An Enlistee at Shinnecock Hills

Shinnecock Hills is playing host to its fifth U.S. Open
Some of the accouterments of a U.S. Open volunteer are displayed above. Jon M. Diat

In a month, the sports world will be fixated on the 118th U.S. Golf Open, set to be played at the iconic Shinnecock Hills Golf Club during the week of June 11 through 17. One of the five founding member clubs of the United States Golf Association, Shinnecock Hills is playing host to its fifth U.S. Open.

As more than 9,000 hopefuls began vying this week in qualifying events for 90 berths in the Open’s 156-player field — one such was held at the Southampton Golf Club on Monday — the U.S.G.A. has also begun training the 4,500-plus volunteers who will staff the main event, including yours truly. 

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever possess the skill set to even think about entering the U.S. Open, though as a volunteer, and by walking among some of the greats of the game today, I ought to get a sense of what it might be like.

Selected to join the Leader Boards Committee a few months ago, I and about 50 others assigned to the same group underwent a training session on Saturday afternoon in what used to be Southampton College’s student union cafeteria. The campus, off Route 27, lies directly opposite the golf course. 

Leaderboard volunteers will be assigned to a specific hole, where the names of those who are playing it at the moment will be posted, along with their scores, on magnetic scoreboards staffed by two volunteers. A larger top-10 leaderboard will be manned by five people.

“Holding and setting up everything for the U.S. Open is a massive undertaking that takes several years,” said Jack Curtin, chairman of the 2018 U.S. Open championship, as he addressed our group. “We’ve had staff on the ground for more than 18 months here in Southampton preparing for the event.”

But Curtin cited the dedication and support of volunteers as the key to making such an attention-getting tournament successful. “We have nearly 5,000 volunteers from 49 states and 16 countries committed for the week, which amounts to over 90,000 volunteer hours,” he said. 

“U.S. Open volunteers are the true backbone of any successful event, and we want everyone to have fun too.”

Over the next four weeks, the U.S.G.A. will hold 22 other training sessions for the various committees involved in all stages of operations, including hospitality, hole marshals, ball position, caddy services, grandstand marshals, disability services admissions, fan services, and course evacuation, to name a few. (My wife has been assigned to the corporate hospitality tents alongside the eighth hole.) Volunteers not close enough to Shinnecock to attend training sessions will get a brief tutorial on the first day of their respective assignments at the on-site volunteer center.

The length of volunteer shifts varies by committee, but usually they’re four-hour shifts over four days. Volunteers are allowed to attend all seven days of golf for free, and are provided with Ralph Lauren golf attire, including shirts, windbreaker, hat, and water bottle at nominal fees. Four lunch vouchers are also included for each day served.

“I’ve volunteered at 10 U.S. Opens in the past,” said Fred Legodias of Centerport. “For me, it’s like a vacation, and my wife usually also volunteers, but can’t this time. One time I was on leaderboards at the Open at Winged Foot in 2006, and had to be on the stand for 14 hours as we were short on volunteers one day. But I didn’t mind, I just love doing it.” Legodias is already signed up to be a volunteer at the U.S. Open to be held at Pebble Beach in California next June.

“I love golf and I’m honored to be part of the Open,” said Joe Raynor, chairman of the Leader Boards Committee, who is a resident of North Sea. “I’m very thankful for all of those who volunteer and thus help to make the game of golf great. Shinnecock is such a special venue too, as every first-timer, I’m sure, will agree.”

Having started playing golf at the age of 4 at the Sag Harbor Golf Course, with its oiled sand greens, being part of the spectacle at Shinnecock is bound to be very special. That said, I doubt Tiger Woods will have the time to give me a quick lesson to improve my handicap.