Review: 'Merion' story covers small wonder

Jeff Silverman's "Merion: The Championship Story"

Review: "Merion: The Championship Story," by Jeff Silverman; 501 pages, $125.

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When it comes to hosting U. S. Golf Association championships, Merion Golf Club is head of the class, with 18. In “Merion: The Championship Story,” author Jeff Silverman brings to life fresh and long-forgotten details from tournaments dating to 1904.

Silverman began the project in 2010, initially intending to update an earlier club history in time for the 100th anniversary of the East Course in 2012.But he became convinced that no one had ever thoroughly documented all the national championships that Merion, in Ardmore, Pa., had hosted.

The East Course is inevitably linked with Bobby Jones. It was here that the 14-year-old Atlantan made his debut in the U.S. Amateur; here that he won the first of his five U.S. Am titles; and here in the 1930 Amateur that he climaxed his career with the Grand Slam.

Silverman tells the story of how Hugh Wilson, a novice course designer, converted gently rolling farmland and a worn-out quarry into what Jack Nicklaus once called, “Acre for acre maybe the best test of golf in the world.”

At Merion, the holes fit compactly on the land like a jigsaw puzzle. More than 30 years had passed since the course hosted the 1981 U.S. Open before its triumphant return in 2013. Silverman perfectly frames the challenge of bringing an Open back to Merion : “So how exactly do you fit the USGA’s golden egg into a hummingbird’s nest?”

I especially enjoyed the numerous breakout boxes, chock-full of colorful anecdotes such as a joyrider who left tire marks across the second green during the 1981 Open, and the tales behind Merion’s wicker baskets and its dazzling bunkers, which are known as “The White Faces of Merion.”

Silverman, a talented wordsmith and storyteller, has crafted a book that was a deserving recipient of the USGA’s 2013 Herbert Warren Wind book award.

Book available through the USGA, Golf Association of Philadelphia, and directly at merion.anro.net

Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the May 30 issue of Golfweek magazine; click here to subscribe.

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