Highlights of the BMW Championship

Is there anything that could possibly upstage the opening weekend of the NFL? Well, being within arm’s reach of Tiger Woods is a start.

I just got back from my weekend working the 2012 BMW Championship at Crooked Stick Golf Club. I signed up to volunteer for the event over two years ago, so it’s something I’ve been looking forward to for a while. There ended up being a huge waiting list to work the event, so I’m glad I jumped at the opportunity when I did.

I had trouble getting anyone else to sign up with me, because a) the event was so far off, and b) you had to pay to volunteer ($135). This may sound steep, but when you consider that a day pass was $75 and a week pass was $195, it’s actually a steal. All volunteers get:

  • A logo’d windbreaker (seriously high quality, with a $145 price tag)
  • Two logo’d dri-fit golf polos ($68 price tag on each)
  • Hat
  • Water bottle
  • Entry to the grounds the entire week of the tournament, even when you aren’t working
  • Preferred parking with separate volunteer shuttle access (which was huge once it started getting crowded)
  • Free food and drinks
  • Unique chance to get closer to the players than you would as a spectator

Once my volunteer application was accepted, we were given a chance to pick our top three areas that we’d like to work. There were a lot of options, with anything from concessions to driving high-rollers/execs to and from hotels the airport in BMWs. I wanted to work an area that would get me on the course and as close to the players as possible, so I chose the Marshal position. Marshals are responsible for keeping the crowd under control, spotting balls, etc. Marshals are stationed on the tee box, along the fairway, and near the green. I was assigned to hole 7, a 454-yard par 4.

My shift on Saturday was on the green, which was OK. The downside was that I was pretty far away from the players. I couldn’t hear much chatter between the players and their caddies, and my spot wasn’t much better than what the gallery had. I had heard talk that the 7th tee was the best spot to work because you had a nice view of the par 3 6th green, and the 7th tee box was tucked back in a wooded area so it was pretty much just you and the players. I arrived to the course extra early on Sunday to make sure I got that spot. Fortunately, I got it. Here was my view from the 7th tee:

My job as a Marshal on the tee was simple. I had a bright yellow paddle, so as each pairing approached the tee box, I would wave the paddle to signal the fairway Marshal that balls were about to be flying. He would signal back that the fairway was clear, giving the players the green light to swing away. Once the ball was struck, I would then use the paddle to signal whether drive was heading straight, left, or right.

The leader board heading into the final round of the BMW Championship was unbelievable. The only players that I cared to see who had already passed through hole 7 before my shift started were Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler. Some of the notables that would be passing through hole 7 during my shift: Luke Donald, Steve Stricker, Charl Schwartzel, Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Graeme McDowell, Bo Van Pelt, Dustin Johnson, Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, and Vijay Singh. Wow!

I watched each pair tee off on the par 3 6th, sink their puts, then I’d jog up to the 7th tee and watch the players approach the box. It was interesting to see each players’ demeanor as they approached the tee box (often dictated by their performance on the 6th). Most were all business. Some strategized with their caddies. Since each pairing was a separate storyline of sorts, I’ll just list some of the highlights:

  • After teeing off on 7, Luke Donald took a Ziplock out of his bag and pulled out a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I’m sure plenty of players carry food with them, but this is something I had never seen on TV before, so it struck me as being pretty funny. Did someone make it for him? Did he make it in his hotel room? If so, does he bring peanut butter, jelly, and bread with him to tournaments? All questions I wish I had answers to. One of the best golfers in the world isn’t too good for a PB&J.
  • Tiger bogeyed the 6th, so he was extremely unhappy as he approached the 7th tee.  He took the head cover off of his driver and slammed it down on his bag. I didn’t hear any swearing, but he was hot. Dustin Johnson was first on the tee, so when Tiger was off to the side doing a practice swing, the head of his driver came within about 3 feet of my chest. I was watching him the whole time so I saw it coming, but it was closer than I thought it would be. Definitely a unique perspective that I’ll never forget.
  • Before Graeme McDowell teed off, his caddy turned to one of the other Marshals and asked him if he had any gum. He was disappointed to hear that he did not.
  • I watched 34 players tee off on 7. The only player out of that entire group that acknowledged the gallery whatsoever was Phil Mickelson. He had quite a following being in the final pairing with Vijay Singh, so when the crowd started cheering his name as he approached the box, he tipped his cap several times and smiled. That was cool to see. This isn’t to say that the other players were rude by any means. Most were just very focused and had their head down most of the time. Which is fine. Everyone approaches the game differently. But I was impressed by Phil.
  • By far the highlight of the day was a funny little encounter I had with Adam Scott. By the time Scott’s pairing made its way to 7, I had a nice system going with the fairway Marshal. Once both players were on the box, I’d raise my paddle to see if the fairway was clear, and he’d immediately wave his flag back to indicate that all was clear. However, when Scott was lining up his shot, the fairway Marshal never waved back at me. I wasn’t sure what he was doing. Then, the fairway Marshal started waving his hands around like a maniac. We were all puzzled. Adam Scott looks back at me and goes, “What does that mean?” Instantly, I felt this hot sweat come over my body, as both players, their caddies, and every person in the gallery were looking at me and awaiting an answer. I replied, “I think that means to hold on.” Scott seemed to agree, so we waited another 30 seconds or so. The guy was still waving his arms around, then suddenly walked off the fairway. Even more confused now, Scott’s caddy Steve Williams turns to me and says, “I think we’re probably good.” As if anything I would say next would hold any weight whatsoever, I agreed and said, “Yes, we’re clear.” Adam then stepped up to the tee and crushed his drive, so all was well. I was seriously relieved.

Working the BMW Championship was a unique sports experience that I’ll never forget. It really is the best way to see a golf tournament. Pay a little more than a spectator, get all-access to the course for the entire week, and get up close and personal with the greatest players in the world. This experience definitely ranks toward the top of any sporting event I’ve ever been to.

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