Saturday, June 15, 2013

Not Just Another Open...Merion Shines

Acre for Acre, none better

The "Old Girl" is holding up just fine. Great architecture has and is standing the test of time. And as much as I have, in the past, identified some issues that the USGA and I don't agree on, I can't tell you how right they got this Open at Merion. Over the weekend, golfers will have a gut check. The contenders' intestinal fortitude will be thoroughly vetted by the "Old Girl." We'll see how they hold up, we now, all know that Merion will hold up.

A couple of years ago, I went back to my 35th High School reunion, which was held just about five minutes from Merion. I started out that Saturday morning by getting a tour of Rolling Green and then I went to Merion and saw many of the changes on the East Course that were under construction and got to spend some time with Matt Shaffer. After the East Course, I went around the West Course and finished up the day at Aronimink. I worked at all of these great golf courses and I wanted to see the renovations/restorations that each had undertaken. Philadelphia has so many great golf courses that I just can't imagine a better place to learn about golf course design, even if it was mostly by osmosis.

While I was on the East Course, I was reminded about how Merion under Matt, just as it was under Richie Valentine and his father before him, is more concerned about playability than country club aesthetics. The club has history in golf but it also has history in golf course maintenance. When I was the Assistant Superintendent there in 1980 and 1981, I learned that the purpose of the Superintendent was to provide a playing field first and foremost,  Matt Shaffer is doing that this week.

Memories from the 1981 Open:

In 1981, we had two inches of rain on Monday and almost two inches Friday night to Saturday morning. The golf course was wet and the we worked hard to put some speed on the greens. We had one employee, Joe Owsik, who was a very good golfer. Joe's last green to mow was the 17th on Saturday. I don't know how many times he mowed and rolled that green. Billy Buchanan and I were checking green speeds with PJ Boatwright looking over our shoulders as he checked out the pin placement. The ball rolled down the stimpmeter and right off of the green, Billy said to PJ "Looks like a 10 to me" and PJ just nodded, puffed on his pipe, turned around and walked away. Joe Owsik ended up being my Assistant at Rolling Green and is now the Superintendent at Philmont Country Club.

Merion gave birth to many future Superintendents. How many, probably well over a hundred. Merion is great on so many levels.

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