Being a spectator at a PGA Tour event is an incredible way to get up close and personal with top professional golfers. To see them swing a golf club or to be a part of the drama on the 18th of the final group can be thrilling …but you could also be straining your neck trying to find a hole to see through the heads standing in front of you. Following the top golfers in the world can be equivalent to a cow being herded with the group out to pasture. It’s a complete zoo when all you really want to do is watch and witness. Here’s an insiders scoop on an incredible way to get inside the ropes and be a part of professional golf… volunteer!
If you’ve been thinking about signing up to volunteer let me give you a quick rundown of what to expect. In short, it’s awesome! Just last week I participated as a walking scorer volunteer for the Northern Trust Open at the Riviera CC in Los Angeles and had the pleasure of being a part of the pro-am round and Friday’s round.
WHERE TO GO: For starters, you’ll need to pick your tournament you want to volunteer for and head to their website. Do this many months in advance because spots actually fill up really quick. It’s not a hidden gem because many retirees have been volunteering for years but the amount of younger people like you and I haven’t tried to sign up yet. Once on the tournament site search for the volunteer page. If it’s not easily found there’s usually a search function that will get you there.
HOW TO SIGN UP: On the volunteer page you’ll see a nice intro, a list of committees, and a form. Go ahead and fill out the form but take note that just because you apply you might not get selected (like I said, retirees are all over this). If selected, or at initial sign up, you’ll have to pay. What, pay to volunteer?! Yes! What you are paying for is your uniform and it’s about $70 give or take. What’s typically included is a shirt, jacket, and a hat or visor. They have men’s sizes and women’s sizes and everyone will match. Put it this way… you can either pay the $10,000 to play in the pro-am just to walk with the pros or you can pay the $70 and although not swinging a golf club you’ll have ample time to be up close and personal.
COMMITTEES: There are several committees that require volunteers at every PGA Tour event that range from walking scorers, to Marshalls (the people holding signs telling you to be quiet and hold still during play), to laser techs, standard bearers, merch booth and tickets, and player chauffeurs. Yes, upon arrival there is a group of volunteers that bring a car to the airport to pick up the players and their families, take them to their hotel and leave them with the car for their use for the week. Merch booth and tickets won’t get you inside the ropes so if I were you I’d sign up to Marshall, walking score, standard bear (the guy holding the sign with scores), or laser. The laser techs sit around the green in the booth and the fairway. As I mentioned, I was a walking scorer so I was responsible for walking with a group and carrying the handheld Motorola ShotLink device to track shots, clubs, from where, and what the players’ clothing was… which each entry I put into the system went straight to what you saw on TV, your PGA Tour app, to the media booth and scoreboard. I also wore the only headset in the group so if a player needed a rules official or medical I was the one making the call.
PRE-EVENT: You will be required to go to a training the weekend before which only lasts about an hour or so to ensure you know your job and are ready. Most tournaments will require new volunteers to work the pro-am but although that might not sound as cool trust me it is. Pro-Am day is practice round day so you can chat with the players, caddies, and amateurs throughout the round and some of the ams come from really well known large companies. Don’t forget to bring your camera because you can snap away and get autographs too.
TOURNAMENT TIME: Although no cameras are allowed while working during tournament play on the first tee your group typically will introduce themselves to you. As a scorer you are literally walking down the fairway a few mere yards away from the players and have the absolute best view in the house. Or, as a Marshall you are sitting on the tee or the green a few feet from the players. At the end of the round the pros typically will hand out autograph balls to their group which is super fun. As a scorer, at the end of the round you also go into the room with the players to verify and submit scores. During play the golfers might not be too chatty (you speak to them only if they speak to you kind of thing) but one of my players was super friendly and chatty as well as one of the caddies walked and chatted most of the round. Each group is different.
PERKS: There are some definite perks to volunteering at a PGA Tour event! Beyond the autographs, handshakes, best view, or photo ops in many cases you’ll receive complimentary tickets for the week to come enjoy the days you aren’t working, sometimes an extra set of tickets for guests, free parking, meal vouchers for on course, and access unlike what you see on TV. Put it this way… as I as going to check in for my Friday round I randomly showed up at the same time Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia, and Dustin Johnson were finishing. I held the door as they walked in and they all politely said thanks. On the way back out the door, in came Jordan Spieth. I hung out in the “backstage” area with Hunter Mahan and Bubba’s caddie and I had credentials so I didn’t have to walk in the crowds and could walk inside the ropes to get from place to place.
THINGS TO NOTE: While volunteering you are actually working. You have to pay attention to your group even though the tee box to your left might have Rory up and a giant crowd around. I think that goes without saying but it’s a great experience and worth it! Obviously no drinking but you can save that for your days not working on your free ticket to the event. You don’t pick what group you get to walk with but you’d be surprised… even if you get a group that’s not filled with big names one of your players may make it to the big stage at some point and you can say you’ve worked with them! Also, most volunteers are retired because it can be hard for some people to get off work during the week… what I’m getting at is that you might be younger than most out there.
Last week I worked the Pro-Am of the Northern Trust Open with professional golfer John Merrick (Former NTO winner) and a group of real estate big wigs who were super fun and we had a great time! On Friday I worked with Ken Duke (winner of the Travelers Championship in 2013), Hudson Swafford, and Spencer Levin.
This is definitely an experience worth trying even if just once. I promise, you will not be disappointed that you volunteered!