Among the many ways the U.S. Open brings host communities together each year is through the volunteers, whose involvement is integral to the USGA’s efforts to conduct one of the world’s largest sporting events. This year, volunteer applications for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay filled up in just 36 hours, displaying the incredible enthusiasm for the first U.S. Open in the Pacific Northwest.
The final tally yielded 5,254 volunteers (4,332 of whom are from Washington State). They come from 46 states and 10 countries, from all walks of life; they play hooky, use vacation time, and forego rounds of golf and family dinners to serve on 26 committees for the game they love. Many of them are USGA Members.
But there is a special, not-at-all-secret subset of volunteers, USGA Members who have made themselves invaluable, traveling to the U.S. Open each year to transport players, compute scores, stock shelves in the merchandise tent and do whatever they’re asked to make the show go smoothly. Here are a few of their stories….
Alan Nakamura, Torrance, Calif.
Nakamura, a USGA Member since 1995, has been a marshal, a standard bearer and a field scorer since he began volunteering the U.S. Open in 2008. An engineer for Boeing, he figured that he would focus on championships near his southern California home.
“In 2008, I was in the merchandise tent. I had finished my four shifts and I was free for Sunday. So I got there super early. I eventually scrambled to 18 and got to be behind the hole to watch Tiger make his last putt to tie Rocco Mediate. In 2012, I got to be a walking scorer for Justin Rose.”
But before he knew it, he was asked to help out again, so he made the trips to Merion in 2013 and Pinehurst in 2014.
“At Pinehurst, I stayed to work both championships,” Nakamura said. “Back in California, I had met Andrea Lee at a charity event and talked to her about Stanford, which is my alma mater. When I was in Pinehurst, her family sent me a message that they would like me to come out with them, inside the ropes, for a practice round before the U.S. Women’s Open. I didn’t think I should intrude on their time, but they insisted. So we went out and her father was going to caddie, but he didn’t feel well. I said I would do it. Then Michelle Wie showed up to play with Andrea and I got to be part of that. It was a special day I will never forget."
Nakamura said he is honored to be part of the volunteer fraternity. “The USGA is so good to us. Working the U.S. Open is the highlight of my year.”
James and Lynn Cobb, Gainesville, Fla.
James never says “I.” When the retired U.S. Army colonel discusses anything, it’s with a “we did this” and “we go here.” The six-handicapper also is attending the Golf Academy of America to earn his credentials to create a program to help disadvantaged children learn to play golf.
“When we were stationed at Ft. Ord, we got to work as marshals for the old Crosby Clambake before it became the AT&T Invitational. That got us started working tournaments. We have been USGA Members for a long time and have been volunteers for the last 10 years.”
“We did player transportation a lot,” Lynn said. “We were driving at the U.S. Open in Pebble Beach when Tiger won in 2000,” James said. “I was next in line but I was driving a black car. Steve Williams, who was caddieing for him then, said, “’Tiger only wants to drive in a red car,’ so a young kid got to drive him around.”
The Cobbs often take a full month for their U.S. Open adventures, driving their camper and stopping to explore new places and play lots of golf.
“We have met so many interesting people along the way,” Lynn said. “We can’t imagine not doing this every year.”
James said he enjoys working the cash register in the tent. “The golf is always on; I get to chat with people in the air conditioning.”
Despite spending at least four shifts each week in the merchandise tent during championship week, which ends on Father’s Day,” Lynn says she always has one gift-giving tip for their children. “The best gift you can give your father is playing a round of golf with him.”
Bob and Noreen Bagnasco, Bethpage, N.Y.
The Bagasgos are water-skiers; Bob is a competitive trick skier who was a national finalist in 1967. They don’t play golf. “When it was spring and summer, I was on the water-ski circuit,” said the former draftsman. “So I didn’t play. It looks like too much agitation anyway…” he said.
“But we love to watch it,” added Noreen, a former corporate executive. The couple lives a few miles from Bethpage State Park, where they first attended the 2002 U.S. Open. They joined immediately and have worked the merchandise tent cash register together ever since.
“We love everything about it,” Noreen said. “We talk to people we’ve met over the years, especially Phil Mickelson’s parents. His dad, Phil Sr., has a company called Sportscope for golf periscopes. He sells them in the tent and we talk every year. “The players and their families are so nice, we’ve made great friendships.”
“We are rooting for Phil,” Bob said. “He was playing a practice round at Bethpage once and we were in the parking lot. He was driving his own car and drove up to us, rolled his window down and said, ‘Hi, thanks so much for coming out.’ This kind of stuff doesn’t happen anywhere but in golf.”
He already is planning next year’s trip to Oakmont. We love to explore, see the sights in new places. It’s been great to be a part of.”
The Minnesota 10
The Mt. Rushmore of the media room support staff, these men comprise a 14-man crew. They started as golf buddies who all were USGA Members before they outgrew their name.
“Yeah, we are just like the Big 10,” says ringleader Bruce Bahneman, a real-estate developer who first volunteered for the 1991 U.S. Open at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn. “I was out of place,” he said, “so I thought I would enlist some other guys when I was asked to get a team to help at Pebble Beach. “We showed up on time, did what we said. There was no internet, so scoring was done by hand. It was a blast.”
Twenty-five years later, the “Minnesota 10” has generated plenty of good-natured mayhem in the name of maintaining smooth sailing for the Open. Seems there is the time that the furniture for the dais in the interview room never arrived. Our enterprising “10” procured some pieces from the Holiday Inn in Tulsa to make sure interviews would not have to be staged standing up.
“We had every intention of returning it,” said Pat Logan, who is retired after 25 years in the military and 22 as a Bayport, Minn. police officer.
“Our first time at Shinnecock, we kept getting a phone call from Australia about every 10 minutes,” Bob Seeger said. “The guy asked how Ernie was doing every time. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore, so I said, ‘Listen, why do you keep calling? Isn’t this getting expensive?” Then he explains to me that the broadcast down there was on delay and he was betting his mates what would happen next. ‘I am doing quite nicely, thank you,’ he said!”
Darrol Mason starts laughing and said, “Remember the guy who called from Fiji to see how Vijay Singh was doing? He said, ‘You know it’s already tomorrow down here.’ So I said, ‘Well, who won?”
They would love to share more stories, but have to get down to work. They are serious about their duties as they are about having fun doing them. “We have a simple job,” Bahneman said. “We want to be the best media-center experience in the majors. We need to make it easy for the USGA staff to do their jobs and easy for the media to do theirs.”
Maarten J. and Gerrie Eva Van Kooten Mol, Klimmen, the Netherlands
Maarten and Gerrie started playing golf after a holiday in Ireland. “We stumbled on the Irish Open. It was so cozy and the friends we were with took it, so we did too,” Gerrie said. “Golf at home was kind of posh and snobby, but we liked it a lot,” she said.
Fast forward 25 year later and Maarten joined the USGA when, as chairman of the green committee at Wittem Country Club, needed more information about keeping their course healthy. “When we started, there were only 10,000 golfers at home. Now we have about 275,000,” the retired pharmacist said. “We play about three times a week.”
They first came to an Open in 2004. “We rented an RV for Shinnecock Hills, but didn’t realize we couldn’t stay on the grounds,” Gerrie said. “We didn’t realize we couldn’t just park on the streets. Still, we had fun and wanted to be part of it.”
They have been working U.S. Opens since 2006, and have done everything from checking fans’ bags to marshalling and working the scoreboards.
“Once time, I was working in the Champions Pavilion, when a man tried to get in. He didn’t have credentials so I told him I couldn’t let him in. He was very nice about it. I eventually found out it was Mr. Fred Funk! I felt so bad,” she said.
Maarten said they are look forward to every year and plan out their vacations. “We went across Canada and saw my sister this year. We drove across Route 66 one year, which was exciting. It will be great to see Pittsburgh next year too.”
For those Brendan de Jonge fans, the Mols know the family. “Here, let me write his real last name in your pad, Gerrie says. “It’s Brendan de Jonge van Campens Nieuwland.”
Claudio Pecanha, Rio de Janiero, Brazil
Pecanha, the retired financial director of Confederacão Brasilera de Golfe, and says he tries to learn something each year that he can take back to Brazil with him.
“It’s like the USGA of Brazil,” he said. “I work as a Rules official at home. I joined the USGA in 2001 and I have been volunteering since I came to America to see the U.S. Open in 2004. I kept trying to volunteer and got picked in 2009 at Bethpage. I do anything, whatever they ask. I am in awe of the volunteers here. I am in charge of the volunteer committee for the Olympics next year in Rio, but we don’t get support like this. It upsets me because we need people to participate, to create the mentality to grow the game in our country.”
Pecahna said he looks forward to every facet of his volunteer work and was thrilled to do it in Pinehurst. “I did both weeks in Pinehurst last year and played a lot of golf. I come every year with my wife, Teka, and we make a vacation. We took a cruise from Seattle to Alaska before the U.S. Open and will visit Seattle when it’s over.”
David Chmiel is manager of Members content for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com