Writing a history of a club is a labor of love and so, usually, is reading one. But H. Richard Heilman's Golf at Merion: 1896-1976 is different. Affection, humor and graceful, unadorned English have been applied to a club that has no equal in the history of American sport, by a retired insurance man and past Merion president.
The Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. (separated from the Merion Cricket Club in 1942) has been in the thick of American golf since 1904 when it staged its first national championship. Miss Georgianna Bishop of Bridgeport, Conn. winning the 10th Women's Amateur in spite' of missing eight putts of two feet or less in her semifinal match.
Merion was the scene of Bobby Jones' debut, at the age of 14, in the national Amateur of 1916, and also of his farewell performance in 1930 when he closed out Gene Homans on the 11th hole of the East Course to win the Amateur and complete the Grand Slam. Merion is where Ben Hogan, bandaged from ankle to hip and unable to bend over to mark his ball, won the 1950 Open in a playoff, and where Lee Trevino whipped Jack Nicklaus in another playoff in 1971. It is also where Bobby Cruickshank, among the leaders on the third day of the 1934 Open, threw his club into the air in delight as he watched his second shot hit a rock in the creek in front of the 11th green and bounce up onto the putting surface—whereupon the club came down and hit him on the head.
All of that is in this little book, and a great deal more besides. The price is steep for a paperback ($8, available only from the Merion Golf Club, Ardmore, Pa. 19003), but it is a reasonable one for a collector's item, and that is what Coif at Merion is. It contains, for instance, a selection of letters to Heilman from past champions, of which one of the most charming is Trevino's recollection of his 1971 victory: "I didn't beat Jack by myself. I had an ally—Merion. And I didn't beat Merion. I just compromised with her, like a wife, trying not to let her have her way too often."
Wound throughout the golfing moments is Heilman's highly entertaining story, reconstructed from account books, minutes of meetings long gone by and the memories of older members and staff of how an institution such as Merion has survived two wars, the Depression, even Prohibition, God help it, all for the love of a captivating game.
If there is a message in Golf at Merion, it is that both have aged well.