Bob Gillespie



Heritage volunteers have stories to tell

Posted 4/14/2012 3:27:00 PM

Ray Angell has a favorite story from his 26 years as a volunteer with the RBC Heritage, the last six as general volunteer chairman. It happened several years ago on either a Saturday or Sunday – the two busiest days of any tournament – as he sat in a golf cart next to the Harbour Town Golf Links clubhouse.

“Everything is totally jammed up,” he said, warming to his story, “and then I got a call on the radio saying (volunteers) had found a 12-year-old girl without her parents near the No. 2 tee.

“I asked on the radio, ‘What’s her name?’ and they told me. I said it aloud, and the little girl’s mother was standing next to my cart. She said, ‘I’ve been looking all over for her!’”

Not every episode at the RBC Heritage has been rectified that quickly, of course. Still, Angell and his colleagues take great pride in the job done each year by tournament volunteers. In total, they number 1,000 and work on more than a dozen different committees, handling everything from marshals – the ubiquitous men and women standing at each green, holding aloft “Quiet Please” paddles, and the largest contingent (385) – to the three-person crew working in player registration.

Without these dedicated souls – who pay $100 each for their uniforms (hat, shirt, windbreaker) and meal tickets/parking passes, plus the privilege of being affiliated with the tournament – the RBC Heritage could not run as smoothly as it does. Plus, fans would be deprived of such entertaining spectacles as the Rev. David Leininger.

A retired minister, Leininger – clad in a red jacket, plaid trousers and a wide-brimmed hat – works as an announcer at the 18th green, introducing each group of players as they arrive at the green. On Thursday, he announced Webb Simpson, “who went to Wake Forest and majored in religion. Of course, golf often drives people to religion,” he said, earning laughter from the gallery.

“I’m told,” Leininger said with a sly smile, “that one reason golf clubs like having ministers there is because it raises the level of language – at least, minimally.”

Another volunteer at the 18th green on Friday was Will Simmons, a 40-year-old from Atlanta who moved to Hilton Head to attend the Professional Golfers Career College near Bluffton. “I’m a freshman,” he said with a grin.

A former wine sales businessman, Simmons said he quit and moved to Hilton Head last December when “I decided to do something I was passionate about.” This is his first year as a volunteer, and he was collecting caddie bibs this day.

Those are just two of the many stories volunteers can tell. Angell, a retired vice president for a tubular products company in Beaver Falls, Pa., who moved here in 1981, has heard many of those stories. It’s his job to keep things humming in the process.

Among the groups of volunteers are transportation (for volunteers and for players, who are picked up at local airports and taken to their BMW courtesy cars), player family issues (which runs a day school for children ages 6 months-12 years), traffic management, couriers and caddie shuttles. Too, there are the announcers and starters who call out players’ names and backgrounds, and EMS workers mounted on bicycles and on call at all times.

Two groups work with “the technical part” of competition via the PGA Tour’s Shot Link system. The walking scorers record each hole’s results via hand-held computer, while others man lasers on par-4 and par-5 fairways (to record distances on shots) and at all greens (to read lengths on putts).

Finally, there are the hospitality ambassadors – those who work the sponsors’ skyboxes, supplying them with food, drink and more. Skyboxes are located at the 18th green and tee, and the greens at Nos. 10, 13, 15, 16 and 17.

Linking all the volunteers are Angell and his committee, easily identified by their ever-present walkie-talkies. “We tell everyone, our motto is: No one is out there by himself,” he said.

Not even the occasional lost child.