Merion Golf Club will host its fifth US Open championship next week but its roots are lodged firmly in British culture.
Established in 1896, it was actually members of nearby Merion Cricket Club – founded 30 years prior – who decided to open a course on this stretch of ground 11 miles west of Philadelphia.
In 1910, members opted to build a new course and chose 32-year-old Hugh Wilson, a Scottish immigrant, to design it.
Sent back to his homeland, Wilson – who had never designed a course – travelled the age-old links courses of Scotland and England in search of ideas for Merion.
When he returned, Wilson laid out his plans for the famed site of this year’s US Open, the East course, and it was opened in September 1912. The West course opened two years later.
The “white faces of Merion” are pothole bunkers inspired by the devilish creations seen on every Open rota course, and in total contrast to many modern layouts, the East course is renowned for its almost claustrophobic nature, crammed into just 126 acres.
Despite hosting more USGA events than any other course, Merion is perhaps best known as the site of Ben Hogan’s iconic picture in the 1950 US Open, where, after coming back from a life-threatening car crash, the nine-time major winner laced a 1-iron onto the final green with crowds lining the fairway.
In modern years the course has stood out for its use of wicker baskets atop pins instead of customary flags. Again, the reason for this goes back to Wilson’s study of British courses.
Wilson noticed that shepherds hid their lunch in wicker baskets at the top of their staffs, out of the range of prying animals.
He adopted the idea and they have remained in place ever since, making judging wind at green level a tricky proposition. They will apparently remain in place for this year’s US Open.
A timeless test, Jack Nicklaus said of Merion East: “Acre for acre, it may be the best test of golf in the world.” No higher praise could be given to Wilson’s legacy.