Athol’s Stephen Rabideau the man behind the scenes at the U.S. Open

  • Athol native Stephen Rabideau talks with the Golf Channel earlier this week. Rabideau is the Director of Golf Courses for Winged Foot Golf Club, which hosts the U.S. Open this week. CONTRIBUTED/GOLF CHANNEL

Staff Writer
Published: 9/16/2020 6:47:18 PM
Modified: 9/16/2020 6:47:11 PM

When the trio of Brandon Wu, Curtis Luck and Ryan Fox kick off the 120th U.S. Open from the first tee this morning at 6:50 a.m., they’ll be the first official trio to tackle the difficult terrain at famed Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York.

Difficult and challenging come to mind when discussing Winged Foot, which last held the U.S. Open in 2006 where the winning score was a whopping 5-over-par. And the man tasked with keeping the top professional golfers in the world at bay this week? That would be Athol native Stephen Rabideau.

The Director of Golf Courses at Winged Foot, Rabideau, who has helped shape the grounds at the famous course for nearly a decade, and his staff have worked around the clock to prepare the club’s West Course for competition. Both the West (11th) and East (52nd) courses are ranked in the top 100 in the country by Golf Digest.

Rabideau and his crew faced countless obstacles this year. The U.S. Open was originally slated for competition in June, but COVID-19 delayed the event some three months. The additional wear and tear, mixed with a smaller staff due to the pandemic, provided a constant struggle. Weather and daylight didn’t make things any easier.

“June is an ideal time to have a U.S. Open — it’s right before the start of the summer, the rough is super healthy, the grass really isn’t under stress yet,” Rabideau told Golf.com in a story earlier this week. “August is never fun. The grass is tired.”

Compared to his normal action behind the scenes, Rabideau has enjoyed some time in front of the camera this week. The UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture alum was interviewed on the Golf Channel, and even got some time on a video feature for Barstool Sports.

Rabideau said his staff will arrive each day around 3 a.m. for the tournament, and won’t leave the grounds until 9 or 10 p.m.

“It’s a lot, but it’s what we do it for,” he told Golf.com. “We’ll have an adrenaline rush and look — you’ve got the best players in the world playing your golf course. It’s pretty exciting.”

As for the conditions themselves, golf fans are eagerly anticipating high scores this week, just like 2006. Tiger Woods waxed poetic about the difficulties that Winged Foot present during his press availability on Tuesday, and Rabideau said the course has been playing tough since the latter part of the summer.

“The members, the last month, have been playing basically U.S. Open conditions,” he said. “The rough has been thick and the fairway widths are the same. So the members have had a U.S. Open test for most of August and the first couple weeks of September. They’ve felt it — and I see them out there looking for balls all day long, so they’ve had a good test.”

No matter how the actual tournament plays out, Rabideau, who has spent 24 years as a Superintendent and previously held stints at Wheatley Hills in Williston, N.Y. and Hamlet Golf and Country Club in Commack, N.Y., will certainly be able to make his mark on the event. There’s plenty of work to do over the next four days, but the reward is finally here with the best players in the world embarking on his turf.

“I think history has proven through time that Winged Foot is a classic U.S. Open venue,” he says. “It’s got narrow fairways, so the premise this week is going to be having to hit fairways. The rough will be penal. And you start talking about the green complexes — here, you have to be on the right side of the greens. If you miss long or left or right, it can make for some delicate chips.”


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