U.S. Open at Merion: Tiny Footprint, Big Profits

By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek

June 10, 2013

Big events bring big economic impact, and that statement will hold true with the U.S. Open Golf Championship beginning this week at Merion Golf Club in greater Philadelphia. Estimates from the U.S. Golf Association, which operates the event, project the region’s economic impact to be between $100-120 million. The total far exceeds the $40 million in impact generated by the 2002 X Games, which brought 235,000 fans to town over 10 days.

USGA executives anticipate 190,000 attendees at the Open.

But there’s one major difference at the Main Line Philadelphia golf club than U.S. Opens of years past—the size of the place. Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, PA comprises 111 acres. Last year’s U.S. Open site, San Francisco’s Olympic Club, was close to three times that size. But the smaller size isn’t scaling back profitability; in fact, it’s the opposite. Due to the small footprint of the course, which will play at 6,996 yards, the shortest Open track since Southern Hills in 2001, the number of spectators allowed on the grounds each day will be limited to 25,000—a daily doubling of Ardmore’s normal population of 12,455.

Not only is the short supply going to drive up secondary market ticket prices, it’s provided a boon to homeowners close to the course, who have rented out their properties for corporate hospitality tents and USGA needs in addition to the standard practice of leasing to a top player for the week. Sports Illustrated reports that one course-adjacent homeowner is earning $60,000 for the week from a backyard corporate tent.

This smallest of Open courses may very well put up some of the biggest revenue numbers the PGA Tour has seen in years.

With so many tourists from the nearby metropolises of Philadelphia, New York, and Washington, DC expected to descend upon Philadelphia for Father’s Day weekend, anywhere from 60,000 to 110,000 hotel room nights are projected to be filled. And in order to capitalize on the spending influx, some homeowners near the golf course are renting their homes for anywhere from $3,000 to upwards of $20,000 for the week, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

That’s not a bad take for locals hoping to escape the tourist invasion.

For those planning on attending the event, a scan of such online secondary ticket marketplaces as StubHub, Craig’s List, and eBay is unearthing some sky-high prices. On average, tickets to Thursday’s round cost $285, compared to $71 at Olympic Club last year. Sunday tickets are averaging over $350 (compared to $122), while a pass for the entire week will cost you around $1,400 (compared to $841 in San Francisco).As is the norm with such mega sporting events as the Super Bowl and the U.S. Open, businesses within proximity of Merion Golf Club, from restaurants and catering services to limousines, tour buses, and bed and breakfasts, are reporting significant spikes in their bookings, alongside the region’s hotels. Even the Philadelphia Museum of Art is getting in on the act by showcasing “The Art of Golf,” part of a traveling exhibition of Victorian-era English and Scottish works.

Also benefitting from the experience is Merion-adjacent Haverford College, which negotiated with the USGA to give up 25 acres of its campus for event operations, yet more hospitality tents, and an 800-car parking lot.

"In terms of sheer volume and global reach, this is probably the biggest sporting event in the area in years," Larry Needle, executive director of the Sports Congress, a division of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the Inquirer.

Comparatively, the San Francisco Bay Area (including Oakland and San Jose) generated 112,000 hotel-room nights and $130-150 million in total economic impact from last year’s U.S. Open at Olympic Club.

After his disastrous round at the Memorial last week, it’s too early to tell what “the Tiger Effect” will be on next week’s Open, both in terms of TV viewership and Woods’ ability to master the tricky Merion course. Which player will we see, the dominant World Number One with five wins under his belt so far in 2013, or the duffer who shot a third round 79?

Although he’s never played a round at Merion in official competition, Las Vegas oddsmakers nonetheless currently have Woods at 4-1 odds to win the U.S. Open. Those guys know their numbers, and in this case, they’re placing a substantial bet that Woods will win this year’s biggest golf event on its smallest of fields.

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