From The Inbox

Golf’s evolution, through eyes of a former PGA Tour volunteer

Tour profits from benevolence of its free labor, which boosts charitable contributions. But would it kill the minority of standoffish players to be a bit more like Arnie?

Volunteers do much of the heavy lifting at PGA Tour events ("This might be the best deal in golf," May 13).

How much charity giving by the organizers would be possible without free labor? My guess: very little.

Imagine if other sports had volunteers doing the otherwise paid jobs in the stadium and on the grounds. They would be super profitable. If they could cut the jobs, profit margins would soar.

Golf’s organizers tout their contributions to charities, but one must wonder how much the volunteers’ free labor contributes to the total.

Having volunteered at the Western Open, BMW and Ryder Cup in the Chicago area, I figure that upwards of 2,500 volunteers are needed. Many work seven days, and some fewer. These are 6-10-hour days.

Figure 2,500 volunteers working 30 hours a week at $10 per hour, and that’s $750,000 of free labor, not counting contributions for Social Security and other benefits that don’t have to be made.

In reality, the volunteers kick in money to offset their expenses. The food generally is far overpriced. Volunteers typically get a coupon for a sandwich and a drink, plus water on the course. In the morning, it’s doughnuts, coffee and juice in the volunteers’ area.

It's neither a great deal nor a bad deal.

Now in my 70s, I have volunteered for my last time. I'm not stopping because of costs, medical reasons or issues with players, fans or security. A volunteer should expect nothing, and anything received should be viewed as a bonus. Act with dignity and decorum, even if the crowd and players don't.

Most players are terrific. Only a few have their heads in the clouds, such as on a practice day when they're out with their buddies and a small child asks for an autograph. The players might give the standard, “I only sign after a round. Meet me behind the 18th signing area.” The 18th signing area might be a mile from this tee box.

This child has waited for the player, standing patiently for 30 minutes, asking every few minutes whether his or her heroes were coming soon.

Guys, it's a practice day. You're not practicing but out for a lark with your friends.

In my past, Arnold Palmer would have stopped and spent a few minutes with the child and his or her parent. And in my lifetime, all the greatest players and the one-year wonders have walked past my marshaling positions. That's the difference. Palmer was humble yet bigger than the tournaments, but he did everything to help all.

How the game has evolved in my lifetime.

Patrick Scott
Lakewood Ranch, Fla.

Kudos to WAT50 and its founder, but junior golf needs broader base
Let me start by saying that I think Ari Flaisher and his We Are The Fifty (WAT50) program sounds like a good thing, and kudos to him for getting involved in junior golf (“We Are The Fifty aims to elevate junior golf in U.S.,” May 21). But, in the end it is just another program for junior elites.

That's nice, but I'm not sure it's doing much to increase junior participation in the overall scheme of things.

What's really needed are programs that bring more juniors into golf at every level of ability. Kids on Course is great but not much recognized outside of golfing circles.

Golf needs to coordinate with local youth sports organizations to present golf as another summer opportunity, just like Little League and soccer. Otherwise, golf continues to be an outsider sport.

Golf needs to promote play to non-golfing families as a good alternative to other sports and to deliver that experience inexpensively. Kids on Course has that part right; it just doesn't do enough to promote the program beyond the golf world.

Golf needs to be at the same community centers, city youth sports programs and other "sign up here" locations as other sports, with the necessary financial support to make it doable for all.

Remember that golf is a game and not just a competition, so it's supposed to be fun. Get kids out there. Some of them will love it.

Blaine Walker
St. Paul, Minn.

Yet another difference between pros and amateurs
To reader Bobby Goforth, who wondered why professional golfers need rangefinders (“From the Morning Read inbox,” May 21): That is why you are an 8-handicapper. Ten yards.

Tony Vevea
Buckeye, Ariz.

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