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Paving of Featherbed Fields begins

In a matter of months, the world’s best golfers will be right across the street.  The upcoming U.S. Open, one of professional golf’s four major tournaments, will take place in June 2013, hosted by Merion Golf Club, the College’s neighbor.

But with the conversion of Featherbed Fields into parking lots, which began this week, the event is already making its mark on Haverford.

In order to strengthen its bid to host the Open, Merion secured space on the Haverford campus for tournament staging. And while school will be out before a hole is played, preparations for the tournament have many of the College’s athletic teams looking at a somewhat cramped spring season.

“They couldn’t have had the U.S. Open at Merion without us,” said former Facilities Management director Ron Tola, who first signed the College’s agreement with the United States Golf Association seven years ago and continues to serve as Haverford’s liaison.  “Our main intent was to be a good neighbor to Merion, and to have Haverford and Merion seen on an international scale.”

The conversion of fields will affect both the men’s and women’s varsity soccer teams, who will be sharing the Class of ’88 Field near the observatory for their usual spring slate of three-a-week practices.  Normally, the men’s practices occur at the Featherbed Fields and the women’s team has the Class of ’88 Field to itself.

The preparations will have repercussions at the club level as well; the men’s and women’s club soccer teams, as well as the rugby team—all regular users of the Featherbed Fields—will enter the spring without their usual grounds.  According to Athletic Facilities Manager Jim Kenyon, each team has a choice between entering into the on-campus logjam and commuting to an off-campus facility secured by Kenyon.

But for Walid Nashashibi ‘15, a rugby captain, that choice is far from appealing.

Nashashibi has known about the US Open plans since Kenyon announced them to club sport representatives last year.  He isn’t pleased with the prospects of staying on campus, which would involve sharing the Duck Pond field with the Frisbee team, which plays on it normally.  “It’s not a very good field,” he said, “and we certainly wouldn’t get priority.”

Meanwhile, Nashashibi said the athletic department’s only proposal for an off-campus site so far has been reserving the Shipley School field at 6:30 AM, which Nashashibi described as “absolutely out of the question” for logistical reasons.  He said the spring season—in which the rugby team plays the bulk of its games and tournaments—will definitely not be canceled, but the team won’t be able to host any matches, and may have to take matters into its own hands to find a workable practice location.

“It’s unclear to me how hard they’ve tried to find a [feasible] off-campus field,” Nashashibi said.

The varsity softball team avoided a similar fate.  In the original contract, Tola says, Haverford agreed to potentially give up the softball field for tournament staging, but the College was able to keep the softball field for spring use in a later agreement.  Meanwhile, intramural softball will continue to take place on campus, as Kenyon wanted to avoid forcing an intramural sport to travel, believing the hassle involved would lead to the complete dissolution of its season.  The season will be moved to a different on-campus field.

The USGA is obligated under the agreement to fund and complete all construction themselves and to return each field to its original condition—which will mean new grass for the playing fields.

“Haverford’s agreement to help out Merion Golf Club and the USGA in my opinion was a no brainer,” Kenyon said.  “The attention that it will bring the College on a global scale can not be understated, and that doesn’t even include what the College received financially and that we will have brand new grass fields come August 2013.” The sum Haverford received from the USGA was not disclosed to The Clerk.

“It will be nice to have new fields,” Nashashibi acknowledged.  “Certainly doesn’t make up for losing a semester, though.”

Academic buildings may be used for employee training, but summer living spaces will in no way be affected by the Open. To`la did have one warning to students and faculty who will be staying at Haverford in June: “Traffic will be a nightmare.”

Photo by Debbie Leter