BENTON HARBOR — It will take about 200 people doing about 400 shifts to host the Western Amateur Championship next week at Point O’Woods Golf and Country Club, organizers say.
“We want to have a high-caliber golf tournament,” said Elizabeth Geldhof, volunteer chairperson for the championship. “We are pacing ourselves with what the WGA (Western Golf Association) has spec’d out for us. So we’re trying to fill all those position, and on top of that have staff for off-course things like transportation, parking and the club house.”
While the event officially starts Monday for the public, volunteers have to be on hand starting Sunday.
The tournament returns to the Point after an 11-year absence. Prior to that Point O’Woods hosted the Western Am from 1971 to 2008.
Geldhof said it’s been difficult to recruit people for positions on the course because those volunteers need to know golf.
“For example volunteers that keep track of the pace of play need to know golf so you’re efficient and not in the players’ or the rule officials’ way,” she said. “There’s a duty that has to be done while you’re being secretive about it.”
Bruce Pfaff, tournament chairman, said the volunteers also have to be able to do this all electronically through smart phones.
“It’s reported back so if there is a problem the officials can deal with it,” he said. “The Western Golf Association takes pace of play seriously, so there is a check point every four holes.”
Geldhof said while finding volunteers with a certain skill level has been difficult, they’ve been able to utilize high school and college golf teams, the other golf clubs in the area and people who’ve volunteered for the Senior PGA events.
“We’re pulling from any golf experience around,” she said. “But it’s been a challenge. People are really busy and their kids are out of school.”
Pfaff said volunteering for even just one shift is a great way to meet the players. But there are also opportunities to house players for the week.
“The field is 156 players from about 20 countries,” he said. “Roughly half the field will stay with locals, generally members, and some will prefer to stay in a hotel. When you host a player you agree to pick them up from a local airport and drop them off at the airport, get them to golf course in the morning and pick them up from the golf course at night.”
Other volunteer opportunities include ball spotters for long holes to keep track of where the ball goes, shuttles to the center of the golf course and scorers.
“It’s not rocket science. It just requires people who are welcoming the public and players into the club and making it a great event for Southwest Michigan,” Pfaff said.
Geldhof said as of Tuesday they’re still looking to fill about 88 volunteer shifts, but have back-up plans if not all are filled.
“If we don’t fill them we can definitely put on a great tournament,” she said. “We’ll do things slightly differently. To make it go perfectly, we’d love to have anyone that’s a golf enthusiast to join us for a shift or two. If people don’t want to volunteer, it’s free for the public to come out and watch. It’s a great place to people watch.”
Pfaff said he’s taking five shifts himself.
“If I can find time to volunteer, why can’t anyone else? It’s a great way to see the action,” he said.
He said the best way to volunteer is to go to thewesternamateur.com and click on “Volunteer Info.”
“All volunteers get a delightful golf shirt and hat, and will be graciously thanked for helping with our tournament,” Pfaff said. “We’re so glad it’s coming back to Point O’Woods.”
Additional tournament-related stories will be published in Sunday’s Herald-Palladium.
Contact: anewman@TheHP.com, 932-0357, Twitter: @HPANewman