ARDMORE, Pa. — This year’s U.S. Open is scheduled to conclude on Father’s Day. For Robert Smith, equipment technician at Merion Golf Club, it’s bound to be his most special Father’s Day yet.
He and his wife welcomed their second girl, McKayla, on April 16th. Two days later, Smith was back at the course, working on what could also be considered one of his offspring: the John Deere 180 E-Cut Hybrid Walk Greens Mower.
|Smith with the mower he helped create.|
Both the 180E and Smith’s oldest, Annabella, might be jealous of McKayla. But Smith’s a good dad… he’s got time for all three of his babies.
Smith says that he doesn’t have a favorite — at least, when it comes to equipment.
“Every piece is the same,” he says. “I like working on stuff that doesn’t break.”
But the 180E should get more of his affection than the others. Because Smith, along with Merion’s director of grounds, Matt Shaffer, helped create the innovative mower.
“(Shaffer) came up to me one day and said, ‘I need to go lower with my 22-inch heads.’ I said, ‘That’s not possible, what you see is what you get,’” Smith recalls. “We tried and tried, to get as low as we wanted. The problem was, Merion’s undulations, as far as greens go, were too severe for the 22s.”
Smith, now in his fifth year at Merion, considers mowing heads to be his specialty. So Shaffer’s problem kicked around in his head for a few days, until an idea, like a bolt of lightning, struck.
“We were walking past a piece of equipment that had an 18-inch head on it. (Shaffer) got this idea stirring in his mind.” Smith recalls. “I brought it in the shop, reconfigured a few things… we started mowing about two weeks later.”
The John Deere 180E was born. Designed after the 220E, the 180E meets the demands of superintendents who need a tight, clean cut with an 18-inch swath. Deere says the mower is ideal for courses that need maximum control on undulating greens.
“We had nothing but success with it,” Smith says, sounding like a proud papa. “Instead of leaving it at that, we made 12 of them, converting all our 22s to 18s.”
John Deere saw the success that Merion was having with the mower, and took notice. Beginning in July of 2012, the 180 E-cut became available to courses around the world.
“They’re a championship mower for championship greens,” Smith says.