• 2013 US Open

How do you solve a problem like Merion?

Alex Dimond at Merion June 10, 2013
The USGA even has a plan in place for the heavy rain that has ravaged Merion. It is one of many © AP

ESPN will have all the news, views and features from the US Open this week - along with an in-depth GolfCast when the action gets underway on Thursday.

"Merion is not great because history was made there.
History was made there because Merion is great."

- Pete Dye, renowned golf course architect

You do not have to delve deep into the archives to find evidence of the great golfing exploits that have taken place at Merion Golf Club's East Course throughout its history.

From Ben Hogan's one-iron at the 18th in 1950 - arguably the most iconic shot in the history of the sport - to Bobby Jones Jr's completion of the fabled (but pompously titled) 'Impregnable Quadrilateral' on the 11th in 1930, Merion was the stage for some of golf's shining moments in the early 20th century.

It is for those reasons - as well as the enduring quality of the Hugh Wilson-designed layout - that the United States Golf Association has decided to return its national championship to the Ardmore site, just outside Philadelphia, in 2013.

However, hosting a US Open is a wholly different proposition these days than it was back in 1981, the last time the event graced Merion. The course has hosted Walker Cups and US Amateurs in the interim, but bringing back the US Open has required some innovative thinking from all involved with the project.

With just 111 acres to play with, players will be greeted this week with what Adam Scott euphemistically described as "quirky" arrangements in order to fulfill the event.

"This [hosting the US Open] would never have happened without some really out-of-the-box thinking from some key people here at Merion," USGA chief executive Mike Davis acknowledged last week.

"There are neighbours here that would give up their lawns, their houses, to have different functions in them.

"Merion, the club, acquired some property [to use for logistics].

"There's just so many out-of-the-box things that had to happen for this to occur that it's great."

It's hard to know where to start on the various strange measures put in place, but where the players will spend much of their time is perhaps as good as any. Unlike almost every modern major championship venue, the driving range this week is actually on Merion's West Course - a mile down the road. Shuttle buses will ferry the players to and from the range as necessary.

Not that practising putting near the East Course will be much easier. The majority of the usual East Course putting green has been co-opted to serve as a championship tee for the 14th hole. (For those wondering about the East Course driving range, it was sacrificed for the media centre and merchandising tent.)

The traditional two-tee start for Thursday and Friday will happen at the 1st and 11th - not the tenth, as that is off in a corner of the plot and backs directly onto a mid-size family home. Then there is the course itself, which, at a shade under 7,000-yards, has been carefully shaped to provide a test despite its lack of real distance.

"For the good of the game, we can't not come back to a place like this," was how Davis summed it up. "It's too important from an historical standpoint, and it means too much architecturally and it's still a great test of golf."

Weather conditions leading up to this event have only served to highlight the level of planning that has gone into the operation. Heavy rain - the tail-end of Tropical Storm Andrea - has drenched the course, one that does not drain particularly well at the best of times. Two holes in particular - the 11th and 12th - are especially prone to flooding, and the USGA revealed last week that two holes on the West Course were being maintained in case they needed to be substituted in at late notice.

If necessary, players will be ferried the mile or so to those holes, then ferried back to complete the remainder of their rounds on the East.

"I'm giving you the doomsday of all doomsday scenarios,'' Davis noted at the time - although perhaps it's more revealing that the USGA had even accounted for the 'doomsday of all doomsday scenarios'.

"We wouldn't use a hole from the West Course unless we absolutely otherwise couldn't get this championship in - if we had a stream [on a hole] that wouldn't recede for several days.''

Yet what is perhaps most surprising - and, consequently, impressive - is the financial hit the USGA is taking in order to do all of this. The USGA usually expects over 55,000 spectators to walk through the gates on an average tournament day at an average US Open - this year, tickets have been capped at 25,000 per day due to the limited space for spectators to occupy.

Factor in downsizing in elements including corporate hospitality, and observers estimate the game's governing body could lose out $7 million in revenue - about the size of this week's prize fund.

In a modern sporting environment where big events invariably go where the biggest economic rewards are to be had (something golf can certainly not claim to be innocent of), it is refreshing to see money defer so utterly to the draw of nostalgia and tradition.

It's history, after all, which makes these events so meaningful.

"We don't look at this as a one-year financial exercise," championship committee chairman Thomas O'Toole noted last week. "We're perfectly comfortable that we could come back and have a less financially significant Open, but with the history here and what's gone on and what we think the experience is going to be here in 2013, we would be excited to have that opportunity."

As Scott, the only man in the field able to potentially emulate Jones' grand slam this year, pointed out: "It's nice to come to these places that have played such a big part in golf's history - because we don't get to do it that much."

It's nice, but it is not something that has happened without a huge amount of planning and creative problem solving.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Alex Dimond Close
Alex Dimond is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk