Not teed off

ARDMORE – Merion Golf Club superintendent Arron McCurdy, a Lewistown native, said a couple of weeks ago that he felt prepared and ready for everything hosting the U.S. Open would entail.

That preparation, which has already been thoroughly tested by the remnants of a tropical storm earlier in the week, was put to the test again as a heavy downpours ripped through the Philadelphia area Thursday morning, halting first-round play and drenching a golf course that had already dealt with flooding during practice rounds on Monday.

All of this was on top of the immense amount of preparation needed, even if conditions were perfect. McCurdy and his staff hit the course to work shortly after 4 a.m. The grounds crew painstakingly raked bunkers, mowed and rolled greens, trimmed up fairways, fluffed up the tall and nasty rough, used a ton of leaf blowers to clear the tee boxes of debris and even trimmed some trees that were interfering with ESPN and NBC TV cameras.

It did all of this in less than three hours.

And what did all that work account for? Not quite two hours of golf before it was all washed away.

Play was officially suspended at 8:36 a.m. Not even half the field – 53 of the 156 players – had begun their rounds before the rain halted things.

That forced the McCurdy – and everyone else for that matter – into wait-and-see mode. Between waiting out the rain, allowing the players to warm up once again and getting the course ready for play, the weather delay lasted a bit more than 3 1/2 hours, meaning that the first round will spill over into this morning.

To just get the course back into playable shape at all after a pretty severe thunderstorm soaked the area required McCurdy and his staff to hit Merion with everything in his arsenal to answer the call of the United States Golf Association – the organization that governs both the U.S. Open and the game of golf stateside.

“During the Open, this is technically the USGA’s golf course,” McCurdy said. “But as soon as they say it’s safe for us to go on the course, I have my assistants go evaluate the situation, double check some of the usual trouble spots. We get out and squeegee any casual water, touch up the bunkers.

“But there’s only so much we can do when they suspend play because if guys are in the bunker, that’s where their ball marker is and we can’t just rake over it,” McCurdy said. “But we do what we can to get the course back where it needs to be.”

The topography of the course is about the only help he has gotten from Mother Earth this week. All the slopes allow for some quick drainage and a faster time to get Merion ready for play.

“The slopes of the course certainly help a lot,” he said. “There’s a lot of sand (as a base for the grass) and the water moves through the sand very quickly, so the golf course drains really well.”

Once is stopped raining, it took about 90 minutes for McCurdy and his crew to get ready to go. The only problem was that the rains pounded the area for two hours before that.

That means the first round will be completed today, which will present McCurdy and his crew with more challenges. In addition to the normal prep work, McCurdy’s crew also will have to change hole and tee locations sometime this morning after the initial 18 holes are completed by everyone, a process he says will take about an hour.

“After Round 1, the USGA will tell us if they want us to roll the greens to get rid of the spike marks, but we’ll at least have to change the tee markers around, change the cups, change the pin locations, re-rake bunkers. Our volunteer staff with our regular guys telling them where they can and can’t go, it all goes pretty quickly.”

But if McCurdy is stressed or worried about how his golf course is holding up, he certainly doesn’t show it. Despite the potential for disaster if it gets any wetter, he takes all with an all-in-a-day’s-work mentality.

“I’m a fairly stress-free guy,” McCurdy said. “So far, it’s been organized chaos, but it’s good. I love what I do and from the standpoint of doing the same thing every day during a normal week, this is new, very challenging and very exciting.”

And to hammer home the point that he is ready for anything, McCurdy made a bold statement about Merion.

“As far as the playing surfaces go, we can handle more rain,” he said. “It’s just the walkways you worry about because you don’t want anyone slipping and falling and getting hurt or anything like that. As long as we can avoid more rain, though, I think we’ll have the golf course right where we want it on Sunday.”

Play will resume this morning with the conclusion of the first round. The second round begins shortly after the end of the first round.