2013 Superintendent of the Year finalist
Matt Shaffer, Merion Golf Club, Ardmore, Pennsylvania
To say the deck was stacked against Matt Shaffer before last year's U.S. Open would be an understatement.
Preparing for and hosting a major championship can be a once-in-a-lifetime moment for a golf course superintendent. When the USGA granted last year's U.S. Open to Merion Golf Club's East Course, many wondered whether the 100-year-old classic, was worthy of such acclaim. That was especially true after weather conditions in the Philadelphia area became a major part of the story surrounding last year's Open.
There is no questioning the integrity of the 1912 Hugh Wilson design in Ardmore, Pa. that is ranked No. 7 on Golfweek's list of top 100 classic U.S. golf courses. But with a length of less than 7,000 yards, the concern was whether the East Course could provide an adequate test to the world's best players. And when the remnants of Tropical Storm Andrea coughed up as much as 9 inches of rain in eastern Pennsylvania in the week leading up to the Open last June, questions circulated about whether Shaffer, or any other superintendent for that matter, would be able to have a course measuring 6,696 yards and softened by torrents of rain ready for an event of such magnitude.
The fear was that the pros would take target practice on the rain-softened soil-based greens at Merion.
Shaffer, who has been at Merion since 2002, has developed the reputation as a skilled agronomist and shrewd manager. Since he stepped foot on the property he also has been known as a minimalist, keeping the historic track on the dry side while constantly improving its drainage.
The end result was a 1-over-par win for England's Justin Rose on a short and narrow course that left the pros grinding. Only five players managed to shoot under par on the event's final day.
After the tournament, players talked openly of the difficult conditions and set up at Merion.
Tweeted Brandt Snedeker afterward: "The rough did me in this week. I am done."
Lee Westwood went on Twitter with: "If Merion would have played dry this week like the USGA wanted it would have been impossible."
Hunter Mahan told ESPN: "Man, it was brutal out there. It was tough finishing.
"At the start of the week, everyone thought we were going to rip it up, but I just knew that somewhere around even par was going to win it."
"Matt is considered to be one of the most innovative and forward-thinking individuals in the industry," said East Course superintendent Aaron McCurdy.
"After hosting the most prestigious event in golf on a golf course that everyone said did not deserve to do so, Merion Golf Club was the only major to record an over-par champion."
Although much praise was heaped upon Merion for the way in which he prepared and maintained the course, Shaffer prefers to deflect praise to his superintendents and staff as well as his volunteers. In fact, Shaffer also has developed the reputation of mentoring others who go on to head superintendents positions elsewhere.
"His philosophies encourage staff members to think critically and make decisions that ultimately are in the best interest of playability, not so much of turf health," McCurdy said. "Matt also is at the forefront of environmental stewardship with an IPM strategy and implementation that requires far less inputs than any top 100 golf course in America."