After a career spent managing demanding conditions and demanding golfers, most superintendents probably would be content, upon retirement, riding off into the sunset for some R and R in a more benign environment. Matt Shaffer is not now, nor has he ever been most people.
Although he lives in rural Pennsylvania for half the year, and spends the other half driving a bass boat around Okeechobee, Florida, Shaffer has been anything but idle following retirement from Merion Golf Club in 2016. He currently consults for several entities, including some that are in the turf maintenance business, others that are considering it and a museum owned by descendents of Christopher Columbus.
"When I left Merion, I was worried about going from 90 to zero," said Shaffer, who calls himself a "brand ambassador" for his clients.
"It has been a good experience. I travel the U.S. and meet superintendents, generate leads for my clients and open doors for them. And they pay me to do that."
Since he left Penn State in 1974, Shaffer has spent his career swimming against the current. "That's the way we've always done it" never has been part of his vocabulary. Tell him he can't do something, and you better move over. When skeptics said Merion, at 6,950 yards, was too short and undeserving of the 2013 U.S. Open, he coaxed conditions out of the rain-softened Hugh Wilson design that resulted in Justin Rose winning the tournament at 1-over.
When something new and innovative hits the golf market, it's a good bet that Shaffer will be among the first to try it.
"I'm an early adopter. I'm not a techy, but I am a Curious George," he said. "I'm always interested in what's happening."
Which explains him hanging out a shingle under the Minimalistic Agronomic Techniques, or M.A.T. with Matt, and working not only with established companies such as Steiner and Ryan, but also stumping for newer, lesser-known players in the turf industry, such as Aneuvia and BioBoost.
"It's not about the money, although the money is nice," he said. "It's about helping people and having something to do."
When he is not helping clients promote their wares and services, Shaffer can be found tending the grounds of the Boals Family Museum in his hometown of Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, fishing in Florida, or, once in a while, even relaxing with wife Renna.
I'm still going 90 miles an hour, just not 150 with my hair on fire.
The Boals Family Museum, located just a few miles from the Penn State campus, is owned by descendents of Christopher Columbus and exhibits include pieces once owned by the explorer.
Even when spending the winter months in Okeechobee, Shaffer does more than skim the lakes in search of bass. He takes advantage of his time there to visit with clients throughout the South.
"In all those years of work, I never really sat down and relaxed. Even if we were at the beach, I never relaxed. I think my wife would like me to step off altogether and retire, but I'm not there yet. This way, some days I work, some days I don't. Today, I'm going to get a haircut and a new bar for the chainsaw. On Friday, I have three Zoom meetings. Some days are all my own. It's pretty euphoric."
When Shaffer "retired" from Merion, the club retained him for a year to consult with his successor and friend, Paul B. Latshaw, who after 14 years at Muirfield Village, five years at Oak Hill and six years (1992-98) at Merion, hardly needed the help.
"We are diametrically opposite," Shaffer said. "For us to work together, it wouldn't work. Neither of us are budging and inch, and it's only going to compromise our friendship."
Good bye, Merion. Hello, M.A.T. with Matt.
Shaffer says he has tendered many recruiting offers to pitch products, manage people and even run a hospital.
"That's how desperate people are for management," he said.
"Every generation gets weaker. Parents want their kids to have it better than they did. To do that, they try to help them and make things easier for them. What they are doing is making them weaker.
"There is a reason why you see so many people with white hair managing people. Companies are throwing money at them and convincing them not to retire. I'm still going 90 miles an hour, just not 150 with my hair on fire."