Golf Tournaments

Professional and amateur golf hold tournaments all over the country.  The LPGA, PGA, Champions (AKA Senior), and (AKA those not quite good enough for the PGA) tours have events that occur regularly usually in the same city and often the same course every year.  The PGA of America (different from the PGA tour) holds the PGA championship, a major, which is held in a different place every year as are the USGA championships (US Open, Senior Open, Womens Open, and many others) are also held in a different place every year.  The Ryder Cup and Solheim cup are contested in the US only once every 4 years, in a different place every time.  The characteristics of these events effect how many and what sort of volunteers they need and may effect whether you want to go.  Most of these events are full field stroke play events, which have 3 days of practice (possibly also with pro-am competitions) and 4 days of competition.  Most of these events start with 150 or so players and cut to about 65 on the weekend days, meaning that during the week there will be action almost everywhere on the golf course, and even on the weekend there will be a lot to see.  Most will send groups off both the 1 and 10 tees during the first two rounds to get everyone in meaning you can see action early in the morning on either 9, while for the weekend typically everyone goes off number 1, meaning the back 9 will be empty in the morning and the front 9 will empty out when the last group passes.

There is one professional match play tournament as well as the USGA amateur competitions which use match play in the final rounds.  Match play in these events means elimination, meaning the field gets smaller with each passing round, and opportunities to see them decrease as well.  In the final rounds, only one or two groups are on the course and everyone follows them. 

The Ryder and Solheim cups are a unique experience -- golf meets world cup soccer.  The fields are small and the competition format means there aren't many golfers on the course at once -- 4 groups in the morning and 4 in the afternoon during the first two days and 12 pairs on Sunday.  Again this means for spectators you have to go where the players are, and fewer volunteers are needed because there are only limited times when players are in any given area.  The national team nature of these events means the crowd is strongly partisan and will show it.  (The Solheim cup is the only tournament where I can recall getting wild cheers or boos on a leaderboard depending on the numbers I posted).  The atmosphere can get more than a little rowdy.

Volunteering for a Tournament.

Most people probably don't realize that much of the work needed to put on a professional or amateur golf tournament is done by volunteers.  Golf is the only major sport I know of where this is true -- jobs including those with a lot of interaction with the competitors are done by ordinary people who sign up to give their time in a exchange for admission to the tournament and other benefits.  Volunteering for a tournament is an interesting way to experience what goes on "inside the ropes", as well as making a contribution to the ability of the tournament to raise money for Charity.  Professional tournaments use thousands of volunteers in many different jobs. 

What's the deal?

The arrangement varies dependening on the tournament.  As I said almost all use volunteers, including all the major tournaments, the Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup, PGA, LPGA, Champions, and Nationwide events, and all the national USGA competitions.  The typical arrangement is for Volunteers to buy their uniforms (typically 2 golf shirts, a jacket and a hat, though some include pants or a skirt and/or skip the jacket or one shirt), and work 3 or 4 shifts of 4-5 hours in length.  Volunteers can expect to get a pass for the whole competition (including the practice rounds), get lunches and often breakfast food on the days they work, and often a water bottle.  Volunteers often get discounts for merchandise at the tournament and from local merchants, but alas they don't generally get any special access to play the tournament course.  Volunteers usually have special parking (sometimes just on work days), which is closer to the course, and usually have access to a Volunteer tent, which is climate controlled, has TV monitors, chairs, tables, water, and often snacks, but they don't in general have access to the clubhouse or corporate hospitality tents.  Volunteers get to keep the clothes, which means that a golfer who goes through golf attire at a reasonable rate gets at least what they paid out of the experience.  Some tournaments have a party for volunteers with food, drink, and entertainment.  The quality of these events varies a lot, but it's usually at the course with an opportunity to meet other volunteers and get a preview.

Volunteer Jobs

There are a lot of Volunteer jobs.  Some are on the course, some aren't.  Some require standing or walking for long periods, while others are sedentary.  Volunteers can select from available jobs when they sign up.  Here are some of the more common ones:

How to Volunteer?

These days most tournaments will have web sites where you can volunteer on line.  The tournaments held every year in the same place often have waiting lists.  (The Masters, for example, uses volunteers, but don't expect to be able to get a job there).  The easiest access ironically is for the USGA "major" tournaments which are held at a different course every year and use volunteers from open sign up.  The Ryder Cup and Solheim cup both use volunteers, but it's a popular gig and not easy to get in.  If you have volunteered before for a tournament or a tournament venue that is now hosting some other tournament they may contact you , but in general the best way to do it is to find the volunteer website early (a year in advance) and sign up.  Many have gone to pre-volunteer signup -- you put your name and email in and they contact you wheen they open up the opportunity to volunteer)  When you do, you must pre-pay for your uniform and select what job(s) you want.  Some tournaments and some jobs may also ask for authorization to do a criminal background check on you.  As the tournament approaches you will get emails and sometimes paper mail with information about the event, and eventually be told your specific assignment.  You will be asked what times you can work of those when that committee needs volunteers, and usually some general preferences like whether or not you want to work multiple shifts in a day and whether you want to work with another volunteer if possible. 

There is usually training for volunteers a week or two before the tournament.  Attend if you can, but don't worry if you can't.  Information will be sent to you.  Your volunteer uniform will be shipped from the manufacturer, but usually they do not mail your badge, parking pass and some other material.  If you go to training you pick them up there, if not you generally have to pick them up at the course the first day you come (if there's a party beforehand you can pick them up there too).   They do get uniform pieces wrong from time to time and those can be exchanged at training or at the course, usually in the volunteer tent. 

When you work, usually you will have to check in somewhere first and pick up tickets for lunch.  Most tournaments use the volunteer tent for this but some use other locations (At the Whistling Straits senior open check in was in small offices carved out of the cart barn since the tent was not convenient, and sometimes Marshals simply report to their hole or other work area).  If possible scope all this out before your first shift because it might take a long time to get from parking to check in and then to your work area and you have to allow enough time to your work area before your shift starts.  You also need to be prepared for changes in times.  Weather, slow play, or even just poor scheduling can sometimes require volunteeers to stay lots of extra hours.  Best to block out the days you volunteer and roll with it.  Odds are those extra hours will provide you the best experience because often the tournament is thinly attended then meaning less work for you and more chance to watch the action from your best vantage point.

What's it really like?

I have now worked at 20 different tournaments.  At many of them I wrote notes on my experience for freinds, and I have collected some of them in my Volunteer Diaries

So you want to be a walking scorer

Walking scorer is our favorite job, but it's not easy, or easy to get.  Most of what is here also applies to Standard bearer, walking marshal, or mobile device policy patrol, all jobs where you walk with the players. Here's some of what you need to know:

Can you really handle it?

It would seem obvious that "walking scorer" means you walk the whole golf course.  Believe it or not we have encountered volunteers who are surprised that they can't use a cart (yes, they were serious about that).  You have to be able to walk 18 holes, often in the peak heat and humidity of the day, and often at a much slower pace than your usual round (up to 6 hours).  That's a lot of standing.  Championship courses aren't short either.  They will sometimes set up golf cart shuttles from tee to green if the distances are excessive, but be prepared to walk 8 miles or more on some layouts.  Note also that you will need to keep up with the players, who may take lots of time over shots, but move quickly from the tee to the fairway and then on to the green once everyone has hit.  The need for bathroom stops may be a problem for some.  While you can sometimes find time to make a stop without missing a shot, it's not easy.  Most scorers plan not to stop if possible, which may be hard for some.

Walking scorers and others working with the groups on the course have to adapt to schedule changes caused by weather and sometimes by media coverage.  That may mean being out on the course until sunset (and then taking 45 minutes to get back to where you can turn in your equipment and leave), then back at dawn to restart play after a suspension for weather or darkness.  If you are traveling for a tournament, try to find out where volunteers will be parked and book a hotel near there.  If you are working from home consider your commute times. 

You don't need to be a golfer to do this for most tournaments (I believe the PGA championship is the only one that insists on that), but a thorough understanding of golf is essential.  You need to be able to anticipate who is going to hit next, and while you can verify whether drops are for penalties or free relief, it will be easier if you can anticipate it.  Having a good sense of where shots are likely to wind up and where you will best be able to see without being in the way is good too.  Note that you do not need to be able to follow shots in the air to see where they land.  That's up to the players and their caddies.  You just have to get there to record where it went when they go to hit it.

It's a busy and mentally challenging job.  Usually groups have 3 players on Thursday and Friday, and two on the weekends, but sometimes weather means 3 players all four days.  Your players won't always be in places you can easily observe them, especially hitting second shots, and they won't always go in order, especially if one is taking a drop.  You need to be able to keep track of what everyone is doing.  I've had groups where two players went ahead and hit shots 200 yards ahead of where I was waiting for the 3rd player to find her ball, or where I was with a player taking a complicated set of drops (penalty for being in a creek and then free drops for relief from a cart path and immovable obstructions), while another was 100 yards ahead also taking a drop from the creek and the 3rd hit a fairway bunker shot and holed it out.  You can't get behind or flustered.  You need to stay mentally sharp the whole time.

How do you get the job?

Well the obvious answer is to volunteer for it, but it's often not on the list of volunteer jobs available.  There are some things that help.  First, try at a or symmetra tour event, or an amateur competition.  The job and equipment aren't always the same on those events, but they are more likely to need volunteers.  On the tours, getting into a new event, which doesn't have a list of returning volunteers is easier than one that's been run at the same course or in the same city for many years.  For the same reason the USGA championships are sometimes easier to get into than the tour events, since they move every year.  (Note though that the USGA depends strongly on local golf clubs to organize them and those clubs sometimes hold those jobs for their members).  The other thing that helps get the job is to build your volunteer resume.  Most tournaments will ask what you have done as a volunteer, and it helps to have volunteered for other events. 

Be sure to take advantage of offers to sign up early if you get them.  If you volunteered for a particular event another event at the same course or in the same area you may get an opportunity to sign up early, before all the best jobs are taken.  Don't be shy about picking walking scorer if it's available.  Our first experience at a US Open came because we had an early opportunity to sign up for leaderboards, but listed walking scorer as the first choice.  When the USGA decided to go with electronic boards that do not need volunteers at this event and we had previous experience as scorers we wound up in. 

What to bring/how to prepare?

Once you have the job, the first thing is to make sure you can attend the training and any on-course practice.  Often tournaments (especially for the USGA) will have general training for volunteers.  That's not essential, but it is essential you attend the walking scorer training the week of the course.  The USGA usually does this late on Monday or Tuesday, while others have done it Saturday or Sunday before the event.  Not only is this your chance to get updated on the equipment and technology, but it usually is truly mandatory except in special situations (someone with a lot of experience who has done an event very recently.)

Many people wonder about what to wear or carry on the job.  The big priority is comfort and light weight.  You will wear your volunteer shirt and hat or visor, but other choices are up to you:

Staying healthy on the course

The top issue is water.  Make sure you are drinking enough.  Heat and dehydration are probably the top cause of problems.  It's not unusual for me to go through 3 or 4 bottles of water and several small bottles of gatorade on the course.  (many have gatorade, but often not in every cooler, so look for it.).  Humidity is worse than heat in managing your water.  On hot, dry courses, I have found myself drinking less to avoid the need to use the bathroom, but on humid days I found I could drink almost continuously and never worry about that.  Even if you do need to make a stop, that's better than passing out, or spending the rest of the day feeling bad.  You can probably stuff a half empty bottle in pocket, but getting rid of empty bottles can be a problem since while there's always

Food is usually not a big issue.  Most events have a stock of granola bars, fruit, and snacks on the 1st and 10th tees, and you can take it (after the players and caddies).  Be aware though that you probably will have trouble finding time to eat what you take.  In addition to needing to find time, you have to be careful about noise.  Opening plastic packaging makes noise, and even eating crunchy granola does.  One thing you want to avoid is anything that might melt in your pockets, like chocolate. 

Pit stops are another problem.  Tournaments always have facilities marked for players.  Usually you can use them too, but they may not be convenient.  Any time I'm a scorer I try to scope out where the inside the ropes facilities are, and remember the ones that can be used conveniently. 

Sun is another thing to worry about.  Use a good sunscreen, but don't worry about re-applying it.  If it's good it will work.  On most courses you can find shade, especially during any long waits, and feel free to do so.

Sitting down?  Many tournaments have chairs for the walking scorer and standard bearer at the greens.  Don't count on them.  For one thing the marshals often take them or move them, but the more significant problem is that they often don't have a good view of the green, so plan to stand up for the whole round, and consider it a bonus if you get to set down.  By all means do so when you can see, but don't count on it.

Managing the standard bearer

One job people probably don't expect to have to do is manage another volunteer carrying the sign with the groups scores.  As the walking scorer you are responsible both for getting those scores right, and making sure that the standard bearer isn't getting in the way of the players and is displaying the sign to the gallery.  Often tournaments use young volunteers as standard bearers.  Before you start your round, you will meet that person, and the three questions you want to ask are:  Are you a golfer?  Have you done this before? and are you comfortable changing the numbers based on what you see happening?  Most of the time the standard bearer will be a golfer, and by the weekend will have done it before.  That's easy.  The harder case is if they haven't, especially if it's a young child who can't hold the standard while changing the numbers (so you have to help).  If your standard bearer isn't experienced, tell them about the fact that they can take water and snacks and use the inside-the-ropes bathrooms.  Tell them that sometimes you will need to go places to see shots, and they don't need to follow, and tell them they can proceed to the chairs and use the pipe placed there to hold the standard.

Training will probably tell you to get the numbers changed on the green before you move on, but I find that's rarely workable.  If your standard bearer is comfortable observing and changing the numbers, tell them to do so if they can do it without disturbing the players, and most will be able to get the work done while sitting at the green.  Always check the results and give them a thumbs up or tell them what's wrong.  If your standard bearer can't change the numbers alone, what you probably want to do is get them to move with you to an area near but not really on top of the next tee before doing it.  Particularly when you have a group with a gallery you need to get through any crosswalks right after the players, but if you still have numbers to update stop outside the ropes near the tee and get it done if you can. Help your standard bearer, but don't get so focused you fail to get the shot recorded promptly or fall behind.  If you don't keep up you won't have numbers to put on the standard.

Make sure your standard bearer is following the "staying healthy" rules above -- getting water, making bathroom breaks, etc.  More standard bearers have trouble on course than scorers, and you don't want to be the scorer whose standard bearer went down with heat stroke. 

Watch where your standard bearer goes and how they holed the sign.  Many don't keep it with the sides facing the fans.  Have the "hats and butts" discussion with him/her (i.e. the best place to stand if you can is even with the player to the side, where you see either the top of their hat or their butt.)

When you get to the finish hole, tell your standard bearer to follow you to scoring and wait outside the scoring trailer (or office)  Usually players will sign balls for the standard bearer if they are around to receive them, and they make good souvenirs.

Doing the job

The job starts on the first tee.  Get up to the tee with your standard bearer in time to watch the group in front tee off, but don't go inside the ropes until they do.  Before that, you should have done a radio check (make sure the radio is set to the right channel and ask for a check, as soon as you get it and leave any building), and if requested, send your name in as a message to whoever is running scoring.  When you step in, send the "in position" message.

Training will probably suggest you try to get the player's clothing by watching them on the putting green.  I've found this rarely works, either because the putting green is out of the way or you have players you won't recognize.  Instead, be ready to put it in as soon as you can identify the players.  Most events the players and caddies will introduce themselves to you and your standard bearer.  Don't expect them to be chatty, just be civil.  Your top priority before tee off time is to identify your players, decide how you will tell them apart if you don't know them well, and get the clothing into your scoring device.  Many times you won't be able to describe exactly what the players are wearing very precisely on your device.  Keep in mind that this is for people who will be looking at them from 200 yards out, so if two are wearing shades of "coral", call the one more orange "orange" and the one more pink "pink" or "red", and if someone has a patterned shirt or pants decide what color is going to dominate looking at them face on from 200 yards out and put that in.  Note that what you use to identify the players isn't restricted to what you can put into the system.  I recently had two players in identical clothing colors, but one wore shorts and the other long pants -- easy to tell apart.  Height differences, left handedness, or wearing those sun protection arm or leg covers are other things you can note, and write it down on your paper score sheet (if you have one).

After what seems like an eternity, the tee announcer will announce your group.  Often it's very very hot on the first tee, so just wait it out and try not to pass out.  On this shot as always, get the player to hit the shot cued up on your device so you can click "shot hit" as soon as they hit it.  If it's a par 4 or 5 and not a reachable 4, click "return to group" immediately. so you can cue up the next player.  Getting the player set up in advance will help the laser operators in the fairway figure out who it is. 

Don't worry about where the shots go unless you can see them, but be prepared to move as soon as the last ball is in the air.  It's amazing how fast even the seniors can move.  Make sure your standard bearer is with you and get up to the landing area as soon after the players as you can.  As you approach any area where balls have landed trying to see where they all are.  Look for balls in the fairway or flags in the rough where marshals have marked them.  Judge as ou are walking where you want to stand.  If possible stand to the side at the edge of the fairway or in the rough, but sometimes you will wind up in the middle (if the tournament lets you walk in the fairway, and most do), noteably when players are in the rough on either side. 

Anticipate who will hit first and whether there are any rules issues.  Mostly the players handle the rules situations by themselves or the rules officials on the course spot the situation and show up on their own, but be prepared to call for rules if your player asks.

Usually the players will play in order, so go ahead and set the location, stance and lie, for the first player.  (don't go crazy with stance and lie, change it only if it's enough sidehill, up, or downhill to matter.  With the new USGA system you will have to wait for the map to load and may take some time picking a spot and correcting, if necessary what cut of grass they are in, so get it done in advance if you can.  Again, hit "shot hit" as soon as they hit it.  If you can, watch the ball and as soon as you are sure it's not going in the hole hit return to group and work on the next player. 

The real fun begins around the green.  This is where it pays to have scouted out where the green exit is and where you have a good view.  Tell your standard bearer he or she can go to the chairs (if there are any) near the exit, but get yourself to wherever you can see the balls, then make sure you can see the hole.  Note that with the USGA system, you can't change "stance and lie" once you select location around the green, so if you have a player in a bad lie in a bunker next to hit, set that up first. 

Around the green, the top 3 things to remember are:

  1. Never take your eyes off the ball
  2. Never take your eyes off the ball
  3. Never take your eyes off the ball.

Make sure you stay some place you can see the ball and the hole.  The most common problem for scorers is missing a tap in and it's very easy to do so.  When the first player putts, click "shot hit", watch the ball until it stops, then make sure you know if the player taps in or marks it.  Make sure that once they are in the hole you click "in the hole".  The number two problem for scorers is being unable to score the next hole because they forgot to put a player in the hole.  Again, make sure you can actually see the hole and watch the ball go in.  Stay out of the way of cameras and fans if you can, but if you need to move to be able to see do so.  Don't guess.

If you've done everything right when the last putt drops the device will ask you to confirm the score and stroke trail for each player.  Look at it, but don't obsess over the stroke trail.  If something doesn't look right, but the total is okay, just click yes to score, no to strokes, and move on -- they will catch it when you finish.

What to do when something goes wrong.

Sooner or later something will go wrong.  Here are some possibilities:

Other things that happen out there:

At a big tournament it's likely fans will ask you what you are doing.  Feel free to respond, but don't get distracted.  You have a job to do, and showing off to the fans isn't it.

You hear a lot of radio chatter.  The scoring radio tells you everything exceptional going on on the course.  Don't get distracted.  Some scorer may discover he or she reversed the scores for two players for 5 holes and try to correct the whole stroke trails, but don't let yourself lose focus.  Do be alert to any news about the weather or the cut line.  Your players or their caddies might ask you about that, and if you know share it.  If you have a chance you might ask, but it's not primarily your job. 

Do be aware of weather warnings.  Leaderboards and scoring are on the same channel so you should know if there is a potential weather issue.  Don't pro-actively tell your players, but tell your standard bearer if it's likely that you will need to evacuate. 

Injuries and medical situations.  The walking scorer is now the only one with a radio in most events, so if something goes bad, you may be asked to call for help.  Just do it.  if someone falls, make sure they don't need help, but don't get behind.

A nice finish

Often the best feeling of the round is getting to official scoring and discovering nothing is wrong.  First, make sure you know where scoring is.  The players and caddies usually know where to go, but sometimes they do get lost, and it's useful if you can play tour guide.  At scoring, go in after the players, and hang at the back while they review their scores.  Be prepared to read scores or stroke trails if needed, but don't be surprised if they work it out themselves.  More than once though I have had to review the stroke trail on a hole when the player and whichever other player was keeping score disagreed, and the player was always grateful I helped prevent a scoring error and potential DQ.  After everyone finished you can talk to them, ask for autographs, and wish them the best for the next round.

Once you are done with the players make sure to check in with statistics, which is where you correct any errors in the stroke trails, then go back to where you got your device and radio to turn them in.  (If you are among the last groups don't be surprised if nobody is there, just turn them in and sign off on the radio if nobody is there.


Warren Montgomery