My Volunteer Experience at the US Open

US Open sign on the hillside below the 4th tee at Los Angeles Country Club

The moment I heard that the USGA had chosen Los Angeles Country Club to host the Mens US Open Golf Championship, I knew I wanted to go. I just had to given how close I live to the course. I’d been to a major golf tournament venue before, but that was a practice round at the Masters back in 2018. It was an over-the-top experience, but I wanted to attend a major during the tournament rounds, and the US Open has been an event on my “to attend” bucket list.

When rumors started to swirl that the USGA would be limiting ticket sales to the tournament, I decided to sign-up as a volunteer. One of the perks of volunteering is that you get access to the grounds on both the days of your volunteer shifts and the days you’re off. Yes, I had to pay for the volunteer gear (which, by the way, is very nice), but it’s a small amount compared to what I would have paid for a ticket. In my mind, the cost of the gear and my time would be worth the experience.

The venue

Main Entrance Gate to US Open Championship at Los Angeles Country Club

My first trip to the venue was the Sunday prior to the tournament. I had to check the directions multiple times before I headed to the course. Maps showed it on the Westside of Los Angeles between Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevards. I’d driven around that area many times over the last 25 years or so, and I never remember seeing a golf course, or any signage indicating there was one nearby.

It became obvious when I arrived on site. The course is hidden behind generic fencing that runs the perimeter of the property. There aren’t any magnificent gates or a grand entrance. Not knowing any better, you would think there’s simply housing on the other side of those fences. At least that’s what I had always thought. Turns out there’s not only one, but two championship golf layouts that sit on some of the most expensive real estate in the country.

Across the eighth fairway to the twelfth tee at Los Angeles Country Club

Once inside, the course features are impressive. There are barrancas cutting through fairways, mature trees, and abundant, deep natural grass areas situated around the course. You don’t hear any nearby city noise. if it weren’t for the tall buildings surrounding the course, you wouldn’t realize you were in middle of one one the largest cities in the world. It’s pretty obvious why the USGA wanted to host the tournament at this venue. It’s a great course with convenient access to all the amenities necessary to put on a great event.

The pros of volunteering

Hole 8 sign for the US Open at Los Angeles Country Club

If you want or are planning to attend the US Open, volunteering is the best way to do it. It will cost you some time, and some money for the gear, but it will be less than what you would pay for tickets to attend the event. Plus, parking and meals are provided while volunteering. and you have access to the volunteer headquarters, which is a great place to sit, watch the tournament, and enjoy a few light snacks. On the three days I volunteered, I took time both before and after my shift to explore the grounds and watch the tournament, which is no different than what I would have done had I bought a ticket.

If you’re fortunate enough to get an on-course volunteer role, which I had, you get the added benefit of seeing the golfers up close from inside the ropes. It makes for an amazing experience if you are a fan of the game. You get to overhear player-caddie conversations, watch the pros go through their setup and pre-shot routines, and become an active participant in the tournament. In my case, it also comes with the expected glitches, gaffes, and drama. During the three days I volunteered, I had a couple of disagreements with the captain assigned to my hole, got yelled at by a couple of the pros, and was called upon to assist with a couple of rulings. It certainly made for an interesting (and entertaining) experience that I’ll remember for a long time.

Recommendations and suggestions

While my volunteer experience was generally positive, and something I would consider doing again, there were some things that could have been handled better. I’m well aware that this was the USGA’s first time hosting an event of this magnitude at this particular venue, so I expected there would be a few hiccups. Consider these thoughts improvements that could improve things for the return to LACC in 2039.

Volunteer parking would be the biggest area of improvement. Yes, the parking was free, but it was a little over 2 miles from the site. It was too far to walk, so it required riding the provided buses. In the early morning, it wasn’t a problem. The trip took about 10 minutes. During the middle of the day, that same trip took closer to 45 minutes due to general traffic conditions and congestion. It was so bad that some volunteers chose to rideshare to the tournament, or even walk if they lived close enough. Paid parking was available closer, which some volunteers paid for out of pocket. Given the way the USGA says they appreciate the efforts of the volunteers, I feel they fell short here. Improving the volunteer parking situation would go a long way to matching their words with their actions.

As an on-course volunteer, there was an emphasis on providing volunteers with a well-rounded experience and exposing them to many different responsibilities, which I appreciate. However, that goal should not come at the expense of putting on a quality championship. I witnessed numerous instances where people were placed in roles that they were not capable of executing, or at least executing well. Hole and area captains, which are also volunteers, need to be more aware of matching people’s capabilities with their assigned roles. From what I saw, this would be best accomplished by breaking large teams into smaller groups, and letting those groups manage and assign roles and responsibilities themselves rather than managing things in a top-down, authoritarian manner.

Finally, volunteers assigned to oversight roles need to listen to input and feedback from the “feet on the ground.” On more than one occasion, people performing the roles made decisions to improve overall safety, the playing conditions, or the fan experience which were overturned by people in charge with limited or no knowledge of the role. The decisions were overruled because of guidelines set before the tournament started. These guidelines need to be open to adjustment based on the first-hand experiences of the volunteers who are doing the work. Plans are great, but they need to be flexible given changing conditions on the ground, especially when it’s the first time at a venue.

What’s next?

Over the past year, I volunteered at an LPGA event, a PGA tournament, and the US Open, which was the pinnacle of my volunteer experience. There’s nothing like seeing the best golfers from all over world competing at a major. The golfers. The crowd. The electric atmosphere. A major has it all.

The PGA event, on the other hand, was the best organized of the three events. I volunteered for the Genesis Invitational, which the PGA has held at The Riviera Country Club for years, and it showed. They had everything dialed in and have streamlined the volunteer experience.

But I had the most fun at the LPGA event. It has a tournament atmosphere, but it is way more relaxed. The crowds are smaller and more manageable. The players are more engaging and interactive. Plus, it’s easier to relate to their game. Their swings are so smooth, with great tempo, timing and body rotation. It’s a joy to watch.

So will I volunteer at a professional golf tournament again? Probably. While I thoroughly enjoyed each of my experiences this past year, I’m going to take a pause. Volunteering may not be in my immediate future, but I’m sure I will do it again when the time and opportunity is right.

The clubhouse at Los Angeles Country Club

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *