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by Bradley S. Klein, Golfweek
ARDMORE, Pa. – Merion Golf Club’s East Course isn’t the only layout in America with a theatrical quality. But it’s among the most carefully staged of all golf-course productions, and certainly one of the longest-running. In fact, this Hugh Wilson-designed layout from 1912 conveys all the narrative structure of a three- act play, with Act I (holes 1-6) comprising Drama; Act II (holes 7-13) Comedy; and Act III (holes 14-18) Tragedy.

With the Walker Cup in 2009, Merion achieved a milestone - The club holds a U.S. Golf Association-record 17 championships at Merion.

For the Walker Cup the par-70 course was stretched to 6,887 yards, still short by modern championship standards.

Merion sets an early challenge at the 362-yard, par-4 No. 1. A massive cross bunker demands a layup left or a bold drive approximately 300 yards over trees right.

Were the Walker Cup format – foursomes (alternate shot) and singles – to include better- ball play, each pairing likely would consider an aggressive play at some of the shortest par 4s. Alas, the risk/reward genius of Merion will yield to a frumpy elegance.

Merion’s Act I includes the only two par 5s – Nos. 2 and 4 – on the card, both reachable in two with big drives.

The seven-hole stretch from Nos. 7 through 13 might be the most maddening run in U.S. golf.

Temptation lurks amid the short yardages, with steep fall-offs, creeks fronting greens and false fronts that funnel well-struck irons into penalizing chipping swales.

From there, all hell breaks loose. The tragedy of Act III unfurls in a series of long, tough holes that reward angles and position.

The par-3 17th, stretched to 246 yards, offers a green with an unpin-able thumbprint up front that fall offs into sand and hollows everywhere behind.

Then there’s the famed par-4 18th, the scene of Ben Hogan’s legendary 1-iron approach that helped him clinch a playoff berth at the 1950 U.S. Open, which he won the next day.

From the 505-yard tee, it’s a 240-yard carry to the fairway, though the real challenge is a plateau green where a little short falls back and a little long rolls over.

For a relatively short course, Merion always has been a wonderful test. No U.S. course better showcases the virtues of pronounced ground features. That will be even more apparent in 2013, when Merion hosts its fifth U.S. Open.

Rater’s notebook: Merion Golf Club – East
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