Merion (East) - Pennsylvania - USA

Merion Golf Club,
450 Ardmore Avenue,
Ardmore,
Pennsylvania (PA) 19003,
USA


  • +1 610 642 5600

  • Jay Porter

  • Hugh Wilson, Gil Hanse

  • Scott Nye


When Merion Golf Club was founded in 1896, Philadelphians were more likely to play cricket than golf. They even sent touring cricket teams to England!

But it wasn’t long before the golf bug really hit home and wealthy Philadelphians decided that they needed a top-notch golf course, so they dispatched Hugh Wilson back to Scotland to check out a few decent course designs. After seven months in Britain he returned with some great ideas for the new Merion and he set about putting them into practice. In 1912, the East course at Merion was ready for play and, considering Wilson was a complete amateur architect, he managed to produce one of the greatest courses in the States.

“Merion is an inland course,” wrote Robert Trent Jones in The Complete Golfer, “but the framework of its greens with their combinations of multiform mounds, oriented with sand and sod, give it somewhat the appearance of a seaside links. It is these well-shaped, artistically appealing green areas that make Merion characteristically different from most American courses and, further, explain to a considerable extent why Merion remains a vital test of golf, whereas most other courses of its pre-World War I vintage have long since lost their snap and crackle.

Analyze Merion closely. It has something. It keeps the pressure on the tournament golfer all the way through to the home hole. It is harder on the average golfer than a course like Augusta National, but its variety of fairway contours, the angles of its green surfaces, its contiguous ‘white faces,’ and the intelligence of its routing have made for a course that age has not withered nor custom staled.”

We could write a small book about the East course at Merion. For example, this was where Bobby Jones won the US Amateur Championship to complete his 1930 Grand Slam. Jack Nicklaus scored 66, 67, 68 and 68 in his four rounds of the 1960 Eisenhower Trophy, causing an international stir.

In the Golden Bear’s book, The Greatest Game of All, he commented, “Merion’s setting is nowhere near as picturesque as the Augusta National, the most beautiful meadowland course I know, or as majestic as Pebble Beach, with its awesome cliffs and ocean headlands. It is a park-type course, set in the suburbs. It occupies pleasant rolling terrain, but it is what its designer, Hugh Wilson, did with that terrain that makes Merion exceptional. Each of the eighteen holes has its own personality. Each is interesting to play. Each requires that you use your head to get your par.”

That’s what Jack thinks and we’d so love to hear what you think about Merion’s East course, especially if you've played it since Gil Hanse's 2014 restoration.


David Rossiter plays Merion several times each year and in 2012 he commented as follows:

"I often read or hear, when someone is trying to describe the attributes of a golf course, that "I had to use every club in my bag". Nowhere is this statement is more true than at Merion. The course is made up of long holes, short holes, and medium length holes. Decisions must be made on what club to use, to strategically attack a hole, on nearly every tee.

The rough must be avoided in order to have any chance of making par on a hole. There have been many wrist sprains inflicted on golfers trying to advance their ball out of the penal Merion rough. Hit in this stuff a couple times early in a round, you'll then be standing on the tee boxes with both hands on the steering wheel, for the remainder of the day. This of course just makes matters worse, and you just can't seem to get yourself back on track, making one bogey after another.

The green complexes are just that, very complex. In a blink of an eye, you can make a huge number on any hole. The greens themselves are pitched and undulating. When Hugh Wilson made these greens, the thought of 12' on the stimpmeter was inconceivable. When Merion is hosting an event or a tournament, the greenspeeds are 12' or higher and possible hole locations are reduced dramatically.

Many have stated that the final five holes "are the finest finishing holes in golf". No one knows for sure, but I'll say that I can't wait to see the U.S. Open played there in a few years. I know that the lead will change hands on those final holes, and it will not be one of the long hitters who will win. The winner will be someone who can hit every club in his bag well."

The US Open returns to the East course at Merion Golf Club in 2013. Merion last hosted the US Open in 1981 when David Graham became the first Australian to win the US Open Championship."

Update: Justin Rose claimed his first Major title at a brutally tough Merion Golf Club in 2013 becoming the first Englishman to win the U.S. Open since Tony Jacklin in 1970.

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Reviews for Merion (East)

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Description: When Merion Golf Club was founded in 1896, Philadelphians were more likely to play cricket than golf. They even sent touring cricket teams to England! Rating: 9.9 out of 10 Reviews: 18
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David Davis
Being a true lover of links golf and a member of a wonderful links course I’ve always maintained that my least favorite type of course is parkland and true to form most parkland courses in the US while often perfectly maintained with fast greens lack the fun, challenge and variation you find on a classic links course. A couple weeks ago on a trip to the New York/Long Island area for golf I had the fortunate opportunity to play Merion with a group of members. I guess the best way for me to describe my experience would be to state that I was thoroughly impressed as is seldom the case. In fact, I could easily make arguments for Merion being one of the best members clubs in the world. The members I met demonstrated tremendous pride, historical knowledge and appreciation for golf history and Merion’s place in it in a very humble manner. If I include things like accessibility for out of state members and playability then it may well be the best members club in the world. 

Merion has a rich history of which few courses can be compared, full of many truly amazing moments. One such moment was Bobby Jones closing out the Grand Slam on the 11th hole in 1930 with an 8 and 7 win over Eugene Homans. Another historical one was Ben Hogan’s famous 1 iron into the 18th green from 200 yds out into the wind to force a playoff and eventual US Open win in 1950. A miraculous win, consolidating his comeback from a head on collision that shattered his pelvis and nearly killed him only 16 months prior to this. A moment forever captivated in that wonderful picture nearly all golfers have seen. More recently by Justine Rose’s heralded performance in the 2013 US Open.

The clubhouse is an understated, classic and stylish building where every effort has been made to make it as comfortable and cozy as possible. A tour nearly equates on that of walking through a golf museum and evokes awe and emotion for the experience at hand. A pre or post round lunch on the large terrace adjacent to the first tee gives you a feeling you are right in the middle of the action, rightly so, as you truly are and I can honestly say I’m thankful this one time for not being a lefty as they would need to peer directly into the faces on the terrace not but a few feet away. 

As for the course, Merion exceeded every expectation I personally had and restored my waning faith in parkland golf and its ability to produce unique experiences. No two holes even similar with an exciting mix of short and long par 3’s, 4’s and 5’s. The green complexes are masterpieces and in retrospect it’s very easy to understand why pros often struggle over 2-3 foot putts here. I don’t recall a single straight, flat putt on the course. Greens were slow on our day for Merion standards, yet still proved faster than I would be capable of mastering. Slow being 10 or 11 on the stimp. The breaks were already quite substantial and tough to judge. 5 x 3 putts later I still didn’t have it figured out, putting being my strong point and favorite aspect of the game. I reckon it would take several plays to start to figure out the greens as they were like none I’ve seen. More than once I found myself putting with the hole behind me or with my shoulders perpendicular to the hole. Definitely awe inspiring! 

There are just too many great holes at Merion to list and describe in detail, perhaps as many as 18 as hard as it is for me to believe I’m writing that. Some of my favorite holes were: #5 with creek running up the left hand side and a green severely sloping right to left. The short par 4’s 7,8 and 10. The amazing short par 3 #13 ideally placed in front of the clubhouse and heavily guarded by slopes and bunkers. Finally, the closing stretch from 14-18, some of the toughest and most intimidating holes in golf. 14, a long uphill dogleg left playing straight into the wind. 15 a medium length uphill dog leg right with OB left, 16 a long par 4 with a forced carry on the approach over a canyon to a crazy two tiered green, 17 a 208 yd par 3 with another crazy two tiered green sloping away left to right at the back and finally 18 requiring a long drive over and out of this canyon which is semi blind leaving a very tricky approach to a crowned green.  It’s as solid a finish as will ever be designed in my opinion.   

Merion may just squeeze its way into the World Top 10 but as a complete experience it’s easily a top 5 in my book.

December 03, 2014
10 / 10
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Larry Berle
Merion Golf Club has two courses: the West course and the more famous East course. Club members sent architect Hugh Wilson to Scotland to study the best courses. He came back and fitted the holes onto the land as compactly as a jigsaw puzzle. Merion East opened in 1912. Hugh Wilson also brought back the idea of wicker baskets atop the pins, rather than flags. No one knows where this idea originated, but if you’re accustomed to looking at flags for some indication of wind direction or speed, it’s not possible at Merion.

Number 1’s tee box is so close to the outdoor dining-room patio that you feel like you have to watch your follow through so as not to hit anyone with your club. Number 3 is a long par 3, a terrific reproduction of a redan hole. A stream runs through the property and Hugh Wilson makes excellent strategic use of it. It comes into play in the darndest places. Back by the clubhouse, Number 13 is a 120-yard par 3. That seems short, especially for a championship course, but it requires a deadly accurate tee shot.

I have only played Merion once, and I hope to play it again some day. If I could play only a handful of places in the world for the rest of my life one would be Merion and the other would be Cypress Point. Larry Berle.
October 17, 2014
10 / 10
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Keith Baxter
October 18, 2014
The above review is an edited extract from A Golfer’s Dream, which has been reproduced with the author’s kind permission. A Golfer’s Dream, by Larry Berle, tells the story of how a regular guy conquered America’s Top 100 Golf Courses (following Golf Digest’s 2001/2002 list). Larry has exclusively rated for us every course in the hundred, using our golf ball rating system. However, Larry did not rate the 100 courses against every golf course he has played, but instead he rated them in relation to each other within the hundred. Consequently, in some cases, his rating may seem rather low. A Golfer’s Dream is available in Kindle format and also on Kindle Unlimited via Amazon... click the link for more. 
Javier Pintos
A couple of weeks before the 2013 US Open we were confirmed to play this course and Pine Valley in consecutive days, so during the Major Event won by Englishman Justin Rose I took special care on watching the course in details, trying to learn all the secrets I could in order to have a better round. Once sometime like 25 years ago I was told by amateur legend in Argentina, Roberto "Cope" Benito, that Merion was the best course he had ever played. HE was part of the Argentine team who played in the 1960 World Amateur where Jack Nicklaus smashed the course. And he was one of the players who walked to 11th tee with Nicklaus to discover the plaque that honors Bobby Jones and his Grand Slam won in 1930. Merion (East) Golf Course - Photo by reviewerA couple of weeks ago, in a sad manner, he reminds me that there is no one single picture of that moment. When I played the course I took almost 100 pictures with my new iPod, times have changed a lot!! Another thing Mr Benito told me is that I wouldn't believe how close the terrace is from the first tee, you can even listen to the forks hitting the dishes and the conversations among the Members. It was still 2 months away but I could not wait to stand on 18th fairway and take the classic Hogan Picture.

We first did the Myrtle Beach Trip and then moved here, playing Pine Valley first. It was good to play the 2 course because they are so good but so different from each other that you need to play them more than once to admire and experience the difference. It was a very special day, we arrived pretty early although the tee time was around 10am. We had the chance of a great tour around the Club House (The Bobby Jones Room on the first floor is something so special!!), had some breakfast at the members restaurant and then moved to the proshop to buy every possible souvenir, except the basket that cannot be bought but yes you can buy the flag with the classic logo. We teed off with the same Argentine member who invited us to Pine Valley, a 70 year-old 3-handicapper that can still play very good golf. We had the rematch of the Pine Valley game and this time won 2&1. Merion (East) Golf Course - Photo by reviewerI played some of the best golf of the year, scoring 73 with 3 birdies, driving the green on 10 and smashing a driver towards 130 yards on 18th. Is it enough? No!! I want to go back and play it again...

What can I say about the course from a player point of view? It is a beautiful parkland, with every hole different from each other and where you will need all the clubs on the bag. You will face 2 early par 5s and that might be the only weak point on the course, as there are no par 5s on the back 9. Par 4s are of all type: drivable (10th), short and tricky (7th-11th-12th), long and tough (5th-6th-14th-18th) and those who look easy but can be a killer (1st-15th-16th). And all four par 3s are as good as you can imagine, even the very short 13th where Phil Mickelson lost the Open hitting a thin shot to the back of the bunker at the end of the green. The course had been aereated a couple of days before we played but it was nothing, we could experience in full size the site of a US OPen, you can see that the course has "one extra gear" even though it is short compared maybe to Bethpage, Pinehurst, Oakmont or Oak Hill.

After the round we had lunch at the terrace and the experience was complete, feeling like a member for at least one day and with the sure chance that we will be back soon. And it was also special to walk the course with good caddies, watching the spots where we saw great shots on TV and finally have our "Hogan photo". If I can say one more thing, I wish to say that the shots Justin Rose hit on 17th and 18th were very tough and that shows how good these guys are!! Click here to read Javier's article in full.
December 27, 2013
10 / 10
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Allan Wright
This is a course that anyone who is interested in the history of the game, and in truly outstanding course architecture, must play if they possibly can. Over a generally unremarkable piece of land (simple farmland, gently rolling, with a small brook or creek to work with), Hugh Wilson laid out a supreme test of golf that has hardly changed in nearly 100 years. This course is about variety (you play every club in the bag), challenge, and course management. On every tee you have to think exactly where to place your shot, with a high number of risk/reward decisions to be made on both tee shots and second shots. When I played last week the greens were medium speed as winter approaches, but still if you missed on the wrong side you were dead. In addition to the magnificence of the course (described by others, but the finish really must be the toughest in golf), there is the wonderful clubhouse (on a modest scale, similar in many respects to Shinnecock and Winged Foot), where the club's many fascinating trophies and memorabilia are sympathetically and accessibly displayed. I am envious of anyone who is a member of this great club, and very grateful for the chance, albeit fleetingly, to experience it myself. Great course, great architecture, great club.
November 01, 2009
10 / 10
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Austin Curtis
I had the pleasure of playing Merion GC ( East Course ) in the summer of 1996 , it is without doubt one of the finest layouts in the USA or indeed elsewhere. My companions were club members and most hospitable. if you are ever in the Ardmore area of USA please try to play this course it is a fantastic memorial to how a golf course should be constructed and set up A Curtis PGA Golf Pro., Lithuania
October 13, 2008
10 / 10
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W
On the first tee is a plaque acknowledging Merion’s East course as a ‘National Monument’ and with its iconic wicker baskets, Merion is indeed a very special place. The USGA have announced that their Open will return here in 2013, it is likely that Tiger will have breached the Nicklaus record by then..but if he hasn’t then this would be some place for him to do it. Legendary golfing figures such as Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan have produced seminal moments in their careers and in the history of golf here at Merion. The course is broadly three parts, a very solid opening, a middle where you must try and make your score and a close where you need to just hang on…the memorable closing holes around the quarry are particularly tough! Merion is a little tight for space and length and spectator numbers will need to be restricted for the Open but the real defence is the greens which in mid-October were running at 12 on the stimp! That allied to very narrow fairways and some excellent bunkering will make this a fantastic test..there will be no overpowering of Merion.
December 13, 2007
10 / 10
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Bill Goatski
Playing Merion is like drinking fine, aged wine. The bottle may not be fancy but the exhiliration is sublime. And it's one of the toughest tracts of all. I've played all the great courses in Scotland--all of them--and Merion measures up to the greatest. It gave the likes of Hogan and Sneed all they could handle years ago and the grand Old Lady still can. Tiger et al better bring their A game if they want a passing grade.
December 13, 2007
10 / 10
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John
The East is possibly the best parkland track in the world and an experience to savour. The challenge is constant and the course tempts you to do things that you perhaps wouldn’t normally try and then it laughs in your face. Quite simply a masterpiece in every way and I can’t wait for the Open to come here in 2013 to see how the big boys deal with this baby… it certainly got the better of me but one day I’ll return to improve on my pathetic effort.
October 15, 2006
10 / 10
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