Volunteers vital part of U.S. Senior Open

Volunteers Don Gustin, left, and Bob McMichael, center, watch players standing in the shade during the practice rounds of the U.S. Senior Open at the Del Paso Country Club Tuesday on June 23, 2015 in Sacramento.
Volunteers Don Gustin, left, and Bob McMichael, center, watch players standing in the shade during the practice rounds of the U.S. Senior Open at the Del Paso Country Club Tuesday on June 23, 2015 in Sacramento.

Of the 125,000 fans expected this week at the U.S. Senior Open, not one will pay their way into Del Paso Country Club to see a volunteer in action.

But without the estimated 2,600 people who come from across the country to donate their time to attend to every detail you can and can’t imagine in 35 volunteer categories, there wouldn’t be a championship. It just wouldn’t be doable.

All the volunteers are wearing a purple shirt and a smile on their face. That’s the baseline this week.

“It’s a real honor,” said Challis Brennan, a marshal at the ninth green Tuesday.

Brennan is a hole captain, more accurately, and as such is responsible for all the marshals on the ninth hole and orderly conduct for the benefit of this week’s 156 players.

Thirteen holes are being specifically manned by an area club. All the marshals on the par-4 ninth are from North Ridge Country Club. Granite Bay (first), Heritage Park HOA (second), Rancho Murieta (third), Valley Hi (seventh), Cameron Park (10th), Ancil Hoffman (11th), The Ridge (12th), Haggin Oaks Niners (14th), Sierra View (15th), Sacramento EWGA (16th), Serrano (17th) and Del Paso (18th) are also under one-club control.

“Our club really embraced this thing,” said Dan Hernandez, Sierra View’s hole captain. And took the job seriously. “We have experienced guys, guys who played college golf.”

Marshals are the most plentiful and prominent volunteer group, accounting for about 800.

Grounds crew volunteers account for only 85, but nobody will work harder or in such split shifts.

Each of their days go like this: at Del Paso by 3:30 each morning for their first four-hour shift, then back at either 3:30 in the afternoon (practice days) or 7:30 in the evening (championship days) for another four hours.

Mike Greene, 27, is from Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio, the site of next year’s Senior Open, and Victor Faconti, 25, is from Shelter Harbor Golf Club in Charlestown, R.I. Both opted to spend 16 consecutive hours at Del Paso on Tuesday. It’s the sixth such volunteer foray for both, who say their clubs embrace the benefits of their gaining championship knowledge and exposure.

Greene, the second assistant superintendent at Scioto, is mowing fairways. Faconti, the senior assistant at Shelter Harbor, is cutting cups on the back nine.

The 35-strong out-of-town grounds crew gang (the remaining 50 are from Sacramento-area courses, including about a dozen superintendents) got its first “look” at Del Paso on Monday at 3:30 a.m. in the pitch black.

“I couldn’t have gotten from the putting green to the 10th tee that first morning,” Faconti said.

Hence the repetition in job assignments.

“When they find your niche, that’s what you’re going to do,” Greene said.

The benefit to Del Paso superintendent Mark McKinney is that he can trust every job is going to get done right with experienced leaders from other courses at his disposal.

It’s a valued tradition that grounds crew volunteers get a group picture with the winner on the 18th green Sunday evening.

Just like the players, the volunteers use the first three days of the week to get familiar with their surroundings and iron out any kinks before things get serious Thursday.

The attitudes of the volunteers go a long way toward shaping the experience of the spectators, the people in purple have been told. So whatever questions fans might have about food options, restroom locations or the shortest route to their hospitality tent, they can expect a helpful answer.

“When we are in uniform, we are on duty,” Brennan said. “Be polite, smile, tell people what they want to know.”

Steve Pajak: (916) 326-5526.

U.S. Senior Open schedule

  • Today: Practice rounds
  • Thursday-Friday: First and second rounds, tee times 7 a.m to 3 p.m. (gates open at 6:30 a.m.)
  • Saturday: Third round
  • Sunday: Fourth round
  • TV: Thursday-Friday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., FS1; Saturday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Ch. 40
  • Parking/shuttle: Free general parking at Cal Expo, shuttle to course
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