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USGA & Superintendent Say Merion 'Holding Up' to Rains
On Monday, the USGA's executive director, Mike Davis, and its chairman of the Championship Committee, Tom O'Toole, gave the media assurances that the East Course at Merion Golf Club - site of this week's U.S. Open - has been able to withstand the recent heavy rains that have deluged the layout.
Also attending Monday's press conference was Merion's superintendent, Matt Schaffer, the man overseeing the condition of the course as well as the dozens of volunteer superintendents who will be helping him deal with any contingencies before and during the 72-hole major championship.
The officials limited their discussions - and directed their comments - specifically to concerns over how the East Course has held up to the rains, which were exacerbated by Tropical Storm Andrea that swept through the Ardmore, Pa., area over the weekend. Here's what was discussed.
MODERATOR: Welcome to Merion Golf Club for the 113th U.S. Open Championship. I'm Joe Goode, Managing Director of Communications for the U.S. Golf Association. With us today for a very brief availability, to my right working left, Tom O'Toole, he's the Vice President of the USGA and Chairman of our Championship Committee. In the center, Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director, and to his left, Matt Shaffer, who is the superintendent here at Merion Golf Club. Just a few instructions. I would ask all of your cooperation to keep your questions to the current weather circumstances and the impact to the golf course. Let's save discussion and Q and A and dialogue about the championship setup and other USGA matters for our Wednesday news conference. Tom O'Toole has a brief opening statement.
TOM O'TOOLE, JR.: Joe, thank you, thanks for all the media that's come down here. Obviously there's been a lot of questions regarding what Mother Nature has dealt us the first day of practice here at the 113th playing of the U.S. Open Championship. We thought it appropriate that Matt Shaffer, the Golf Course Superintendent here at Merion, be here to answer those really integral and specific questions relating to what we're doing to react to this.
Let me just say that a lot of great thanks for Matt and his effort and his entire crew to what they're doing not only today but what they did last Friday when we had rain. And some of you, if you were covering golf's longest day, will recall that there was rain here last Monday. Thanks for the effort Matt has put forth. And also we would be remiss if we didn't compliment and show our appreciation for all the golf course superintendents from this region around the country that have come here to help Matt and help in the production of this United States Open. I think we can go to specific questions, Joe, but thanks for Matt Shaffer and Merion with what they're doing to react to what we're receiving here.
Q. Matt, the 11 to 12th holes are usually problematic in heavy rain. Are they holding up and how is the course holding up as a whole?
MATT SHAFFER: No. 12 isn't a problem. But No. 11 is the lowest point on the golf course. And it's where two creeks come together. But we've had two major rain events and both of which the green has managed to stay above water, which is a good thing.
Q. How does this much water now, I think we've got more than five inches already since Friday, how does this change the way you might set up the golf course if you have an opportunity to have any leeway in changing the setup of the golf course?
MIKE DAVIS: Well, in terms of the set up, I guess let me say one thing that this golf course is not built on sand, so it's got the heavier soils. But it is maybe the best draining golf course I have ever seen. If you walk this course you know there's hardly any flat lies at Merion. It surface drains beautifully. And I think that the last question got to really the 11th hole. When it rains hard you get these streams moving quickly and that's what fills up and ultimately in some cases causes you to go over the 11th green. But we got three and a half inches over roughly 24 hours and the course handled it beautifully because it really does surface drain well.
In terms of setup I really don't think you're going to see us do much different. I know Tom has an update on the forecast regarding Thursday, which isn't looking all that promising. So there would be an example on Thursday where we would say let's look at all 18 hole locations, make sure to the extent possible we've got those in higher locations so we don't get puddling right around the hole. But beyond that there's not a whole lot we would do. We would just let the course play the way it's going to play.
Q. The landing area on 11, there are more than puddles. It seems like if you would step in the fairway you would get your foot fairly wet all the way up to your ankle. Do you expect that to drain if you do get more water over the next two or three days? If not, what sort of contingency plan have you made or do you think you need to make?
MATT SHAFFER: Certainly it's saturated. But the good thing down on 11 is that the water comes up fast, but it also recedes very quickly. And it's silt, so it will dry really, really quickly. We just need a little bit of sunshine.
MIKE DAVIS: As far as if it is a wet fairway, we would - that would be one of the things we would take into consideration. We'd say is the course playable? Or is it playable? We always look at the greens first. These greens, we just said, they drain beautifully. Just because there's areas of casual water down on 11 fairway, as long as a player can take relief from that casual water and not go somewhere too far away, that's something we take into consideration. How much is a bunker completely flooded would be another one. Just because they're wet or there is standing water that wouldn't preclude us from playing golf.
Q. Matt, volunteers and the police officer at the 11 said today that it flooded. It looked like an island green. The green didn't flood but the bunker did. Would you replace that sand? Will you have to replace it again now, what did you do?
MATT SHAFFER: We actually just took - we left the base sand in and then we just took the silt off and then we put approximately three tons of new sand in and we plate tamped it. And we were ready to go.
Q. Issue having to do with the weather here. About half hour ago USGA put out a release that the red parking lot, which is in Rosetree Media will not be usable and everybody will have to go to Chester to park. What happened at Rosetree parking lot? It doesn't drain as well as the 11th. And how many people will that impact that will have to move farther? I think it's 14 miles is down to Chester parking.
JOE GOODE: I can answer that, it's largely because of the weather impact and making it really impassable, if you will. But there's plenty of options for spectators. What we're encouraging is that spectators take SEPTA, and there's two convenient options via the rail line. And that's probably the best way to do it. Leave your car at home. Use the rail lines.
TOM O'TOOLE, JR.: I don't know if it drains better or worse than the 11th, but hopefully we're not going to have all those vehicles on the 11th, because Mr. Shaffer has that covered.
Q. There's been talk about what would happen if the 11th is not playable. Can you take us through that scenario, the worst case scenario if you can't use up the 11th? What would you do? And how far are you from that potential worst-case scenario happening?
MIKE DAVIS: I'll be happy to take that. Matt, you've been here a dozen or so years, and Matt rightly said that the streams fill up quickly but they recede quickly. So we do think about kind of worst case scenarios in a lot of things we're doing, whether we lose the red parking lot or whatever. In that particular case I think from Matt's experience and even before Matt, they know that give it time and it will go down. Matt, haven't you cleaned up some 40 times since you've been here, rebuilt that bunker, literally power washed the silt off the green? So they're experts at it.
I think in terms of a doomsday scenario, who knows, if it's 10,000 to one that we would have that happen. But we don't anticipate that happening to the point where we're not going to be able to get the U.S. Open in or we're going to have to go to some holes on the West Course. We think that the golf course, again, drains beautifully for a non coastal, non sandy site, it really does.
MODERATOR: Thanks everybody.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.