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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The black-and-white images showcase the history at Merion GC, which has hosted a record 18 USGA championships. Pictured at bottom is David Graham, winner of the 1981 U.S. Open. Photos © unknown/courtesy USGA GCM blog heads to Merion For the ninth consecutive year, the GCM blog — From the Desk of GCM — will be your source for real-time, behind-the-scenes reports of the golf course maintenance activities surrounding this month's 2013 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. The blog will feature same-day reports from the maintenance facility, stories that didn't make this month's feature story, audio and video updates and much more. Our reports will begin Sunday, June 9, at http://gcm.typepad.com. Give Shaffer some of the credit for helping Merion members see the golf course through his eyes, even if their vision catches glimpses of brown. Sure, he admits he is a minimalist when it comes to his approach at Merion, and that is exactly how he wants it. Less water. If possible, even less fertilizer. Shaffer's crew has a contest to see how long it can go without spraying fungicides. "At frst, some people were saying I was ruining Merion," he says. "I teach (the staff) fast and frm, and you've got to stick to that." The Stimpmeter will be in the range of 13 to 13.5 for the U.S. Open, Davis says. Brevard adds "It may be a situation where we have to tell Matt to put some water on the greens. We want to make sure they're a fair test of golf. He'll have it pushed to the limit." Obviously, Shaffer won over the masses at Merion — even if they still cringe on occasion when he says a tree has to go. "You look at his courses and go, 'Wow.' The rough is a patchy conglomeration of turf, weeds, a whole lot of stuff," says Golf Digest architecture editor Ron Whitten. "It's not particularly attractive, not what most prestigious clubs go for in this day and age, but Matt emphasized to his members he's working with nature. It's like 'I understand what you (club) want, but this is a better way.' It's all about playing quality, not eye candy." John Zimmers, superintendent at famed Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pa. and a 20-year GCSAA member, says: "Matt delivers. And on a sacred piece of ground in a region where it's not easy to grow grass." In reality, Shaffer doesn't have much to work with. That, by the way, isn't a slap at Merion. It's simply the truth. The East Course is landlocked (the West Course is serving as the driving range); the U.S. Open layout will be only 6,996 yards and par-70. Jack Nicklaus once said "acre for acre, it (Merion) may be the best test of golf in the world." Is the USGA concerned the pros will post unbelievable red numbers? Not really. "There's going to be more birdies made, trust me, at this U.S. Open than any we have seen in recent history," Davis says. "There's just some holes out here that lend themselves to it … I would contend that you've got this balance of some of the easiest holes for U.S. Opens that you'll see in a modern era, yet at the same time they have some tough holes. The toughest holes." All of them can be tough, veteran Merion member John Capers III says. "It doesn't matter if you've had a real good or a real bad score. By the end of the round, I'm mentally shot." What else makes Merion intriguing? The fairways mostly are a mere 22 to 24 yards wide. Those wicker baskets atop the fagsticks have been a staple since 1912. There are zero par-5s on the back nine but plenty of lengthy par-3s throughout, including No. 3, which could play as much as 270 yards. The greens' contours even have contours and feature severe slopes, so look out, Rory. Those 131 bunkers, well, beware, fellas. They may include Scottish broom, hairy faces that can make golfers frown. "Matt's bunkers aren't cookie cutter bunkers that you see in 90 percent of other courses that have been built," says 33-year GCSAA member Tony Gustaitis, CGCS, superintendent at Whitemarsh Valley Country Club in Lafayette Hill, Pa. "It's very old-school maintenance." Oh, and those Salsco Tranz-Former Fairway/Greens Rollers, including the six new ones that will be available for Shaffer during the U.S. Open? Those were his idea. "Matt's an individual who thinks outside the box, is a progressive individual, certainly at the top of his league," says Sal Rizzo, president of Salsco, who over dinner a few years ago heard Shaffer's idea, one of about 10 he receives on a weekly basis (nine out of 10 never make it, Rizzo says). "Matt made a lot of sense." In his shop, Shaffer displays a countdown clock, showing the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the U.S. Open. No doubt Shaffer is having the time of his life as the big event edges closer. "He wouldn't admit it, but I think it's what he wanted all his life," Renna says. Shaffer, by the way, can now tolerate grass and pollen, but other allergies remain. He imagines needing one more dose of serum during his life to fght the problem. In no way, however, will allergies be his legacy. Shaffer says adversity, caused by allergies, made him tougher. And, in the process, made this monumental moment that is about to happen possible. "We can say when we leave this earth, we created change, and we affected history," Shaffer says. "I didn't get into this business for that, but it's pretty cool." GCM Howard Richman (hrichman@gcsaa.org) is GCM's associate editor. 54 GCM June 2013

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