By Gail Wood
While they don’t have the star power of a Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els or Tiger Woods, the 5,100 volunteers play a quiet yet key role in the upcoming U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.. There would be no event without them.
“We look at them as the backbone of the championship,” said Eric Steimer, assistant manager of the 2015 U.S. Open.
Every volunteer commits to at least four shifts, each lasting five to six hours. And they’re required to buy the volunteer package for $165. So, this committed group of volunteers have to pay to volunteer. But that payment includes meals, two shirts and (this is the bonus) a pass to watch the tournament.
“I’d said it couldn’t be run as well as it needed to be without volunteers,” said Nate Colo, an assistant golf pro at Indian Summer Golf & Country Club in Olympia. “There’s so many people at an event like this so you need all hands on deck.”
Colo, along with his father, Jim, are two of the lucky ones who were chosen to be on the volunteer crew. Bob Zych, a member at Indian Summer, is also one of the lucky ones. Colo and his dad will be doing the cashiering work at the main merchandise pavilion at Chambers Bay. They’ll work four days, doing the evening shifts from 4:00 to 8:30 p.m. For Colo, a 2008 graduate from Shelton High School, this is the next best thing to golfing at the U.S. Open.
“Since I didn’t qualifying to play in the U.S. Open, I might as well participate where I can,” Colo said with a chuckle. “It’s a piece of history, so it’s nice to be able to say when this happened, I was there.”
Zych landed the best gig as a volunteer. Instead of being tucked away in a lunchroom, waiting room or clothing store, removed from the tournament play, he’s on the course during the competition, watching and being part of the TV broadcast. He’ll be one of the guys zeroing a laser on Tiger’s T-shot or Michelson’s approach shot, measuring how far their shot went and how far they’re from the hole.
“I’m the guy who points the equipment to the ball,” Zych said. “I stand at one of the holes for a four-hour shift.”
He uses a piece of equipment that’s like a laser devise and is mounted on a tripod.
“It’s a neat piece of equipment,” Zych said. “It’s got a split screen and half the screen gives you a picture of the whole hole and after the players hits you touch the screen approximately where the ball is.”
And then the second window zooms in on the ball and when Zych touches the ball in the second window it calculates the exact position. That info is passed on to the television announcers.
Zych is part of the 160 volunteers doing the ball sighting during the tournament. There’s at least one person stationed at each hole. On par-5 holes, there are three people – one at the T-box, one on the fairway and one on the green. On par 3s, there’s only one person.
Zych has already attended a classroom session to learn how to operate the equipment. On Monday during the first practice rounds, Zych was on the course training.
“We’ll be out there at our stations making sure we know how to work the equipment,” said Zych, who retired last year from working for the State of Washington.
Zych’s reason for volunteering to work the U.S. Open is simple.
“I’m doing it because I love the game of golf,” Zych said. “And I couldn’t be more excited about having a major golf tournament at a local golf course and at a golf course that I’m personally committed to.”
Last year, Zych worked at Chambers Bay and his son-in-law is the head golf pro there.
“I’ve got a personal interest in what goes on over at Chambers Bay,” Zych said.
While the Pacific Northwest isn’t traditionally rich in golfing history – this is the first major PGA event here – that doesn’t mean it isn’t crazy about golf. The sign-ups for volunteers at Chambers Bay for the U.S. Open broke a record for being the fastest.
“I think sometimes the beautiful Northwest, as some people like to call it, tends to get overlooked in the golfing aspect because we don’t have a full season of 80 degrees that are sunny all year around,” Colo said.
The historic U.S. Open is holding its 115th edition at a new public golf course – Chambers Bay opened eight years ago. A host of volunteers deserve some applause for helping to pull it off.
“It’s a fun opportunity,” Colo said. “I couldn’t pass it up.”