It‚??s official: I‚??m in love. ¬†Her name is Merion and she‚??s a thing of stunning beauty. ¬†She is relatively short but not disconcertingly so; exhilarating; well manicured; has the X factor; and can break your heart. ¬†Merion is one of the best golf courses in the world and we had the privilege of playing it on Tuesday. ¬†A day I will never forget.
Day 180 truly was an inspiring one. ¬†I spent the morning walking the paved stones of Princeton, not 5 minutes down the road from where we were staying at Base Camp Slambino. ¬†The architecture and ambience of the university are quite something to behold. ¬†I‚??m going to try to find a way to study here! ¬†In an hour or two I did my best to take in the abundant history on display; the grandeur of the buildings; and the intellectually charged atmosphere. ¬†I left begrudgingly (due to the chore of having to drive down the road to play at Merion) with a burning desire to come back, whenever it may be. ¬†In the meantime, I took a few photos that will keep that fire burning and that will hopefully give you lot an impression of just how magnificent this place really is. ¬†Which is highly magnificent let me tell you.
And so to Merion. ¬†Ranked in the top few in the US, and the top 10 in the world, it‚??s a big name course. ¬†It‚??s held more USGA events than any other course, including a handful of US Opens. ¬†Impressive. ¬†Bobby Jones won the Grand Slam here back on September 27, 1930 (on the 11th hole). ¬†Ben Hogan hit a famous 1 iron to the 18th green on 10 June 1950 to close out the US Open. ¬†Both feats are marked with plaques (which you‚??ll see in the video Mike is putting together). ¬†Indeed history is something Merion does very well at documenting and showcasing. ¬†They have 2 club historians!
A wee teaser for Mike's video:
Chris Young was our kind host on the day. ¬†He has the distinction of having been a member on 3 separate occasions, after stints living elsewhere and having much more important distractions like children. ¬†Chris is an attorney in Philadelphia and a real gentleman. ¬†His cousin Kathy works with The First Tee in New Zealand and kindly put us in touch to tee the game up. ¬†We‚??re very grateful to both Kathy and Chris, because what resulted ‚?? as I said above ‚?? was a day neither of us will ever forget.
We teed off late afternoon on a balmy summer evening. ¬†The 1st tee at Merion is famously nerve wracking, the tee being not 4 paces from the deck where members and their guests are lunching in their droves. ¬†Trying to hit a 2 iron off the first tee to a relatively tight fairway guarded by fiercesome bunkers is one thing (particularly when it doglegs right; is guarded by a big tree at the front right of the tee block; and I play a draw!); it‚??s quite another thing when you‚??ve got a distinguished audience looking on with curiosity and anticipation. ¬†To be fair it‚??s probably more daunting from the members‚?? tees than it is from the tips ‚?? which are set back 25 yards into a nook ‚?? but I assure you it‚??s enough to get the blood pumping. ¬†Mine drew into one of the said bunkers framing the dogleg, and sat up against the lip, demanding a pitch out (into another bunker 30 yards short left of the green, as it happens)!
Merion is as idiosyncratic as it is hallowed. ¬†Instead of having flags atop the poles on each green, there are bulbous red wicker baskets about the size of our friend Ed‚??s head (marginally smaller than your average head ‚?? although in his case packed with a brain significantly more powerful than your average brain). ¬†The ‚??basket poles‚?Ě (a term of art I‚??ve just conjured; not the official title) are painted a striking red and white, giving a lighthouse-like appearance. ¬†Against the green of the fairways, the brilliant off-white of the bogey dust (bunker sand), and the blood curdling colour of the abundant fescew grass ‚?? they‚??re a picture and a half.
After the 1st you cross Ardmore Road and are confronted with a short uphill par 5 (one of only two on the course, the second of which is the more daunting 4th). ¬†Like a good few of the holes there is Out Of Bounds to contend with, and of course vicious bunkers up the other side. ¬†The fairways are probably wider than they appear, but the player that is unfortunate enough to stray from them will seldom make par. ¬†Double bogeys (and ‚??extras‚?Ě) are common. ¬†Whereas some Open courses cut the rough down for ordinary play, Merion keeps The East Course more or less in tournament condition (as far as I could tell anyway) year round. ¬†That‚??s why a lot of the members prefer The West Course, which is about a mile down the road and significantly more gentle. ¬†For a couple of punters like Mike and me though, who relish a challenge, The East Course is as enticing as it gets.
We played at a good clip, and carried our own bags. ¬†Precisely my kind of golf. ¬†Those that tee off before 4pm must take a caddy, but if you play as we did later in the day you can carry your own sticks. ¬†With all the cart golf we‚??ve had in the US (largely down South), we were glad of the exercise. ¬†Players are expected to get around in less than 4 hours. ¬†Those that don‚??t are gently urged to take up tennis instead or play their golf down in Florida. ¬†Reminded me of Royal Adelaide down in Australia, where those that tee off between 10am and midday on a Saturday must play in sub-3 hours 20 minutes if they don‚??t want to be hauled before The Committee to explain themselves. ¬†Love it.
The first six holes at Merion are known as The Drama; the second six as The Comedy; and the third six as The Tragedy. ¬†In the interests of leaving a little mystique I won‚??t tell you why: play it for yourself and you‚??ll understand. ¬†
As we paced up the final stretch the evening sun was hanging low and the colours magnificent. ¬†One of the early members was sent to Scotland to school himself up on how golf courses are built, and to bring that knowledge back for the benefit of Merion. ¬†You can still see his influence today. ¬†On holes like 16 and 17, where fescue and rock play a starring role in the masterpiece, we could quite easily have been in the Highlands. ¬†Stunning and raw and just a pleasure to play. ¬†17 mind you was a 250 yard par 3 into the wind; all carry over fescue and fierce bunkers; with OB right. ¬†A beast of a hole and one that I could play 10 times without making par. ¬†On this occasion I took double.
Mike tapped in for par on the last for a stellar round of 74. ¬†He had five 3s in a row from the 9th to the 13th and 3 birdies in a row from 10 thru 12. ¬†Seriously good playing. ¬†I hit enough good ones to bring me back, although only managed one birdie on the 13th. ¬†Somewhere in the low 80s. ¬†No matter ‚?? a genuinely out of body experience; surreal. ¬†Our host acquitted himself well and finished with a booming 300+ yard drive down 18. ¬†
Chris very kindly took us to dinner at the 19th hole, where we perched at a table out on the lawn and absorbed the cordial club atmosphere. ¬†Families, couples and platoons of gentlemen lined the lawn and decks ‚?? all looking very dapper ‚?? while downing a relaxing jar and picking at their chicken salads. ¬†Our jars of Stella Artois arrived in ceramic...well...jars. ¬†And life was good, very good. ¬†There could‚??ve been a string quartet playing or a singer/songwriter or a pianist and they wouldn‚??t have been out of place. ¬†
The showers had been billed as the best around. ¬†Even better than Pine Valley, They said. ¬†My verdict: on an equal footing. ¬†Huge round disc shower heads, the width of a car tyre, pour gallons and gallons out at you. ¬†Like being under a waterfall in Tahiti (I imagine). ¬†When you‚??ve earned your shower ‚?? and though Merion is short it is a good walk ‚?? there‚??s no better feeling. ¬†Cleaned up and buzzing from our experience, we farewelled Chris and turned left out onto Ardmore Road. ¬†Hell the thought hadn‚??t even entered my head that we were playing Pine Valley the next day!
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