US Open Tournament Preparation and Volunteer Dedication

Monday morning, the first day of tournament week, the Merion Golf Club was inundated with six inches of rain. To culminate a week, which started with uncertainty, the Sunday Fathers Day finish certainly could not have been scripted better. On a beautiful day with an Eastern Pennsylvania summer sunset, Justin Rose hoisted the US Open trophy while Matt Shaffer, Director of Golf Course Operations, tournament preparation volunteers and crew shared the spotlight and reveled in the festive moment! (Picture of Matt and crew holding the US Open trophy).

Through all the hard work put in by Matt, GC Superintendent Arron McCurdy, Asst. Superintendent Dave McDonald and their crews in the years, months, weeks and days leading up to the tournament the Old Lady Merion stood the test of time. In the weeks before the US Open they had not only agronomic considerations to deal with, they also had to help coordinate with companies installing grand stands, hospitality tents, television towers, portable toilets and concession stands and then make sure no one damaged the golf course. With all of that, playability was the primary focus and that dedicated focus paid off with the score of 1 over par winning the Open on a course that played just over 6880 yards.

Besides the full time maintenance crew at Merion Golf Club (50 people for the East and West Course) Matt Shaffer relied on an elite group of volunteers that have been referred to in the past as the “Band of Brothers”, which included Superintendent’s and staff from premier golf clubs like Oakmont (2007 and 2016 U.S. Open Site), Saucon Valley CC (2009 U.S. Women’s Open), Pine Valley GC (# 1 Golf Digest 2013 rating), local Philadelphia area elite clubs; and many others from as far as Australia. With over 100 strong they engaged in preparing all aspects of the golf course like hand raking bunkers, mowing fairways, tees and greens and there were no prima donnas in this group.

 Paul Latshaw Sr., formerly of Oakmont CC, Augusta National, Congressional CC and Winged Foot and whose son Paul B is the Superintendent of Muirfield Village Golf Club home of the Memorial and this years President’s Cup, started this volunteer concept. Mr. Latshaw as he is dearly referred to out of respect and deep admiration from this group had roughly 250 interns, apprentices and assistants pass under his and fellow Superintendent Matt’s tutelage for the past 40 years and it is this group who are now running the most elite Golf Clubs in the States. I personally had the pleasure and opportunity to welcome him to Thailand in my early days there and was invited to the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional where he handed the baton to Matt Shaffer to run the watering crews for the week and now 16 years later it was Matt’s turn to host the Major. t I have been fortunate to stay close to this group ever since, hence my return this year.

To create stellar conditioning at Merion, it took this level of precise coordination and leadership with Superintendent skills as possessed by Matt Shaffer, a dedicated team of experienced full time staff and a host of over 100 well healed volunteers that were counted on to put back the course after a heavy destructive rain early in the week. Once this major feat was accomplished they worked countless hours throughout the week (with schedules from 4 am to 10 pm) in order to provide golf course playability and difficulty levels of the like which the pros rarely see.What goes on behind the scenes to create tournament preparations at an event like this needs to be validated.  I was most fortunate to witness this amazing display of camaraderie and am proud to say the Golf Course Superintendent’s profession has been elevated another notch by a display of true teamwork and dedication from all of those friends of Matt who took their time and experience to help prepare the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion.  As Justin Rose showed his sincere appreciation to this group and as twilight set in over Old Lady Merion there was a magic feeling in the air, goose bumps on my arms and indelible memories created for all!

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