Inside the maintenance facility at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., a countdown clock has been marking time until the first tee shots of the 2013 U.S. Open. It's been doing so for awhile now — when it was first turned on, it showed 999 days until D-Day — and after more than two years, Matt Shaffer, the club's director of golf course maintenance, admits that he's "getting a little sick" of looking at it.
At some point this week, though, that feeling will likely change. The days left will become more meaningful and when the final putt drops on the 2012 U.S. Open here at The Olympic Club, Shaffer and his crew will officially find themselves on the clock as the next hosts of one of golf's biggest events.
That's largely what brought the 31-year GCSAA member out west this week, a chance to spend a few days checking out the operations of Pat Finlen, CGCS and the maintenance department here at Olympic and see exactly what he has in store for him come next June in suburban Philadelphia.
"Really, looking at course set-up, how the USGA critiques the golf course and, certainly, the logistics of the staff here in the morning and all the processes that go into getting an entire golf course ready for play in an hour and a half or two hours," Shaffer said when I asked him about his to-do list for his trip to San Francisco. "Those are the kinds of details that will be critical to us getting our work done next year."
Some of that work has already been completed, but not necessarily to the extent that you would normally associate with advance prep for an Open. While a facility like The Olympic Club made significant physical changes — from tree removal to a full greens replacement project — before hosting this year's championship, tradition-bound Merion has been much more limited in what it has done thus far.
"Merion is pretty fastidious about staying the same, honoring tradition," Shaffer said. "We did rebuild a green (No. 12), which is monumental for Merion, and we moved a few fairway bunkers, which is also a big deal. We also did some slight alterations to No. 15 to increase the amount of hole locations we had available. But that's about it."
Perhaps the most notable change that has taken place around the golf course management department at Merion was to the physical space they called home. A little less than two years ago, Merion opened a new, state-of-the-art maintenance facility that might be the most environmentally-friendly in all of golf. From a green roof — yep, with grass growing on the surface and everything — to a heating system that utilizes recycled oil for fuel, it's a facility that's certain to attract plenty of attention at this time next year.
"It really is a pretty green building for our industry," Shaffer said. "It's been really great for us."