Homeowners near Merion Golf Club see gold in U.S. Open rentals

Posted: January 21, 2013

Lured by rumors of $20,000 to $60,000 potential windfalls, hundreds of homeowners near the Merion Golf Club are listing their homes for rent during the U.S. Open.

The presumption is that PGA golfers, corporate sponsors, and well-heeled fans will be looking for upscale accommodations when the Open comes to Merion from June 10 to 16. Two real estate agents and an independent website, eventhomes.com, have more than 350 listings, ranging from $250 to $10,000 per night on those dates.

So far, business is a bit slow.

Bob Thomas, a Main Line real estate agent and golf enthusiast, said he sent out one round of flyers a year ago. The rest of his would-be rentees came through word of mouth. His website, 2013golfrentals.com, has 92 listings organized by walking distance to the gate.

Thomas said he's had numerous inquiries from prospective renters, but no signings yet. He's confident the deals will ramp up in the next few months, as spectators begin to make travel arrangements.

"People are still holding on to their money, paying off holiday bills," he said. "Corporations are still working out their budgets for the year."

House rentals are not uncommon on the PGA circuit, especially for golfers who are always on the road and may prefer the comforts of home (even if not their own) over hotels.

This year it's not just players. Spectators and companies who haven't booked accommodations yet may soon find renting is their only option.

Merion Golf Club, one of the oldest and most challenging courses in the country, is almost entirely surrounded by residences, which are surrounded by residences and more residences. The nearest hotels are five to 10 miles away, and many are booked.

On Golf House Road, where a handful of mansions overlook the clubhouse and the 18th fairway, a few residents have agreed to let the USGA sell corporate tents on their front lawns. The main pavilions, with pricey food and beverage packages, will be set up at Haverford College.

On Golf View Road, where the backyards of stately three- and four-bedroom homes border the eighth and ninth fairways, some residents have been asked to rent to golfers or list with private real estate agents.

Patrick Tully recently built an addition onto the back of his house, which now boasts wall-to-wall windows overlooking the ninth fairway from the living room, dining room, and kitchen. He and his wife have considered renting, but "we hadn't done anything yet."

It may be too late. The real estate agents say they have full inventories and full waiting lists.

Sara Moyher, a Main Line Realtor, said she lined up dozens of prospective rentees in the fall, but "I'm just now starting to get serious interest in what I have available."

Moyher has rented out four homes so far, and she said proximity has been the most important factor.

"If you've never been here, you wouldn't know" how different Merion is from other courses, she said. "I don't think the world understands how tight it's going to be."

Residents know what's coming. They know the influx of spectators is going to flood restaurants and train stations and pack into shuttles and rental cars that will worsen traffic on heavily used thoroughfares.

"I have no idea where all these people are going to stay," said a resident of Golf View Road who didn't want to give her name.

She considered renting, but decided it would be too inconvenient. Her two teenage daughters will still be in school during the tournament - assuming they can get there through all the traffic. "They just may play hooky that whole week," she said.

For Marjorie Philips, the right price would make it worth her while. Philips' four-bedroom country-style home sits on two acres with a pool, a cottage, and a creek that runs into the north end of the golf course.

She listed her house with Bob Thomas about two months ago and is hoping to get at least $30,000 to $40,000 for the week.

"I have mixed emotions because on the one hand, it is such an inconvenience and it is risky renting it out to people you don't know," Philips said. "On the other hand, boy, it would be nice to pay for my daughter's college tuition."

The money is even more enticing because the U.S. government doesn't tax it unless the renter stays for more than 15 days.

Thomas and Moyher said many homeowners were pricing themselves out of the game.

"Players max out at around $10,000" for the week, Moyher said. "They do this every week. This isn't a vacation for them."

Spectators and corporate guests might pay more, Moyher and Thomas said, depending on space, proximity, and amenities.

But Thomas cautioned: "Don't get greedy. Look at it as money in the bank."

Contact Jessica Parks at 610-313-8117, @JS-Parks or jparks@philly.com.

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