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Saturday, June 19, 2010

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The USGA’s All Volunteer Army

By Larry Tarleton

Pebble Beach, Calif. - At 4:15 each morning this week, Jason Green climbs on a Jacobsen mower, flicks on the headlights and begins grooming the famed Pebble Beach Golf Links for the 110th U.S. Open.

Green is the green superintendent at nearby San Jose Country Club, but this week he is just one of the 100 volunteers who are helping Pebble Beach superintendent Chris Dalhamer and his 36-person staff prepare the course for the championship. Dalhamer says more than half of those volunteers are superintendents from around the country, including his three predecessors at Pebble Beach: Tom Huesgen, now at Cornerstone in Colorado; Eric Greytok, now at Belfair, in South Carolina; and Mark Michaud, from Shinnecock Hills.

"There are a lot of chiefs here," Green says. "But this week, we're all Indians. You've got guys with six-figure salaries getting up at 3 a.m. with a [blower] backpack on their backs."

Their day starts at 3:15 each morning when they catch a shuttle for the 4 a.m. meeting in the maintenance building. Dalhamer hands out the day's assignments and sends out his "super army" in waves, half on the front nine, half on the back, to mow the greens and fairways, rake and shape the bunkers, roll the greens, fill in divots, and make sure the course is in the perfect condition required by the USGA.

"I start mowing on number 10 in the dark," Green said. "And I get to finish on the beautiful 18th hole. It's been an unbelievably great experience for me. You've got the who's who in the golf maintenance industry here and the networking opportunities are incredible. I've already committed to do it again at the Olympic Club in 2012."

From 9:30 a.m. until about 4 p.m., the team has free time to relax, have breakfast, watch some golf, or most likely take a nap on a cot in the maintenance building. That's because when the last players clear the course late in the day, it's time to go through their exact duties again. The crew finishes around 9 p.m., in the dark, then comes back early the next morning to start over.

"These volunteers are vital to the success of the tournament," Dalhamer said. "We couldn't do it without their help and do what the USGA expects of us.

"They're all doing it for no pay, just to have the opportunity to be part of history, and to network and exchange ideas with other superintendents. The only thing we provide them is the opportunity to work hard, plus food and housing."

Dalhamer's army is just part of the corps of 6,900 volunteers who give up a week with no pay to come help the USGA put on the national championship at Pebble Beach. They come from all 50 states and 17 countries.

"The volunteers are the backbone of our Open," said Kevin Kristof, assistant manager of the championship. "We have 28 committees doing everything from scoring, player hospitality, carts, shuttles, media and merchandise tents. You definitely can't put on a championship without the help of the volunteers."

In 1991 at the U.S. Open at Hazeltine near Minneapolis, Bruce Bahneman and a group of friends volunteered to work in the media center. The marketing director for the 1992 Open at Pebble Beach was impressed enough to ask the group to work at the media center there the following year. That request evolved into a tradition. The group calls itself the "Minnesota 10" and is now working with the media for the 20th consecutive Open. Bahneman, a commercial realtor, Pat Logan, a retired police officer, and Bob Seeger, a bank vice president, are the only three of the original group still active.

"I guess we show up on time, work hard and have a sense of humor," Bahneman said. "It's been an absolute blast. We've met some great people and got to know some of the best writers in the world."

Maarten Mol and his wife, Gerrie-Eva, have traveled from their home in Maastricht, Netherlands, to volunteer at the Open for the last seven years. Maarten is working in the Pavilion 2000 hospitality tent this year while his wife, a retired child psychologist, is helping with the scoreboard in the media center.

"I became a Member of the USGA because of the research they do on grass and I was responsible for that at my club in the Netherlands," Maarten said. "We decided to volunteer in 2004 at Shinnecock and loved it, so we're back every year."

No doubt, the USGA feels much obliged.

Larry Tarleton is a member of the USGA Communications Committee.


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