While the best golfers in the world are busy right now competing in this year's U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club, a man with local ties is working to assure that the historic Philadelphia-area layout remains in tip-top condition.
Everett native Robert Smith is the equipment manager at Merion, one of the most vital positions on Director of Golf Operations Matt Shaffer's staff.
Smith, now 28, learned the game of golf at an early age, eventually becoming good enough to be top golfer on his high school team. He spent many summer days at Down River Golf Course in Everett, where his parents played plenty of golf.
Everett native Robert Smith is the equipment manager at the Merion?Golf Club.
"My mom and dad would bring me along to the course, and I'd spend hours there," Smith said. "I'd hit balls at the range and practice on the putting green all day long."
After graduating from Everett Area High School in 2003, Smith knew he wanted to have a career in the golf business. He considered several options but decided to attend Penn State University - obtaining a two-year degree in Turf Management, specializing in agricultural equipment.
While going to school, Smith interned at nearby Centre Hills Country Club, and after earning his degree, went to work full-time for the State College-area golf course.
It wasn't long, though, before Smith accepted a position at one of the country's top-rated courses - Quaker Ridge in Scarsdale, N.Y. While there, Smith enjoyed working for course superintendent Mike Dachowski, but he had a distaste for the hustle and bustle of his metropolitan surroundings.
In 2007, Smith returned to Pennsylvania - accepting the position of assistant superintendent/mechanic at Moccasin Run Golf Course in the southeastern part of the state. After working there for a year, he received a fateful call from a former boss who had some interesting news: Dachowski had arranged an interview for Smith at historic Merion Golf Club in Philadelphia.
"Merion had an opening, and Mike felt I'd be right for the job," Smith said. "From the moment I stepped foot on this property [at Merion], I knew it was the place where I wanted to be."
Smith's initial interview lasted 6 hours. By day's end, Shaffer, Merion's director of golf course operations and a native of the Cove, knew he had found the right person to become the club's new equipment manager.
"Robert is a very bright, young man," Shaffer said. "He has a great attitude, a great knowledge of equipment and really knows what he's doing. He does a tremendous job for us."
For the past four years, the Everett native has been in charge of maintaining all of the equipment used on Merion's historic championship course. In addition to supervising two mechanics on his staff, Smith has even modified and built some of his own equipment - necessary to perform some of the more difficult, unusual work on this demanding layout.
Typical summer days for Smith begin at 4 a.m. and continue until dark. This week, however, U.S. Open preparation may lengthen the staff's already long summer schedule.
"We'll beef up our hours some this week," Smith said. "But, for the most part, the course set-up will be the same. Our membership wants the course to play at a championship level all year long."
This means fairways cut to a quarter of an inch, greens speeds approaching 13 on the stimpmeter, and lush, thick rough. While the whole golfing world is focused on this demanding layout, Smith still finds himself surprised to be working at one of the world's top-rated golf courses.
"I love the game of golf, and being at a great course like Merion is fantastic," Smith said. "Working for a man like Matt Shaffer and for this great Merion membership is more than I ever dreamed of."