Merion sets sights on other top tournaments

A runner-up again: Phil Mickelson chases his unsuccessful last-gasp shot toward the 18th green at Merion.
A runner-up again: Phil Mickelson chases his unsuccessful last-gasp shot toward the 18th green at Merion. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff)
Posted: June 18, 2013

Rick Ill enjoyed the entire week of the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club, from dining with Arnold Palmer and Phil Mickelson to the champions' dinner to hanging out with 1981 Open winner David Graham to all the favorable comments about the East Course.

And after Justin Rose collected the championship trophy on Sunday night, Ill, who chaired the club's U.S. Open committee, spoke at a reception and said, "It was great to have our 18th USGA championship and, for all you members out there, we're working on the 19th."

Chances are that tournament could be a U.S. Open, but club officials may want the U.S. Golf Association to reserve 2030, the 100th anniversary of Bobby Jones' completion of the Grand Slam with his win in the U.S. Amateur at Merion. Before then, it could be something else.

"I think that in talking about it, it hasn't been finalized," Ill said Monday. "But I think that a U.S. Open or a U.S. Amateur or even another Walker Cup further out would be in all probability our druthers. We do want to do something in the near term in the women's golf area, and that's another issue we're going to talk about."

The USGA sponsors six women's and girls' championships, but the most likely for Merion would be the U.S. Women's Open or the U.S. Women's Amateur. The club hosted its last Women's Amateur in 1949 when Philadelphia area resident Dorothy Porter emerged victorious. It also hosted the U.S. Girls Junior in 1998.

The U.S. Open is booked through 2020. Holding an Open at Merion between now and 2030 may be doubtful given its interest in 2030, and with all the clubs requesting a chance to host the championship. But Ill thinks Merion did a job worthy enough to have the Open back.

"The championship committee has been talking for a while," Ill said of the USGA's return to Merion. "I think that clearly, this proves that if we did give the invitation to the USGA, that it is at least a possibility that they would come back. A case with the players liking it, the scores being what they were, and the course holding up, I see no reason why they wouldn't do anything.

"We'll have to consider, for example, the year 2030, which is the anniversary of Bobby Jones. So I think there's a lot of excitement now. But like anything else, you've got to take a deep breath and start to analyze it."

USGA executive director Mike Davis said Sunday night that Merion "absolutely stood the test of time" and that operationally, despite the logistical challenges of the club's small area and using other nearby facilities like Merion's West Course and Haverford College, "we were pleasantly surprised."

So is Merion, which went 32 years before hosting it this year, in the hunt for a future Open?

"Well, we have to be invited by the club," Davis said. "I would think we would all want to sit down and digest this. But the club would have to invite us. What's got to happen is that we would assess things, they would assess things. But ultimately we're very reactive. They've got to invite us and then that point is when we start to look."

Because of the smaller area, which meant fewer tickets - crowds were limited to 25,000 a day - and fewer hospitality tents, the USGA was expected to take in millions of dollars less this year, maybe as much as $10 million, according to an association source.

Davis called the financial consideration "a very minor thing."

"Before we pulled the trigger on this, we had to be convinced that we could do this operationally," he said. "At the end of it, regardless of whether some things were tougher operationally than normal, regardless of whether you make less money from it, it was great for golf. It was really worth it, I thought."

Ill felt the week was "absolutely terrific . . . after I got over the angst of the weather," the heavy rain that fell on June 7 and 10 and the rain delay during Thursday's opening round.

As for Merion's members, Ill said he spoke with hundreds of them and "I haven't heard one who hasn't been absolutely positive about having the Open and the way it turned out."

Ill also praised the club's neighbors, Haverford College, Haverford Township, and the office of Gov. Corbett, which arranged for an emergency repair late Friday night after a sinkhole developed on Ardmore Avenue.

As for surprises, Ill said the only one was the players' scores. Rose's winning 72-hole total was 1 over par. But Ill never saw record low scores.

"I thought it was interesting on the news this morning and there was a report where the question was asked, 'Is Merion too tough?' " he said. "This is brought to you by the same people who predicted that players would tear it apart, or that Merion shouldn't have had an Open. I would be fibbing if I didn't say there's a small amount of satisfaction to what the scores were."


Contact Joe Juliano at jjuliano@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @JoeJulesInq.

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