US Open venue owes much of its heritage to North Berwick

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THE connection between North Berwick and Merion Cricket Club at Ardmore in Philadelphia goes back over a hundred years to 1898 when Robert M Thomson, a fisherman’s son from North Berwick was appointed head pro at Merion Cricket Club.

He was followed in 1905 by his brother James R Thomson, who remained at Ardmore until 1909. James R Thomson was elected a member of the first PGA of America Executive Committee and was selected as one of the national vice presidents of the PGA.

The members at Merion decided to lay out a new course and appointed Hugh Wilson, a Scottish immigrant and club member to carry out the work. In 1910, Wilson was sent to Scotland and England to study the best courses and collect design ideas. The third hole, a 168 yard par 3, on the East Course at Merion was inspired by North Berwick’s 15th (Redan). Wilson was also taken by the 18th at North Berwick with its swale fronting the green similar to the Valley of Sin at St Andrews.

During this period Frances C Griscom, US Woman’s Amateur Champion and member at Merion visited North Berwick and was tutored by Ben Sayers Snr throughout the summer in 1902. She visited North Berwick again in 1906 and 1911 this time with her brother Rodman Griscom. It was Rodman who invited Ben Sayers’s son George Sayers to take up the position of head pro at Merion.

George Sayers worked in the family business at North Berwick and taught the game on the West Links to the rich and famous including Lord Kitchener in 1910. George emigrated to the USA in 1913 and was followed by a long line of clubmakers sent out from Ben Sayers & Son who passed through Merion. The first to arrive was 19-year-old James Kelly Thomson from North Berwick who took up the position of assistant pro(and was later pro at Mohawk G.C, NY). He was followed in 1914 by James Gullane (later Colorado Springs). In 1921 George Sayers sponsored the passage of Jimmy Richardson (Sunnybrook G.C, PA) who was followed in 1929 by another Sayers apprentice George Izett who remained at Merion until 1932. He started the Izett Custom Golf Club Company which is still in business on Haverford Road, Ardmore, PA.

To complete the North Berwick connection George Sayers gave lessons to Dorothy Campbell at Merion. Throughout the month of November, 1923 she haunted the practice tee and underwent a painful golfing metamorphosis. After two days a joint of her left hand’s index finger was reduced to a raw wound by constant friction with fingers of her right hand due to the Vardon or overlapping grip, which she was using for the first time.

At 41, Campbell entered the 1924 US Women’s Amateur hosted by Rhode Island Country Club when she defeated Mary K Browne, the national lawn tennis champion, 7 and 6 to win the title. This victory brought two more records for Campbell that still stand; the number of years between titles (14), and the oldest player to win the event.

In the 1950s George Sayers left Merion and began making clubs exclusively at his business located in Lancaster Avenue, Haverford, PA. He made customised clubs for President Dwight D. Eisenhower, comedian Jackie Gleason, Reverend Billy Graham and Amelia Earhart the famous pilot. George Sayers died in January 1977 at Montgomery, PA.