If you’ve managed to catch any of the television coverage of the US Open you will have seen the wonderfully unique challenge set by Merion. In Tour terms, a short course squeezed on to a relatively minuscule plot of land is unheard of. There is something of the classic, old British parkland about Merion and if the weather starts to play ball, it’ll be interesting to see how the best players in the world tackle something that’s more akin to what most of us amateurs struggle with in our golfing lives.
There is however another side to the choice of venue that can’t be ignored. To host a truly stand out golf tournament, a venue needs atmosphere and for that, you need people. Take the Ryder Cup for example. Why do so many non-golfers fall in love with this one event, when the rest of the golfing year goes largely unnoticed? The unique atmosphere of the Ryder Cup is created by the hundreds of thousands of people who line the fairways, flitting between deadly silence and euphoric cheering.
And so back to Merion. The landscape itself is rich in history and character and will provide a fascinating and unusual test for the players. Sadly however, the crowds are being limited to 25,000 per day. That’s 15,000 less than passed through the gates each day at Olympic Club in San Francisco last year. Incredibly, the Pheonix Open this year had Sunday crowds of 179,000.
Whilst the players will enjoy the chance to walk in the footsteps of the likes of Ben Hogan and Bobby Jones, ultimately, what really gets them going is playing in front of big crowds. During the four most important weeks of the year, the top players like to feel as if they are inhabiting the centre of the sporting world. What’s more, the whole show is being squeezed into just 127-acres. Getting the crowd and players around this venue (especially when lightening strikes) will require surgical precision – the driving range sits a mile away from the first tee.
Finding suitable host venues for the greatest golf tournaments in the world is a difficult task. Merion is undoubtedly one of the best, but it doesn’t come without its drawbacks.