Prepared for the big stage

ARDMORE – While no one knows who will be vying for the U.S. Open championship, one Lewistown Area High School alumnus is well aware that he’ll be a major player at Merion Golf Club in suburban Philadelphia this Father’s Day weekend.

The event known as “The Toughest Test In Golf” will officially happen June 13-16, but for Arron McCurdy, superintendent at Merion, the sport’s national championship began long ago.

“This is what I wanted to do when I got into the business,” McCurdy, who has been at Merion since 2008 after a stint at Wren Dale Golf Club (now known as Hershey Links) said of his seemingly endless preparations for the Open. “Some people just enjoy working on golf course management, but man, it’s much more rewarding when it’s something like this. It’s what I went to college for. Championship golf will always be in my blood.”

In his role as superintendent, McCurdy – who says proudly he was “born, grew up and raised in Lewistown” – oversees a staff of more than 60, two golf courses and the task of keeping the grounds of the exclusive club in immaculate condition. And as if that weren’t enough to keep him busy, he does it with both financial and environmental concerns in mind.

“Just because we have a decent amount of money, doesn’t mean we just go out and spray as much chemical as we want wherever we want,” McCurdy said. “We have a budget and we try to minimize that as much as possible.”

June will be the fifth time the East Course will host the Open. It will also be the 18th USGA championship to be contested at the club, which also hosted the 2009 Walker Cup (more or less, the Ryder Cup for amateur golfers). To be a regular host of such high-profile events requires the course to be in great shape all the time, something McCurdy and his staff strive for on a daily basis.

“We try to maintain championship conditions at all times,” he said. “Most places don’t, but we double-cut the greens every day. We roll the greens every day. Most places don’t understand that, but this thing is set up for a tournament any day of the week.”

But no matter how good conditions are at a course, there’s still a ton of work required to get the famed Delaware County track ready for a professional major championship.

Not only are there the modifications to the course itself that the United States Golf Association wants and the maintenance that comes with that, there’s also the non-golf things that have to be put in place.

A major championship will not only bring 156 of the world’s finest golfers to Merion, it will draw large crowds and a throng of media, meaning tents, tents and more tents. With the club sitting on a fairly small piece of real estate, this presents some unique challenges. And those challenges must be met by McCurdy and his staff.

“The size of this thing – I knew it was coming but I think a lot of guys on my staff didn’t know what to expect – is huge,” he said. “We have a lot of tents. We have tents in neighbor’s yards, we have tents all over our property. There’s gotta be 15 to 20 tents on our range – the spectator village, media tents, player interview tents. It’s a lot.

“The par-3 17th, the players tee off from the top of the quarry,” McCurdy said. “It was supposed to seat a couple of thousand. We had to move some trees, but now it will hold 5,200 people. It looks just like a stadium out there on the course.”

But for all the preparation and pre-dawn work that happens before the first tee is put in the ground, once the tournament is under way, the bulk of McCurdy’s job is already done. And if he has his way, this story will be the only way you’ll ever know he was there.

“The best media coverage for us is no media coverage,” he said. “That means it went smooth and it was a success.”