They were the unsung heroes, the tireless and often under-appreciated workers—and without them the U.S. Women’s Open would not have happened.
More than 2,000 people, men and women of all ages and from all areas of the country, made up the volunteer staff at this year’s tournament at Sebonack, fulfilling a wide range of duties, from updating the leaderboard to marshaling holes to keeping spectators quiet, orderly and outside the ropes.
The volunteers completed a variety of tasks each day, starting as early as 5:30 a.m., with some not leaving the course until after 9 p.m. Many worked double or even triple shifts when called upon. During their breaks, they congregated at the massive volunteer headquarters tent, to get food, water or simply some time away in the air conditioning and away from the heat.
Many were local residents with a passion for the game—but others came from other states and even from across the country, some using vacation time to do their part to make the tournament a success.
Southampton residents Susan Hobbs and Sally Scranton were in charge of volunteer headquarters, and took time out last Friday afternoon to speak about the massive undertaking of coordinating and organizing the large group of volunteers. They both agreed that the dedication of the volunteers, as a whole, was remarkable, and that they deserved credit they don’t often receive for their tireless work out on the course.
They told a story about one volunteer, whom they declined to name, who asked them for a new ID badge on Tuesday. Her original badge had been damaged when she was in a car accident while leaving the course on Monday—she passed out while behind the wheel due to dehydration. Her airbags deployed and damaged the badge she was still wearing. Despite that, she still came to work the next day, without complaint—and with a new badge.
Ms. Hobbs and Ms. Scranton appreciated the level of dedication and passion that the volunteers brought to Sebonack every day, and tried to make volunteer headquarters tent a sanctuary for them, a place where they could recharge and refuel before heading back out onto the course. They arranged to have bouquets of large white orchids on each table in the headquarters and added other touches to make the headquarters feel like home.
“The volunteers really make this whole event work,” Ms. Hobbs said last week. “We just try to create an environment where they feel like they have a home base. They’re an amazing group of people and are willing to do whatever you ask of them.”
Ms. Hobbs and Ms. Scranton, like the vast majority of the volunteers, are avid golfers and avid fans of the game. Both are members at the Southampton Golf Club, and each also has served as president of the Southampton Golf Club’s Women’s Golf Association in the past. The fact that Sebonack is hosting a women’s event was particularly appealing to them.
“We just wanted to support women’s golf,” Ms. Scranton said.
“We felt that the fact that [the Women’s Open] was coming to eastern Long Island was such a significant event,” Ms. Hobbs added. “We want to help do everything we can to make the event a success.”
Ms. Hobbs and Ms. Scranton were part of a very large group of volunteers who are members at nearby Southampton Golf Club. More than 50 club members were in charge of marshaling the first hole earlier this week, and Ms. Hobbs and Ms. Scranton said they did their best to convince many members from the club to volunteer for the Open.
George Simonson, a former member at Southampton, might be the poster person for golf tournament volunteers. The longtime Sag Harbor resident recently moved to Columbia, South Carolina, where he now enjoys his retirement, but he has made a second career out of volunteering at major golf tournaments. Although this is Mr. Simonson’s first women’s event, he has volunteered at the Masters 23 times and has also been a volunteer at six U.S. Opens, including those held at Shinnecock in 1986, 1995 and 2004. Mr. Simonson is the first person who has volunteered at every men’s major tournament—the Masters, the PGA, the Open and the British Open.
Because of his experience, Mr. Simonson has the important task of being in charge of the scoreboards and through boards, a task he performs at most major tournaments. In comparing the various majors he’s been a part of, Mr. Simonson rated the Masters in a league of its own in terms of the atmosphere, organization and level of seriousness the volunteers bring to their job. “You have to know somebody” to get a spot as a volunteer at Augusta in the first place, he said, adding that he doesn’t plan to break his streak at the Masters anytime soon either.
“I will go to the Masters until I die or they put me out,” he said with a laugh.
Mr. Simonson said that the experience of volunteering at a women’s event is more low key, due largely to the fact that there are less spectators at the U.S. Women’s Open than there are at men’s events. But he said he’s enjoying himself just as much and hopes to see some of the top American players in the mix on Sunday afternoon.
Whether it’s the Masters, a U.S. Women’s Open or a trip overseas to the British Open, Mr. Simonson said he has enjoyed all his experiences volunteering at major golf tournaments, and views it as a chance to honor the game that has been a part of his life since he was a child.
“Most people volunteer because they’re in love with the game, and really just want to be a part of it,” he said. “I want to give something back to the game that has given me so much. I’ve used it in business and I’ve used it socially, so it’s the least I can do.”
For their part, Ms. Hobbs and Ms. Scranton simply couldn’t say enough good things about all the volunteers, from those as experienced as Mr. Simonson to those who are trying their hand at it for the first time. They pointed out that most of them are not young, but that their love of the game had led them to battle the heat and humidity, as well as long walks over often unforgiving terrain.
“They’ve really been tested, both physically and mentally,” Ms. Scranton said, with Ms. Hobbs quickly adding, “And they’ve met the challenge.”
“At all these events, you have multiple layers, from the players to corporate groups entertaining their clients,” Ms. Hobbs said. “The volunteers are often overlooked.
“But for us,” she added, “they’re the movie stars.”