Merion’s 11th holds its head above water – barely

A view of the 11th hole on the East Course at Merion Golf Club.

Heavy rains in the Philadelphia area have somehow spared Merion Golf Club’s notoriously flood-prone 11th green. The timing could not have been worse – 3 1/2 inches of rain, the remnants of Tropical Storm Andrea, on the Friday before next week’s U.S. Open, leading to a detectable rise of the water levels out of Cobbs Creek and threatening the putting surface at the famed 367-yard par 4.

It wouldn’t be the first time that the putting surface had flooded. Matt Shaffer, Merion’s director of grounds, has variously estimated that he and his crew have had to rescue the green from flooding a dozen or two times in his 11 years there. But not this time.

The tiny putting surface – at 3,677 square feet the second smallest on Merion’s championship East Course – was spared, Shaffer told Golfweek on Saturday, “by a whole 1.5 inches.” In fact, the crew managed to double cut and roll the green Saturday morning and was slated to repeat the process in the afternoon. With water levels having subsided around the green, workers also are able to cut the rough around the green.

Going into this year’s U.S. Open, USGA executive director Mike Davis was so concerned about the susceptibility of the 11th green (and nearby 12th tee) to flooding that he made sure the club kept two holes on its adjoining West Course ready and prepped for U.S. Open play, just in case catastrophe struck and the alternate holes were needed to complete an 18-hole round. For now, those measures will not be needed. But with thunderstorms anticipated for midweek in the runup to the championship, the threat of flooding still looms.

USGA officials obviously would prefer to play the entire four rounds of the national championship without major rain interruption, not least because of the flooding threat. The 11th green, after all, is the site where Bobby Jones sealed his 1930 Grand Slam by winning the U.S. Amateur on the 29th hole. For now, that sacred ground remains high and dry – if not quite high enough.

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