The US Golf Association broke the recent mold of holding the US Open on sweeping, expansive layouts that can create large corporate-tent cities, stretch beyond 7,500 yards, and comfortably accommodate tens of thousands of spectators in this year’s national championship at the Merion Golf Club outside Philadelphia.
Merion doesn’t allow for any of that. Nestled in a neighborhood, the East Course sits on just 126 acres, about half the size of typical US Open venues.
Take a hole-by-hole look at the challenging course golfers will navigate during the June 13-16 tournament:
No. 1, 350 yards, par 4
For guests, this can be one of the most intimidating opening tee shots in golf because the teeing ground is right next to the clubhouse patio, where the clinking of tea cups goes to dead silence when a player stands over his shot. Maybe not for the U.S. Open. This likely will be an iron off the tee, which leaves a wedge to the green. A sycamore tree to the right might keep players from trying to drive the green. A dozen bunkers line the final 100 yards into the green. It’s a gentle opening hole.
No. 2, 556 yards, par 5
The fairway has been shifted to the right to tighten the landing area, and it brings in out-of-bounds to the right. The left side features some of the thickest rough on the course. For the second shot, players can try to reach the green or lay up short of a cross bunker about 35 yards in front of the green. The putting surface is relatively flat. A good tee shot brings birdie or even eagle into the equation.
No. 3, 256 yards, par 3
Two tee boxes will be used, measuring 219 yards and 256 yards. The green slopes severely from back left to front right, and it is surrounded by bunkers. One of them short and right of the green is one of the deepest at Merion. The toughest recovery is anything left of the green.
No. 4, 628 yards, par 5
The U.S. Open last year at Olympic didn’t have a par 5 until the 16th hole. This year at Merion, the par 5s will be out of the way after four holes. It’s the eighth time in nine years the U.S. Open has had a hole of at least 600 yards. A new tee box brings the fairway bunkers into play. It will be tough to keep the drive in the fairway because the landing area slopes from right-to-left. For the second shot, players can’t see over a cross bunker. The green is fronted by a creek, increasing the risk of going for the green in two. The putting surface slopes from back left to front right.
No. 5, 504 yards, par 4
One of the most demanding driving holes, it bends hard to the left with a stream running down the left side of the entire hole, and the fairway slopes to the left. The approach can be bounced onto the green, which is the most severely sloped on the course. The worst place to be is right of the green, for that leads to exceptionally fast putts.
No. 6, 487 yards, par 4
Another long par 4 features a partially blind tee shot over a crest to a bowl-shaped fairway. The green is pitched from back left to the front, and the tricky part is a false front. The options are to run the approach onto the green or fly it to the middle of the green.
No. 7, 360 yards, par 4
This starts a stretch of five holes that are all under 375 yards and could be the place to pick up birdies. Most players will opt for a long iron off the tee to a partially blind, angled landing area. A tee shot too far to the right will flirt with out-of-bounds and overhanging trees. The large green is slightly elevated and has three levels, with a sharp drop-off to the left that will make for a tough up-and-down.
No. 8, 359 yards, par 4
This will be another long iron or fairway metal to a curved landing area with thick native grass on both sides of the fairway. That leaves a wedge to a small green protected by deep rough and a large bunker in the front. The green has several contours and slopes from back left to front right. Par is difficult for those missing the green. The tees could be moved up one round to give players a risky option of driving the green.
No. 9, 236 yards, par 3
This plays downhill to a green shaped like a kidney, with ragged bunkers on both sides and water in front and to the right of the green. It could be about a 6-iron for front hole locations, and long irons to carry the left bunker when the hole location is back and to the left.
No. 10, 303 yards, par 4
This has been a reachable par 4 dating to Bob Jones winning the 1930 U.S. Amateur during his Grand Slam season. Every player can reach the green, but the tee shot must be shaped severely from right-to-left to get around the corner. The safe play is a mid-iron to a narrow fairway. Any shot that misses the green to the left will wind up in deep fescue that could make it tough to get the next shot on the green.
No. 11, 367 yards, par 4
Another long iron off the tee, and utterly important to find the fairway, which drops from the tee box to create a blind shot and is flanked by Baffling Brook on the left. Anyone missing the fairway might have to play short of the brook, which hugs the front, right and rear of the teardrop-shaped green. This could be the ultimate birdie-or-bust hole at Merion.
No. 12, 403 yards, 4
This sharp dogleg right features a fairway that slopes severely to the right. The right side of the fairway leaves a more level lie, though it is framed by extremely penal rough on the right. The green slopes from back left to front right, making it tough to save par on any shot that is long or left.
No. 13, 115 yards, par 3
This defines the extreme difference at Merion — all the other par 3s are over 200 yards, and this is a sand wedge. The oval-shaped green might be the smallest on the course with challenging contours. The view of the green is obscured from the tee by a huge bunker in front of the green.
No. 14, 464 yards, par 4
This is where some players might find out if there is any rust on the driver. There are bunkers in the landing area and high native grass to the left. The second shot will be a mid-iron to a large, contoured green. Anything missing the green to the left could bounce off the closely mown knoll and flirt with out-of-bounds.
No. 15, 411 yards, par 4
Players can hit whatever they want off the tee, though it’s an intimidating shot with a long iron or driver. The hole bends to the right, with three deep bunkers protecting the right side and out-of-bounds on the left. Going into the bunkers makes it tough to get onto the green. The putting surface features some of the most severe slopes at Merion.
No. 16, 430 yards, par 4
A fairway metal likely will be the choice on the famous ‘‘Quarry Hole’’ to stay short of the hazard. The green features a pronounced depression in the front night. This might be the last realistic chance at birdie.
No. 17, 246 yards, par 3
Players will face tee shots of 246 yards and 195 yards, a dramatic hole with amphitheater seating. The hole is slightly downhill to a green that has a deep ridge in the front that must be carried from the tee. The slopes feed balls to the back right portion of the green. Front hole locations are the most difficult and will be used with the forward tee.
No. 18, 521 yards, par 4
Despite hosting only four U.S. Opens, Merion has one of the most famous 18th holes because of Ben Hogan and his 1-iron on the 72nd hole of the 1950 U.S. Open. The drive is partially blind over the quarry to a landing zone that pitches downhill and steeply to the left at 300 yards. To lay back off the tee leaves a longer iron but a more level lie. The longer driver leaves a shorter iron and a downhill, side hill lie. The green is dome-shaped, and it’s better to be long than short.