Of all the American courses ranked on our World Top 100, Merion’s East course is the highest-ranked route that features a sibling course. That sibling, the West course, is located several blocks away from the U.S. Open host, and is admittedly not quite as celebrated as its historic relative.
That said, it would be a crime to not give the West side of the property the time of day. After all, it’s also designed by Hugh Wilson, best known for his work on Merion’s championship side, and his approach at the East course can be seen on the West as well. One example is No. 7 at the West, where players will need to hit over a creek to reach the putting surface, much like the more famous No. 11 on the East side.
Although the championship course was considered relatively short by U.S. Open standards, the West course will be even more manageable for scratch golfers, peaking at less than 6,000 yards in distance. Still, like the more famous of the pair, those looking to take the big stick to within 30 yards for a guaranteed birdie will be disappointed. Both sides of the Merion property are tricky within the final stretch of the putting surface.
Reports suggest that Bill Kittleman, former Merion professional and now design partner with Hanse Golf Course Design, thinks that there is more architecture at the West than on the East. Most (perhaps not all) may concede that the West is a good short course and well worth playing if lucky enough to receive an invite.
In the Northeast there are storied private 36-hole layouts with the likes of Winged Foot and Baltusrol leading the way with twin offerings that clearly have advocates of both courses. Merion is also a 36-hole facility but unlike Winged Foot and Baltusrol the debate at Merion regarding the superior layout is not even remotely a question to be answered.
To be fair, the West has certain key moments. The uphill par-4 5th is a quality hole -- calling upon a clear shot shape off the tee and in having a greensite that can be confounding if not near to the pin location. The dropshot par-3 6th is also quite entertaining -- yet not to be confused with the stellar 13th on the East.
The uphill short par-4 7th is a good temptation for the big play from the tee -- but the requirements for success are justifiably quite high with a fronting creek awaiting the misplaced shot. It also behooves players to avoid missing too far left as the pitch from that angle is quite bedeviling.
The inward side is quite fun -- the par-4 10th is not long at 367 yards but once again a fronting creek and a nicely contoured green are there to keep players honest. The uphill par-4 11 plays longer than the scorecard distance of 405 yards and it too showcases another fine Hugh Wilson putting surface. The par-4 14th also has a fine green as does the short par-3 17th.
The weakness of the course stems from having too many pedestrian offerings. Holes serving as mere connectors in getting you to the several quality holes that exist. The West is not a long course -- roughly at 6,000 yards -- and like its more famous big brother sports a par-70. No doubt those visiting for the first time will clearly be pining to play the more noted East Course but I would say the West is like a scrumptious snack to munch on before heading over for the main entrée.
M. James Ward
The West course at Merion serves as a suitable and pleasant second course for the members. However, this is not like what you will find at Winged Foot, Baltusrol, Saucon Valley or Olympic with their excellent second or even third golf course. The West course is not in the same league as the East at Merion.
Much like the East course, the superintendent takes very good care of the greens.
While not in the same class as the East course, but is fun to play after having played/battled/survived/enjoyed the East.
It plays at less than 6000 yards from the back tees to a par 70. Many of the par 4's are around 350 yards with the longest less than 430 yards. A few of the par 4's are less than 300 yards.
There are no really strong holes on the East course given the length but the greens themselves serve as a worthy warm-up for the East course if you are playing there first.
The best holes on the West course are all on the back - 11, 12 and 14. Two of these are the longer par 4's but they also have the more interesting green complexes.
The two par fives are much too short as less than 500 yards as are many of the other holes. Overall the par 3's are better than the par 4's and par 5's although three of the par 3's play downhill. The par four eighteenth finishing hole doglegs right to perhaps the best green on this course as it is multi-tiered with a false front.
I have seen where Merion West is ranked in the top 25 golf courses in the state by Golf Digest, which makes no sense to me. That is undeserved because it is way too easy for the 10 index and lower due to its lack of length. I do give it some favorable marks for "playability" and those par threes.