ARDMORE, Pa. — The last time Merion Golf Club commanded the golf spotlight was in 2013 when the club hosted it fifth U.S. Open, won by Justin Rose. Next month, Merion and its storied East Course will take center stage again, only this time it won’t be men, or professionals, but rather two eight-member teams of the top women amateurs from the U.S. and Great Britain & Ireland for the 42nd Curtis Cup.
Scheduled for June 10-12, the Curtis Cup will mark the 19th U.S. Golf Association championship for Merion – the most of any club in the country – as well as the return of an event it first hosted 68 years ago, in 1954, when the U.S. prevailed 6-3 over Great Britain & Ireland.
It will also be Merion’s first event since the USGA announced in August a commitment to the club to host a future U.S. Amateur (2026), two U.S. Women’s Opens (2034, 2046) and two U.S. Opens (2030, 2050), securing a relationship that has been fraught at times over the years. These days, all is well.
"There are less than five clubs that the USGA regards as truly special," said Mike Whan, CEO of the USGA, who made a rare appearance for a Media Day at Merion on Monday.
Whan was alluding to a short list of revered clubs that likely includes Pinehurst, Pebble Beach and cross-state luminary Oakmont, outside Pittsburgh. But even among that select group, Merion enjoys a special status, with Whan noting, "There is a reason we play here more than anywhere else."
Moments later it was Merion president John Castleman’s turn at the microphone: "At Merion, hosting championships is what we do."
Thanks to COVID-19-related delays, the U.S. team has had only nine months to appreciate its 12½-7½ come-from-behind victory over GB&I at Conwy Golf Club in Wales. Going forward, the Cup will return to its usual biennial schedule, with future events so far scheduled including Sunningdale Golf Club in England in 2024, Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles in 2026 and Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, Oregon, in 2038.
The U.S. enjoys a lopsided 28-8-3 advantage in the series. In the past 10 Cups the U.S. has prevailed in eight, losing only in 2012 and 2016.
This year’s U.S. team returns the captain, Sarah LeBrun Ingram of Nashville, a two-time All-American at Duke, a three-time U.S. Women’s Mid-Am champion and a three-time Curtis Cup team member (1992, 1994, 1996, compiling a 2-1 record in singles matches).
The U.S. returns five players from last year's victorious team, including three players who currently rank among the Top 10 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking: Rose Zhang, 19, a freshman at Stanford (No. 1); Rachel Heck, 20, a sophomore at Stanford (No. 3); and Rachael Kuehn, 20, a junior at Wake Forest (No. 8).
Other returning U.S. team members are Jensen Castle, 21, a sophomore at the University of Kentucky and the reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion (No. 64); and Emilia Migliaccio, 22, a graduate student at Wake Forest (No. 18). There are three Curtis Cup rookies: Amari Avery, 18, a freshman at the University of Southern California (No. 24); Megha Ganne, 18, a high school senior committed to Stanford (No. 18) and Latanna Stone, 20, a junior at LSU (No. 35).
The GB&I team returns six players, led by returning captain Elaine Ratcliffe, a decorated amateur from England. GB&I’s top-ranked players are Hannah Darling, 18, a sophomore at the University of South Carolina (No. 10); and Caley McGinty, 21, a sophomore transfer at Oklahoma State (No. 11).
Ingram and Migliaccio made the trip to Merion for Media Day and regaled reporters with tales of loving golf and the competition, with the camaraderie of rival teams comprised of longtime friends on both sides.
“We all grew up together playing junior golf and junior Solheim Cups,” Migliaacio said.
Ingram and Migliacco were among five team members who played a preview round at the East Course last week.
"It was pretty awesome, so pristine," said Migliacco. "The layout of the course is so unique. All the little details, the undulations of the greens. It is such championship course. I’m excited."
Migliacco, from Cary, North Carolina, dreamed of becoming a professional golfer her entire life, until she reached the point where it was actually a possibility. Then she said a change of heart. "When I was a senior, I started thinking about what I really wanted in life," she said.
She decided against pursuing professional golf, instead enrolling in a two-year masters program in communications at Wake Forest. In addition to being a teaching assistant, Migliacco, blessed with wit and a 500-watt smile, already works part-time for Golf Channel, writing and doing TV commentary. "I love it," she said.
For Ingram, both as a player and as a captain, the Curtis Cup has enabled her to represent her country, satisfying her one-time goal of being an Olympian. After her youthful success, Ingram walked away from the game for 22 years to raise her kids.
For fans of the East Course, the Curtis Cup will also serve as something of an unveiling of a multi-million dollar, three-year restoration project, completed in 2019 and overseen by celebrated architect Gil Hanse, who lives only minutes away on Philadelphia’s Main Line, in Malvern.
Even for the discerning eye, Hanse’s changes are barely noticeable, an observation to which Scott Nye, Merion’s director of golf, responded, “Good. That means we succeeded.”
While many tees and greens have been expanded or refined, much of the restoration work is actually underground and therefore unseen – such as one of those subsurface drainage systems favored by the likes of Augusta National.
The teams will compete over three days starting June 10, with three four-ball matches in the morning and thee foursomes matches in the afternoon. That format will be repeated on Saturday. All eight players on both teams will face off in singles matches on Sunday.