Behind the Scenes at a PGA Tour Event

Last year, I signed up as a volunteer for the US Open, which is being held at The Los Angeles Country Club. I’ve been wanting to attend a US Open for some time, and this seemed like a good opportunity given how close it is to home.

When the USGA sent out their request for volunteers, I figured, why not? The cost for the volunteer package was on par with the cost for tickets. Plus, it guaranteed access without having to go through the ticket lottery, which is more challenging than usual this year. Tickets are in limited supply due to capacity constraints at LACC.

The rub is that I had never volunteered at a professional golf tournament. Given the importance of the event, I figured I should get some experience before showing up. For my first assignment, I volunteered at a local LPGA event, which turned out to be a great experience. For my second assignment, I decided to volunteer at The Genesis Invitational, the PGA Tour event held at The Riviera Country Club.

The sign for the PGA Genesis Invitational from behind

Volunteering at a professional golf tournament

It’s easy to get involved and volunteer at a professional golf tournament. There is usually a volunteer link on the tournament website (like this one). The link explains what is involved, what to expect, what roles are needed, and how to sign-up.

When you sign-up as a volunteer, you need to buy a volunteer package. The package typically runs around $50-$80 depending on what’s included. Typically, the package contains a shirt, hat, and daily access to the event. For the Genesis Invitational, the cost was $75 and included a shirt, a hat, a 3/4-zip outerwear piece, daily access to the event, and 4 any day grounds tickets that could be given to others.

Laset equipment used by a location-based operator volunteer

As part of the sign-up process, you select your preferred volunteer roles from the list provided. For the Genesis Invitational, I choose one of the technology roles and was assigned the role of Location-Based Operator (LBO). What’s an LBO you ask? I had the task of locating balls that were hit on hole 11. The information provided was used as part of compiling player statistics and showing shot locations on television and website graphics. Fortunately, training is provided, and there are PGA staff, committee chairs, and experienced volunteers who can answer questions.

Working inside the ropes is a fun and interesting way to experience a golf tournament. You get to be close to the action and a part of the tournament. You also get an up close view of the players and caddies as they navigate through your part of the course.

Generally speaking, you’re treated well as a volunteer. You’re provided with free parking that is typically closer to the venue and reserved for volunteers. Meals and drinks are provided while you’re working. There was a volunteer appreciation party where prizes were raffled off. Yes, it’s a time commitment, but the organizers do their best to show their appreciation and respect for the time that you’re putting in.

Comparing the PGA and LPGA volunteer experience

Having worked a PGA and an LPGA event, there were some notable differences between the two. Granted, this is a very small sample size, so I would consider these first impressions of the differences between the two events.

As you might expect, the scale of a PGA event is larger than an LPGA event. The crowds are bigger. The energy level is higher. There are more things to do around the golf such as merchandise vendors, food options, pop-up bars and entertainment, and corporate hospitality tents.

On the other hand, I found the feel of the PGA event to be colder and more business-like. I’m sure crowd size and control play into it, but the players were less interactive and less friendly than they were at the LPGA event. The LPGA players interacted more with the fans and routinely recognized the volunteers. Outside of a few exceptions, that was not the case with the PGA players. They rarely acknowledged the fans or the volunteers. While I understand the need to stay focused at this level, it’s a bit surprising given how much the events depend on the support of the fans and volunteers.

Would I volunteer again?

That’s a tough question. If I was planning to attend an event for multiple days, I would definitely consider it. Volunteering can be a more convenient way to attend the tournament. The volunteer package is certainly cheaper than buying tickets for all four days. The tradeoff, of course, is the time required, which can be especially demanding on Thursday and Friday when the full field is playing prior to the cut.

At this point, I’d probably be more apt to volunteer at an LPGA event over a PGA event, primarily because the atmosphere is more intimate and friendly. I’ve also heard that the Champions/Senior Tour events are a lot of fun, so I might even consider one of these events over a PGA event. And if I were to do it again, I would try to find someone to volunteer with me. Having a partner would make it more enjoyable than going solo.

The Riviera Country Club at The Genesis Invitational

Next stop – The US Open

Well, the next event I am volunteering at will be the US Open in June, which I am looking forward to. It will be interesting to see how the USGA organizes, handles, and treats the volunteers for the event. Currently, I’m assigned to a marshal committee. I’m not sure if I’d rather work the technology side or as a marshal. The technology side is more interesting, but there is less interaction with the crowd outside of answering the occasional “What hole is Tiger on?” question. Since part of what I enjoy about volunteering is the social aspect, I’m OK working as a marshal. I suppose I’ll see after the US Open which role I like best and whether volunteering at professional golf events will become a more regular occurrence for me or not.

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