This mat, from St. Andrews, is similar to the mats at Merion 
To prepare for the Open, mats come to Merion GC

By Joe Logan
Published December 7, 2012

To what lengths will Merion GC go to prepare for the 2013 U.S. Open?  Would you believe they are hitting off artificial mats from the fairway?


"It’s for divot control," said Bob Rex, Merion’s Green Chairman.


The mats, which have been in use since October, are rectangular, about 5 inches wide by 15 inches long, with a little bulbous knob on the end. 


It’s a simple concept.  Each caddie at Merion, which is a walking-only course, carries a mat in the pouch of his caddie bib.  By the time his player reaches his tee shot, the caddie has lifted, cleaned and placed his ball on the mat.


"They’re just like something you’d find at the driving range," one Merion member said of the mats. "I actually find them easier to hit off of than turf."


Are members fuming over the inconvenience?  "There has been zero push back," said Rex.


"It’s not the least bit controversial," confirmed the other Merion member.   "You have to understand that Merion has a culture that we are a club that hosts major championships and in doing so, you have to make some sacrifices."


The mats aren’t used on every fairway shot on every hole.  They are mostly brought out for second shots on the course’s shorter par 4s (No. 1, 7, 8, 10), where most players hit wedge or another divot-gouging short iron into the green.


The mats also aren’t used in the rough, or on the fringes of the fairways.  The idea is to protect the prime landing areas of the fairways.


"When the pros are playing next summer, if they land where they are supposed to land, you want to give them good turf," said the Merion member.  ‘If they skull it, or hit long or short, you are not going to guarantee them good turf."


Merion is not the first club to use the fairway mats in preparation for a U.S. Open – they were used prior to the two most recent Opens, at The Olympic Club in San Francisco in June and before that at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md.


While the mat concept is relatively new to the U.S., it’s old hat in Scotland, where the growing season is shorter and its common for courses to break out mats to protect their turf in winter.  In fact, after studying all the available mats on the market, Merion opted to go with the manufacturer who provides mats to the Old Course in St. Andrews.  They bought about 200 of them.


Actually, the mats won’t be getting much use in the for the next few months.  The East Course closed Dec. 3 for winter, as it does every year about this time.  It will reopen in April, with the weather playing a factor in exactly when.


Once it reopens, play on the East Course will be limited, in preparation for the Open.  In a typical year, most foursomes on a week day consist of a member and three guests.  Come spring 2013, guest play will be cut to almost nil.  The club expects only three or four foursomes per day, each filled out by members.  The mats will be used then, right up until players begin arriving for the Open.


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Fran[12/9/2012 7:06:20 AM]
I can see why alot of members at these exclusive clubs donít want the USGA and PGA tournaments played at their courses.
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