Volunteer U

Columns - Outside the Ropes

November 2, 2018

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Most of us are used to managing our crews, the eight to 30 people we’ve hired and trained and who know the course like the backs of their hands. But host a big tournament — like a major championship or tour event — and suddenly we’re overseeing an army of 150 to 200, or more, volunteers charged with getting and keeping the course at its best. Trust me, you’re going to need a new playbook.

The organization running the event will likely have much to say about coordinating your new-found army of volunteers. But there’s more to it than assigning mower-routes and handing out shovels, rakes and keys to carts. This is your chance to be the Chancellor of Volunteer U, making it as good for them as you want them to be to your course.

When volunteers give up their time and money to help out, it’s important that you put extra thought and effort into making it a rewarding, educational and safe experience. I know, I’ve been there, on both sides, many times. Here’s how to run the show successfully, beginning with some overall suggestions followed by more specific ideas.

First, be sure to coordinate with the host organization so you know the expectations for the golf course. Then make sure all your volunteers know them, as well. No one should be working in a manner contrary to the agreed-upon specifications.

Second, well before the event begins, select section or crew leaders to serve as your top lieutenants. Make sure all of the volunteers know who they are, then be sure each volunteer knows who they are reporting to and what is expected of them.

Third, on the weekend before the event begins, hold a mandatory, all-hands-on-deck meeting. Go over schedules, expectations and every other aspect of the volunteer experience. Communication is key, but it has to be a two-way street. Get everything out in the open in advance to avoid problems when it’s too late.

Creature Comforts

Housing for volunteers should be comfortable and commensurate to the jobs they are doing: They have to be able to get a good night’s sleep. Use the “buddy system,” matching each person with someone they know or will be comfortable with, both as a roommate (if rooms are being shared) and to help managing logistics in a foreign destination.

  • Consider a local hotel (not a “no-tell motel”) that you can book in advance with the help of the host organization.
  • Ask a local college if its dorms are available. But be sure there are decent beds, showers, and necessary amenities like air conditioning and heating.
  • Provide transportation for volunteers to and from the airport.
  • Arrange a shuttle system to and from the course for morning and afternoon shifts. If daily security checks are required, attempt to get a checkpoint just for your workers.
  • If some volunteers are serving as drivers, carefully check driving records and insurance requirements in advance. Paying professional drivers/companies could prove money well spent.


Provide information and directions to local hospitals and emergency rooms in case something happens after the volunteer’s shift is done or if a medical concern arises.

  • Make sure they know where on-course EMS personnel are located to deal with mower injuries, sprained ankles, bee allergies, food poisoning, pulled muscles, etc.
  • Map out a pre-arranged ambulance route to and from your maintenance area.
  • Provide ample opportunities for rest, hydration and food. Long hours and hard work can leave volunteers tired and more prone to injury.
  • Provide maps, phone numbers, and locations of emergency treatment areas on the golf course.
  • For those working in the dark, provide reflective gear, headlamps, and adequate lighting to return to the compound.


They’re giving something to you, so give them something in return, such as educational and instructional opportunities during quiet portions of their stay. Think of it as a turfgrass field day and use experienced volunteers to network, teach and mentor younger superintendents.

  • Bring in your consultants and trusted advisors to share their knowledge and experience on topics ranging from herbicide resistance and disease prevention to career building.
  • Involve your vendors. Topics could include equipment maintenance, reel sharpening and new technologies.

Sleep Room

Long hours, bodily effort and performance anxiety add up to physical and mental fatigue.
  • Provide a quiet space and quiet time for everyone to recuperate. This should be a separate, dedicated on-site tent or facility, not just a lounge chair or cot.
  • Along with a place to sleep, have a locker room with showers, which also will help volunteers get ready for their next shift.
  • Consider that there may be both male and female volunteers.

Food and Beverage

More than just an obligation, this is a reputation builder for your event. Good food — and plenty of it — is appreciated by all.

  • Bring in a chef or dietician to plan healthy menus high in water content. Forget the donuts and fried foods. You want to maximize energy levels and mental awareness.
  • The right food will fuel the energy levels of those beginning and ending their day and those operating heavy, expensive equipment.
  • Assign a smart, reliable person to run the dining and break areas while listening to the volunteers, especially if conditions change. Consider this a key assignment for a trusted vendor with good local knowledge.
  • For your own good health, consider hiring a personal trainer, sleep therapist and nutritionist to help manage the rigors of planning and managing a major event.

That’s Not All…

Before the Event

Send a package to each volunteer including:

  • Pre-event letter (thank you, directions, etc.)
  • One-day gate pass to access course and pick-up physical credentials at maintenance area
  • Packing list
  • Waiver and forms
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Club and course history
  • If you can, create a dedicated landing page on the club’s web site for information specific to your volunteer corps

Volunteer Goodie Bag

Everyone appreciates swag. Consider:

  • Hat
  • Safety glasses
  • Ear plugs
  • Sunscreen
  • Work gloves
  • Water bottle
  • Energy bars
  • Uniforms/shirts (coordinate with vendors or the host organization)
  • Rain gear (or include on packing list)

Don’t Forget

  • Free WiFi in the break room
  • Televisions and broadcast feed
  • Merchandise discounts or gift cards.

For A Truly Memorable Experience…


It’s not a spa, but a couple of on-site masseuses can ease sore muscles and work out the kinks.


Skin cancer screening on-site is a smart, healthy idea.

Physical Therapist

Pre-shift stretching gets the blood flowing and helps prevent injury.


Live music in the break or dining tent sets the tone at the end of a long day.

Group Photo

Assemble the whole team for a commemorative photo. If possible, include the trophy or stage the shot at a memorable location.