Tradition is the stock-in-trade of every great golf course. St. Andrews bases its reputation on longevity, the benevolent patina of time. A Pebble Beach or an Augusta acquires tradition because of sheer excellence as a golfing test. Still another—Oakmont, for instance—has the memory of stellar events and unique personalities. Finally, there is Merion, at which the U.S. Open will be played next week and in which all these things are embodied. And no place is as rich in bizarre, dramatic, amusing memories. What other golf course, for instance, has a Haunted House (above) looming over it? More important, here on Merion's rolling, compact layout trod all the mighty figures of golf in this century. They trod and performed magnificently, or—in some cases—atrociously. Here is where Jones finished his Grand Slam in 1930, where Hogan came back from his car crash and won again. Here is where Sarazan lost, as did Mangrum. Each left behind him something besides tradition, something of himself that will be savored by the millions who watch next week's Open.
Tommy Armour, considered by many to be the finest teacher the game has known, met his nemesis in the 1934 Open on Merion's 6th hole, a 420-yard par-4 of no particular distinction. The Silver Scot lent it some, however, when he sliced his tee shots out of bounds from this spot in each of the four Open rounds. By the time he was through with Merion, and it with him, he had turned in scores of 82-72-79-81 to finish with an ignominious 314, 21 strokes behind that year's champion, Olin Dutra.
Merion's distinctive wicker-basket hole markers have mocked the efforts of more than one famed golfer. Lloyd Mangrum blew the 1950 Open when he picked up his ball on the 16th (left) to remove an insect. The gesture cost him two strokes. Earlier, on the 12th, he took a six-iron by mistake instead of his nine and hit his approach (below) over the green and out of bounds.
The hole with the biggest slice of tradition is Merion's 11th, where Bobby Jones (right) completed his Grand Slam in the 1930 Amateur: where Gene Sarazen put two shots in the water and lost the '34 Open; and where Bobby Cruickshank (next page) tossed an iron in the air and skulled himself after seeing his ball go into the brook, then bound off a rock onto the green.
June 13, 1971
Since Cruickshank's eight-iron came down, Merion has seen numerous heroes and heroics, including Ben Hogan's famous comeback in the 1950 Open after his near-fatal accident. His biggest moment came on the 18th hole of the last regulation round, when he hit a classic one-iron from 200 yards (below) and coolly two-putted to gain the playoff with Mangrum and George Fazio. Later that day the club disappeared—and Hogan never used a one-iron again. Beman's Road (above) is what some people have called Golf House Road in Ardmore ever since Deane Beman slashed his tee shot off Merion's 15th and over the road that borders the course in the third round of the 1966 U.S. Amateur. The errant shot started him on a slide that cost the two-time champion a five-stroke lead and finally the title.