Like any sensible golf fan, I’m at home playing with my friends and, between rounds, watching the Open on TV. I visited Merion back in March, though, and while I was there I took a close look at the club’s famous showers, which have heads the size of manhole covers. Using one is like bathing in a car wash—in a good way.
The showers require not just oversize supply pipes but also oversize drains. In the nineteen-forties, as the club struggled to overcome the economic impact of both the Great Depression and the Second World War, the house committee replaced them with conventional fixtures, in the hope of reducing the club’s water bill. J. Howard Pew, who was the president of the Sun Oil Company, demanded that the old fixtures be put back, and instructed the committee to add the club’s water expense to his own house account—as it did for years. (Merion didn’t retire its mortgage until 1971.)
Merion-style shower heads have become standard fixtures at go-to-hell golf clubs all over. Pine Valley (which was founded by pretty much the same group of guys who founded Merion) has them. So, surprisingly, do a few clubs in the British Isles, which may be the source of this grooming arrangement:
When Merion remodeled its women’s locker room, the women decided they wanted Merion-style showers, too. But then one of them realized that if they had them they would no longer be able to avoid getting their hair wet, so they stuck with wall-mounted fixtures. Their loss.
Merion’s men’s locker room has two levels, whose residents compete every year in an upstairs/downstairs tournament. (Winged Foot members do the same.) The current titleholder is indicated by a clock-like dial on the upper level, although I was told, confidentially, that members of the vanquished side will sometimes move the pointer.
On the wall outside the downstairs shower room are several framed scorecards. One of them commemorates a round in 1964 during which a member named Andrew J. Davis, Jr., played the first seven holes in two over par (after hitting a ball out of bounds on the second) and then made ten consecutive 3s. He finished with what must, by that point, have seemed like a disappointing 4, on the club’s 450-yard closing hole, for a score of 65.
On a winter evening a decade ago, a member named Edward Slevin, Jr., organized a dinner for a small group of his golf buddies in the bar on the second floor of the Merion clubhouse. They were marking time till spring and, not incidentally, trying to spend down their food minimums. In the years since then, their informal gathering has evolved into a monthly off-season party, and it’s now so popular that the only club space large enough to accommodate it is the men’s locker room. I attended the March dinner, two weeks before the East Course was scheduled to reopen for 2013. Slevin sat at the head of a very long table, which was almost a full lob wedge from end to end, and when dessert and various announcements were over much of the group reconvened downstairs, in the bar. Here’s what the table looked like before we all sat down:
Hey, how about a shower before dessert?