U.S. SENIOR OPEN
USGA’s Sawicki Considers Salem One of Ross’ Gems February 13, 2017 | Peabody, Mass. By Jim McCabe

Matt Sawicki is excited about the upcoming U.S. Senior Open at Salem Country Club. (USGA/JD Cuban)

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Given that he matriculated at the University of Colorado and savored the majesty of the Rocky Mountains, one can accept that Matt Sawicki has a good feel for what passes as a natural wonder.

So when he says Salem Country Club in Peabody, Mass., – which will host the 38th U.S. Senior Open from June 29-July 2 – belongs high up on any list of Donald Ross’ best designs, it is high praise. Especially if you consider Sawicki’s strong golf background – he earned an Arnold Palmer Scholarship from Cherry Hills Country Club and has worked at the USGA for nearly 10 years.

“I think Salem is a hidden gem of Ross courses,” said Sawicki, the USGA’s outside-the-ropes championship director for the 2017 U.S. Senior Open. Well versed in Ross’ layouts, Sawicki realizes the legendary architect’s list of classics is long and impressive, but after his latest visit to Salem on Jan. 25, he remains steadfast in his praise.

“I think this championship will help distinguish Salem from the rest,” he said of Ross’ designs, which include U.S. Open venues such as Pinehurst No. 2, Oakland Hills, Scioto and Inverness.

Sawicki’s recent visit to Salem coincided with a welcomed lull in the winter weather, which allowed the St. Louis native an easy stroll with views unimpeded by piles of snow. Fingers crossed, it’s been a gentle winter thus far – a far cry from 16 years ago when ferocious ice storms and bitter cold made superintendent Kip Tyler’s job nearly impossible preparing for the 2001 U.S. Senior Open – but Sawicki knows he’s “not out of the woods yet.”

Still, as he surveyed Salem the other day, Sawicki’s admiration for this brilliant Ross design only grew stronger. “Maybe one of the most challenging sets of greens you can find,” he said.

Of course, Sawicki studies Salem for more than Ross’ genius; logistical concerns catch his eye, given that he’s entrusted with the job of figuring out how to move thousands of spectators around a cozy piece of property.

“Fans will realize there is space at Salem and some great spots to watch from,” said Sawicki.

Sawicki’s scholarship from Cherry Hills – site of Palmer’s epic 1960 U.S. Open win – was for caddieing, and as he has spent time around Salem he has gotten a feel for how important the Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund and golf history are to people in the area.

“Golf in this part of country is very special,” he said. “They know what the game’s about. They know the winner (of the U.S. Senior Open) will receive a trophy named for Francis Ouimet.”

Jim McCabe is a freelance golf writer who previously wrote for the Boston Globe and Golfweek.