Golf Course Management

JUN 2013

Golf Course Management magazine is dedicated to advancing the golf course superintendent profession and helping GCSAA members achieve career success.

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According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, one in fve Americans suffer from allergies. Merion Golf Club director of golf course management Matt Shaffer is one of those fve. He is allergic to, among other things, nuts and soap. And — believe it or not — grass. "When you're fghting for your breath, that's scary," says Shaffer's sister, Beth Long, who vividly recalls her younger brother's brave battle with health issues, which included golfball-size hives. "I think Matt is like, 'If I can overcome that, I can overcome anything.' He proved to be pretty tough." How ironic is it, then, that Shaffer desperately had to have grass in his life nearly a decade ago? Shaffer, frm in his belief and fercely dedicated to his profession, has helped restore historic Merion's place in golf lore. All eyes are on Shaffer's East Course, located in Ardmore, Pa., site of the 113th U.S. Open that begins June 13. If Shaffer had not remained steadfast, this U.S. Open may never have come back to Merion, a golf mecca drenched in history, featuring a USGA-most 18 championships. Bobby Jones completed the Grand Slam there in 1930; there's a plaque honoring Jones on the 11th hole, where he won his U.S. Amateur match fnal. Merion also is where legend Ben Hogan's comeback from a near-fatal auto accident 16 months earlier resulted in a remarkable U.S. Open playoff triumph in 1950. Fast-forward 55 years. It was 2005 and Merion Golf Club was set to host the U.S. Amateur. The grass, though, was dying. "We were having a horrifc summer," says Shaffer, a 32-year member of GCSAA. "Two superintendents in the area lost their jobs. We had tremendous rains and nighttime temperatures were stupid-hot, in the 80s, and it would never waver." Pythium blight wasn't hurting business; 2,000 rounds per week signaled business was booming. Still, he knew if the weather didn't cooperate, it could result in a damaged golf course, causing an embarrassment to Merion come U.S. Amateur time. Although Merion was on the USGA's radar at that time for possibly hosting another U.S. Open (it has had four of them, the last in 1981), a bad experience in the U.S. Amateur may have delayed or scrapped any future plans for Merion. "I decided we had to pull the plug," says Shaffer. "My mentor, (superintendent) Paul Latshaw, said not to do it, that it could be a career-ender." Merion greens chairman Bill Greenwood and the late Stanley Zontek, director of the Mid-Atlantic region of the Top: The crew at Merion GC includes (back row, from left) Dave McDonald, Matt Stoy, Shaffer, Arron McCurdy, Pat Maher, Tim Kelly; (front row, from left) Robert Smith, Pat Haughey, Pat Joy, Mike Kachurak. Photos by David Campli Bottom: U.S. Open championship chairman and Merion GC past president Rick Ill (left) with Shaffer.

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