- Associated Press - Monday, May 25, 2015

SEATTLE (AP) - She’s never done anything like this before, but Nancy Gibson is getting ready to be a marshal. Not with a tin star and a six-shooter, but with a name badge, meal ticket and maybe a couple of big yellow paddles.

“When you have something like this in your backyard, why would you not want to be part of it?” asked Gibson, of Federal Way. “It’s an honor to get to do it, but it’s a commitment, too.”

Gibson, 66, is one of the 5,000-plus volunteers who’ll work at next month’s U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in Pierce County, the first ever held in the Northwest. Thousands have attended training sessions at Tacoma’s Mount Tahoma High School.

“The two most frequent questions you’ll be asked is where is Tiger Woods and where are the restrooms,” John Coppins, a U.S. Golf Association volunteer coordinator, told would-be marshals, one of the major volunteer groups at a recent training.

Coppins urged them to “be courteous until it hurts,” and give commands such as “Quiet, please” and “Walk, please” firmly and loudly, but politely.

Eric Steimer, the championship’s assistant manager, said that when volunteer registration opened early last year, it look only 36 hours to generate 5,000 applicants online.

“That’s truly unprecedented,” he said, adding that it usually takes a month or two to generate a pool of applicants.

Volunteers will be coming from 45 states and 10 countries. About 80 percent are Washington residents.

“We totally could not conduct this championship without you guys,” Steimer told the volunteers gathered for 90-minute training sessions.

The volunteers’ commitment is particularly impressive considering that not only are they unpaid, they each had to pay the USGA $165. That covers two uniform shirts, a windbreaker, hat, water bottle, a meal during each shift and shuttle transportation.

Volunteers also are allowed as spectators on the course for free when they’re not working their assigned shifts, which typically run five to six hours on four days during the tournament week.

Across the Chambers Bay layout, volunteers’ tasks will run the gamut. They’ll scan tickets. They’ll sell merchandise. They’ll deliver water bottles to tees, help find errant shots in long grass, remind fans to keep their cellphones silenced, and more.

The competition runs June 18 to 21, but volunteers also will work during three practice days leading up to the event. Some volunteers will be working as early as June 11, when the public is allowed to visit the merchandise tent before tournament week.

The two largest groups of volunteers are the marshals, who staff the line between spectators and players, and the merchandise-tent workers. Each of those groups accounts for about 1,500 volunteers.

Most of the hole marshals are members of area golf clubs, and they’ll be grouped with members of their home clubs, working alongside people they know.

Gibson, a longtime member of Twin Lakes Golf & Country Club in Federal Way, will be a marshal along the 11th hole, along with dozens of other members of her club.

The only drawback she sees is that she’d love to see the game’s top golfers in action. When a player is swinging, marshals face the gallery with their arms raised, signaling fans to be quiet.

“But I’m sure it will still be fun,” she said.

Marshals will be stationed near each tee, along the fairways and near the greens. Each hole will have a captain, who’ll move the volunteers from spot to spot at a given hole through the day, to lessen the tedium.

Yellow paddles will be held by marshals standing behind each tee box. When a player hits his tee shot, the marshal will move the paddles to the left, right or straight up and down, signaling marshals along the fairway where to look for the ball.

In helping track down wayward shots, they were advised to walk cautiously and wear sturdy footwear over Chambers Bay’s rugged mounds and ridges.

Steimer told the marshals they are “the eyes and ears of the championship, but not the security.” They were urged to politely inform someone about violating the on-course rules, but to call for help in the case of any fan who is confrontational.

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office will be the lead public-safety agency, with assistance from officers from other jurisdictions.

Volunteers get a ticket for lunch at a concession stand for each shift they work, and also can get a light breakfast and beverages at the volunteer-hospitality tent, and something that might be nice after a shift of raising arms in the air - a brief massage.

Vinnie Sposari, 51, of West Seattle, is the hole captain for the ninth hole, where he’ll be stationed with other members of Rainier Golf & Country Club. Of the 45 volunteers assigned to that hole, a dozen will be on shift at any given time.

Sposari, who has played golf since high school, has served as a marshal at a couple of high-profile events, including the 1998 PGA Championship at Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish.

“I’m a golf junkie,” he said. “Just being around it is great. To be out there, close to the players. It’s exciting.”

The biggest challenge? “I’m not going to lie to you,” he said. “We’re hoping for good weather. If it turns out to be super hot or super rainy, that can be pretty tough on the volunteers out there all day.”

Karrie Polinsky, 40, of Gig Harbor, will be working in the merchandise tent, which she feels is a good fit with her job as manager of a women’s boutique.

Years ago she often played golf with her grandfather, but cut back after his death. Now she’s gradually getting back into the game.

At the U.S. Open, she said, “I know how hard it can be to plan events, and this is huge,” she said. “I just want to do a good job and be part of the team.”


Information from: The Seattle Times, https://www.seattletimes.com

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