Merion Golf Club’s new “green” maintenance facility key to hosting of 2013 U.S. Open

Philadelphia Inquirer
Joe Juliano, Staff Writer

AUGUST 14, 2011

Officials at Merion Golf Club discovered two things during the 2005 U.S. Amateur, the more gratifying one being that the refurbished East course could indeed stand up to the long hitters of the modern game for a U.S. Open in 2013.

The other item, not as publicized but nearly as significant, was that Merion’s old maintenance facility was sadly outdated and needed to be replaced as soon as possible.
Certainly, cost was a factor. But club officials were determined to design and construct a state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly area where workers at every level could be together and take part in a coordinated effort to keep the golf course thriving.

So, last August, or about 10 months after construction began, the entire golf course operational staff moved into the new facility located at the end of the parking lot opposite the clubhouse and near the 18th tee.

Nearly a year later, the structure has served the golf course well.

“We’ve met the criteria of creating a space that would meet the needs of the golf course, meet the needs of the people working here, and be environmentally supportive,” Merion president Harry Hill said. “Those were the three driving forces behind it. I think to a person, everyone is pretty pleased with the end result.” Hill would say only that the project cost “several million dollars,” but that it has “extended our capabilities in ways that we’d only dreamed about before.”

Matt Shaffer, in his ninth year as Merion’s director of golf course operations, had experience in his former work locations with designing new maintenance facilities and provided significant input on this one. He said he likes the new structure on several levels.

“My office used to be in the clubhouse and my guys were down here,” he said, referring to the former 600- or 700-yard gap between him and his employees. “It’s a teaching environment. But in order to teach effectively from my perspective, you’ve got to be there all the time. Being with them constantly has had a positive impact on our operation.”

That impact will be even more positive as the club prepares to host the Open for the first time since 1981, making it the 19th time the club will have hosted a U.S. Golf Association championship. A clock hangs in the break room of the new maintenance facility counting down the days and hours to the 2013 championship.

Shaffer believes his workers will have a huge advantage compared to the last two USGA events at Merion – the 2005 U.S. Amateur and the 2009 Walker Cup. The biggest benefit will be to have a place where his staff and volunteers can get out of the mid-June heat.

“There are a tremendous amount of hours that go into preparing for a major,” he said. “So to have a facility to come in here and organize and then to catch your breath for a half-hour, it’s a big deal. Having a place to cool off makes a big difference, and they can eat in our break room.”
Shaffer said the new facility has improved the mood of his workers, who number about 60 in-season and 25 during the offseason.

“The average person walks five miles a day here,” he said. “On a hot day, my guys average approximately three quarts of water a day. But they never had any place to get comfortable. When they’d come back from being out, they would sit down and relax in an environment that was non-conducive.

“So morale instantly picked up. You can see it. My guys start at 6 a.m., but most of them are in here 20 minutes early. They enjoy the camaraderie. It takes a team effort. Everything we do is predicated on each other. Nothing gets done unless everybody does 100 percent every day.”
The main building of the facility includes a large room used for meetings and lunch and work breaks, along with dorm rooms and a lounge area for interns.

The environmentally conscious areas include an equipment repair room with a floor heated by used motor oil and used cooking oil from the kitchen, a compost and fertilizer room, a dedicated area for mixing of chemicals, and a natural grass roof that covers the facility closest to the golf course.

Hill said the grass roof, made up of hard fescue, was designed with two factors in mind.
“I think there was a very high level of interest to preserve the look of the golf course,” he said. “That was very much an issue. Another issue was the fact that we could do something environmentally to recapture water instead of creating more runoff. It’s 12,000 square feet of green space that we’ve added.”

The facility also makes it much easier to examine potential problems arising with the turf, trees, or other vegetation on the course, allowing workers to limit chemical spraying, Shaffer said.

“We never had that environment,” he said. “We were struggling to survive, let alone excel. Now we can take thousands of pictures a year and do slide presentations on our PowerPoint projector. It’s awesome.”

Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or

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