U.S. Open turns into block party for locals
By DAN GELSTON
ARDMORE, Pa. — Garry Van Arkel got a taste of what was in store when the U.S. Golf Association commandeered part of his property for parking and turned his tennis court into a security tent worthy of Philadelphia International Airport.
Folks like Van Arkel, who live in the stately homes lining the perimeter of Merion Golf Club, suddenly have 25,000 new best friends for drinks and nibbles and hanging out in genteel surroundings.
Who knew, the block party of the summer could be found on Golf House Road.
Then again, there was little choice.
To pull off the U.S. Open, which hadn’t been played at Merion since 1981, club officials needed help from members, many of whom live on properties practically flush against the course. Back then, there may have been a few tents sprinkled here and there. Now, they’re everywhere, for merchandise, sponsors and sprawling hospitality villages.
So when the call went out for tennis courts, front yards, and driveways, the neighbors didn’t need much time to say yes.
“Hey, it’s all part of the deal,” said Van Arkel, who works in investment services. “If you want to have the U.S. Open after 32 years, this is what you’ve got to do.”
You’ve got to look away when your yard starts looking like a Monster Truck rally tore through.
You’ve got to get used to those giant white tents.
You’ve got to turn a deaf ear to the air conditioning units and generators now a whisker away from your flower beds.
Van Arkel, a club member who lives on College Avenue, has lost his backyard tennis court for about a month. The oversized “Welcome to the 113th U.S. Open” entrance tent for media and volunteers was plopped on the court, complete with baggage scanners and ID checks.
His yard was fenced in about a month ago and he was recently told he’d probably have to live with it another month before it’s removed.
The USGA rented a vacant property near his house and cleared a path for carts to whisk VIPs away.
He refused to disclose how much he was paid for use of his land in one of the priciest areas in suburban Philadelphia. But Van Arkel called estimates of six-figure rent checks absurd.
Not far down the road, Bob and Joanie Hall’s driveway just off the 16th tee morphed into Party Central. And every party needs a few good rumors.
The juiciest: Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson or Rory McIlroy would take over one of the sprawling tent compounds and hang out there.
Nope. Just dozens of fans swigging beers, smoking cigars, and eschewing high-def TV for the real deal just across the street.
And in any case, it’s been a bit of a nuisance trying to drive anywhere so residents were issued ID badges so they could move freely around their own neighborhood.
Championship director Hank Thompson said they could expect inconveniences for about another 45 days.
The USGA called Merion a “boutique Open” and the charm is apparent everywhere.
The first hole tee box is next to the clubhouse patio, where the tinkling of glasses rings through the air before the first drive of the day. Wicker baskets, the official symbol of Merion, have replaced flags on greens.
And forget lockers and podiums for post-round interviews. Most are held in the backyard of a home with a pool and a slide as a backdrop.
When the interviews are over, players hop a short shuttle ride to local businessman Tom Gravina’s compound, which is now their hospitality area.
“We’ll see in the end if everybody would do it again,” Van Arkel said. “We would, and I’m guessing the majority of the neighbors would.”
Hold on. Not everyone.
Suzanne Goodwin, who has lived on Golf House Road since 1975, can’t wait for the circus to leave town.
Reached by telephone when a security guard (provided by the golf club) wouldn’t allow a reporter to knock on the door, she said, “”Wait one second! I want to tell you the other side.”
She complained of construction noise in the middle of the night and traffic turning her road into the “New Jersey Turnpike.”
Goodwin said she didn’t mind living through the 1981 Open because the takeover simply involved a few tents and beefed up security.
Now, it’s life under the big top.
Goodwin is not a Merion Golf Club member, and claimed that’s why the USGA didn’t bite on her offer to rent her house.
Officials erected a 6-foot high fence in front of her property — cutting a hole for her mailbox — and Goodwin has a 24-hour security detail at the end of her driveway.
“We’re basically prisoners in here,” she said. “They just have all this nonsense. It’s different when you actually live here.
” Now, if they were paying me for that,” she conceded, “I wouldn’t be so annoyed.”
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