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Anticipating the Arrival of the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club

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 “I love Merion—and I don’t even know her last name.” —Lee Trevino, after winning the 1971 U.S. Open

With apologies to Paul Revere, the U.S. Open Golf Championship is indeed coming to Merion Golf Club in June, as the historic course lays waiting for the world’s best golfers. All the years of planning and anticipation are coming to a head, as the Philadelphia region prepares to be a temporary golfing epicenter. It promises to be the cherry atop a sweet golf year ahead in 2013.

In 2012, golf showed tremendous bounce-back from several years of decline—a combination of too many golf courses and too little play, coupled with poor weather and a stalled economy.

Locally, better weather (almost 40-plus more playable days than previous years) and an improving economy helped fuel the rebirth. Even Hurricane Sandy, with all its devastation, couldn’t hinder the rebound, largely due to the “off season” timing of the storm, giving courses months to recover. Despite monetary damages in the millions for golf courses (mostly tree damage), area facilities are ready and on track for the 2013 season.

Nationally, played golf rounds increased by six percent, according to PGA PerformanceTrak, the industry’s largest benchmarking service. The jump represented the largest single year percentage increase in rounds played since 2000. Annual golf fee revenue was also up almost seven percent, leading to an estimated $700 million economic boost.

Last year was the warmest 12 months on record. Better weather contributed to the supply of available golf, which, in turn, provided golfers more opportunities to play. “While the increase in rounds played in 2012 was supported by favorable weather conditions, consumers made the choice to play golf, rather than participate in other recreational activities,” says Ted Bishop, president of the PGA of America. “It’s not an aberration that golf facilities that are offering player development programs to support Golf 2.0 are driving more consumers to the course, while positively impacting the bottom lines at their facilities. We continue to build momentum, and I’m confident that these programs, complemented by the favorable weather conditions, are leading to the increase in rounds played.”

The golf industry’s growth initiatives do seem to be paying off. The aforementioned Golf 2.0 program has helped golf courses and industry professionals get the most out of their marketing and promotional programs. Likewise, the launch of the PGA Junior League in more than 16 markets (think Little League with golf clubs), and the continued efforts of companies like SNAG Golf (backed by Jack Nicklaus), which create games and equipment to make golf fun for elementary-age children, are making a difference.

What else is good for the game of golf? How about a national leader who promotes the sport by playing it? President Obama’s presence on the golf course with Tiger and other celebrities is great for the game. Whether or not you actually believe he feels the public’s pain on taxes or healthcare issues, you know he feels a golfer’s pain when he duck-hooks a tee shot or chili-dips a short approach. Our president … three-putting? That just makes me feel good to be an American, since it’s the only “Tee” Party candidate I can relate to.

As far as golf goes at the professional level, what a year it’s shaping up to be, with all the drama of a reality television show ready to play out right here at Merion Golf Club. The “bromance” between Tiger Woods and Rory Mcllroy promises to deliver a head-to-head battle that is tremendous for the sport—remember what Magic and Bird did for the NBA? Two fierce competitors who like each other, and like to beat each other even more—how fitting in a place where Nicklaus and Trevino once dueled.

So, shake off the winter doldrums, get that Ryder Cup loss out of your mind, put the snow shovels away and throw the clubs back in the trunk. Golf season is back in the Delaware Valley. Oh, and did I mention that the U.S. Open is coming?

Email questions and comments to Jim Finnegan at jfinnegan@todaymediainc.com


For more from the 2013 Golf Guide, click here

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