The Merion Golf Club is one of those courses and this week it will take center stage as the host site of the 2013 U.S. Open.
Established in 1896, Merion is one of the most celebrated courses in the United States. It's been the home to several major USGA tournaments, including four U.S. Opens, but this year's U.S. Open will be its first since 1981. Unlike some modern courses, Merion won't challenge players with length as it's a rather small course built on just 126 acres. That doesn't, however, mean it won't be a challenge. Here's a closer look at what the players will be up against this week.
If you want to win at Merion all you need to do is stay out of the rough and bunkers and successfully navigate the tricky greens. Sounds easy enough, right? While some courses favor distance, Merion is likely to favor accuracy off the tee this week. Driver will be in play on a few holes, but you'll also see players tee off with long irons as they attempt to stay out of trouble.
When players do find the rough, it will be a challenge to find the ball, even with marshals serving as spotters. When they do find the ball, players will have work to do to simply advance the ball down the fairway. Ernie Els said the rough at Merion is "as bad as I've ever seen it." Land in one of the many bunkers and players will be tasked with avoiding the raised edges as they play out of the sand.
It won't get much easier when players finally reach the green. According to Michael Bamberger of Golf.com, the greens are expected to register in the low 14s on the Stimpmeter this week. Fast greens combined with plenty of slope will likely lead to more than a few three-putts this week.
What's with the wicker baskets?
The first thing viewers will notice is the lack of flags on the greens. Instead of your traditional flag-topped flag sticks, the poles on Merion's East Course are topped with wicker baskets. According to Bob Sheppard of PhillyBurbs.com, Hugh Wilson, Merion's course architect, got the idea after noticing shepherds in England carrying lunch baskets on poles.
Not only do the wicker baskets provide a unique trait for the course, they also add another degree of difficultly. Players will be unable to use the flag to help determine which way the wind is blowing. That is, if they can see the stick at all as there are a few holes with blind shots into the green.
The wicker baskets aren't the only unique thing about Merion's East Course. Due to the layout of the course, players will tee off from No. 1 and No. 11, not No. 10, in the early rounds. No. 11 is closer to the clubhouse, making for an unusual start.
How will it play this week?
An onslaught of rain changed the way the course will play, but the grounds crew has worked feverishly to get the conditions back up to the U.S. Open standard. The rain softened the course and could lead to better scoring conditions, but the course is expected to get drier as the tournament progresses.
In most cases, an abundance of rain will lead to soft, approachable greens, but that may not necessarily be the case on every hole at Merion. The 11th green sits at the lowest elevation on the course and as a result, flooding has been an issue. You may think all of the water would leave a very soft green, but the opposite happened according to Matt Schaffer, the director of golf-course operations.
"It's been flooded probably 40 times in the 12 years I've been here," Shaffer said, via Golf Digest. "I've pulled logs and tree trunks off that green. It's had so much silt and grit left on it, the subsurface has turned to concrete. I mean, the players in the U.S. Open better pray it floods a little -- otherwise, they won't be able to leave a ball mark."
No. 1, 350-yard Par 4: A dogleg-right, the first hole will see most players tee off with a long iron then hit a wedge to the green. Assuming they can avoid the large sycamore tree to on the right side.
No. 2, 556-yard Par 5: A reachable par 5 if players can avoid trouble off the tee. There is out of bounds on the right and the rough on the left is some of the longest on the course. The green may be the easiest, leading to plenty of birdie and eagle opportunities.
No. 3, 256-yard Par 3: Miss right and you could find yourself in one of the deepest bunkers on the course. Miss left and you'll be challenged by a severely sloped green.
No. 4, 628-yard Par 5: The second and last par 5 on the course. Not many will go for the green in two and instead lay up to avoid the green-side water hazard.
No. 5, 504-yard Par 4: A severely sloped green could challenge even the best putters in the field.
No. 6, 487-yard Par 4: A semi-blind tee shot will likely leave players with a long iron into a pitched green which includes a tricky false front.
No. 7, 360-yard Par 4: Another semi-blind tee shot with OB in play on the right. The green has three plateaus, but players will want to avoid going left.
No. 8, 359-yard Par 4: Avoid the thick rough surrounding the fairway and players will have a wedge into the sloped green. Avoid the bunkers and the hole will likely yield several birdies. Find a green-side bunker and it may be bogey at best.
No. 9, 236-yard Par 3: It's easy to find trouble on this par 3 with water and bunkers surrounding the kidney-shaped green.
No. 10, 303-yard Par 4: Some players will attempt to go for this green from the tee, while others will lay up and take a cautious approach. Either way, you don't want to miss left.
No. 11, 367-yard Par 4: Stay in the fairway and birdie is possible at No. 11. Find the rough and players may be forced to lay up short of Baffling Brook with their second shot.
No. 12, 403-yard Par 4: A dogleg-right, players will want to avoid going right off the tee as the hole slopes severely from left to right. The green is also sloped which could provide a challenge for those attempting to get up-and-down.
No. 13, 115-yard Par 3: The shortest hole on the course also features one of the smallest greens on the course. The hole looks like a simple wedge and a putt, but players will need to avoid the large green-side bunkers.
No. 14, 464-yard Par 4: The tee shot is the first challenge on No. 14 as players must avoid thick rough and fairway bunkers in the landing area. Players who go left of the green with their approach shot may bring out-of-bounds into play.
No. 15, 411-yard Par 4: A narrow tee shot with out-of-bounds on the left and bunkers and thick rough on the right. And it all ends with a severely sloped green. No. 15 should be a lot of fun.
No. 16, 430-yard Par 4: The famous Quarry Hole and also likely the last birdie opportunity of the round. A lay up will leave a medium iron into the green which features a large depression on the front right.
No. 17, 246-yard Par 3: A large ridge in the front of the green will provide a difficult obstacle for players, especially with front hole locations.
No. 18, 521-yard Par 4: The long par 4 provides an excellent finishing hole. Players will need a 300-yard drive to reach the landing area and clear the quarry. Even after doing so, players will have difficult approach shots into the dome-shaped green.