Volunteering at the BMW Championship at Wilmington Country Club
Written by Eric Ludewig @ProAngleOhio
Just don’t give me anything with a blade.
I always make that request when I volunteer to work with the agronomy team for professional golf events hosted by Pro/Angle customers. I’m comfortable with a rake or blower, I’m here to help, not hurt the course.
I recently volunteered at the BMW Championship at Wilmington Country Club – this is my experience volunteering with agronomy professionals, as a non-agronomy professional.
As you enter the Wilmington Delaware area, the signs that something big is happening here are everywhere. Overhead highway signs warning drivers to expect traffic due to a “golf event”, construction LED signs flash warnings about road closures or give directions to LOT A, B C, etc. Turn on the news and the local traffic reporter is giving the update on where to park and what roads to avoid.
Everyone is talking about it. Checking in at the hotel, you hear the staff talking about the event to guests. Sit at a restaurant and you’ll overhear locals bragging about the spotlight being on their town, they might not even play, but they’re talking about golf. Places like Wilmington don’t get many events broadcast on the world stage, in fact this was the first PGA Tour event in Delaware, a first for the “first state”.
Off to Work. I dropped my bags at the hotel & head to the course. Lot S was on the corner of the property and golf cart shuttles awaited volunteers for a ride to the grounds department. Once at the maintenance shop, the management team got me set up with my gear and uniform(s) and directed me off to the equipment warehouse turned dining hall for dinner and shift assignments.
The industrially air-conditioned room is set up with tables, a buffet line, and beverage cooler with water, Gatorade, and Red Bull (A LOT of Red Bull). Snacks, ear plugs, sunscreen and course maps are always available. Giant TV Screens display golf or soccer matches before being switched to PowerPoint screens displaying job assignments for the upcoming shift.
The volunteer staff descended from just about everywhere, a lot local to the area but many from states even oceans away (England and Ireland to be specific). Most of the volunteers are experienced agronomy professionals, there are a few of us who work for suppliers to the industry. I met people that are from courses we supply with Pro/Angle, some from courses where we lost to a competitor, but this week were all on the same team.
After the pre-shift meal, the Wilmington Country Club superintendents ran the presentation assigning jobs for the front and back nine. Jobs such as greens mowing, greens rolling, fairway mowing, approach rolling, mowing and rolling tees, the stimp team (data that measures green speeds), bunker raking, hand watering, and divot filling, etc. Once all the critical technical work is assigned to the pro’s, I learn that my task for the shift is fluffing the rough. For this shift, I walked the back nine with another volunteer (from a course we’re supplying in Rhode Island) scrubbing the rough around the greens with a bunker rake flipped over. It did work, the rough in heavily trafficked areas from players leaving the greens was back to its ankle-deep menacing state.
We finished as the sun is setting, the shift over, back at the facility at 5:00AM Thursday: Day 1 of tournament play.
After coffee and assignments, we were reminded that the first tee time is 9:10AM and we have to be off the course by 9:00AM. Also, now that spectators will be on the property, were reminded not to leave keys in any of the carts or equipment, we don’t need any joy riding spectators. I actually do know someone who once “borrowed” a Golf Channel cart as a spectator during a rain storm, so removing the keys is an important instruction. Not naming names.
My job for the morning was back-pack blower duty, back nine. As we made our way out to the course, the sun is rising, light fog lays on the ponds, and we’re leaving footprints in the morning dew. It’s ironic that this incredible peace will be replaced with enthusiastic crowds cheering professional golfers in mere hours.
On back pack blower duty, we were tasked with clearing any clippings, debris and leaves from the fairways and rough after the fairway mowers completed their task. There were anywhere from 8-10 on our crew.
With our work complete and making our way to the maintenance facility, the course is waking up. The traffic on the cart paths has changed from crews handling audio/video, construction, food and beverage, and marketing to the patrons there to enjoy the fruits of countless hours of preparation. It’s like the flip of a switch, its go time.
Back at the shop, breakfast was served while the live tournament is broadcast is on the TV’s. We’re eating scrambled eggs while the course we just worked on is being shown on live TV with professional golfers and spectators, it’s a little surreal.
Of course, a visit to a tournament isn’t complete without a visit to the merchandise tent after breakfast.
When I volunteer at events, I try to visit any nearby customers and we are supplying Wilmington Country Club’s neighbor Bidermann Golf Club, and I’d hoped to make a visit. After breakfast, I had the opportunity to tour Bidermann with the superintendent who was also volunteering his mornings at the tournament.
As luck would have it, the president and greens chairman at Bidermann were out playing a round and we were able to chat. They were excited about their upcoming Pro/Angle installation, and stated that they planned to spend several days as spectators at the BMW next door.
After an afternoon rest, shower and a change of clothes, its back to the course for the evening shift.
My assignment for the shift, divot crew. Our job, walk the fairways with a bottle of divot mix, seek out fresh divots and fill them. Our group was 6-8, it was an easy but necessary task but after having worked a few shifts, you notice how hilly Wilmington Country Club really is.
24,500 steps for me that Thursday. My hats off to the staff and volunteers that have been working on the course that week and the weekend to come. I was just there for a few shifts, I can only imagine how exhausting it must be to work an entire tournament.
One final trip back to the shop to drop the divot filling supplies and catch the shuttle in the dark back to Lot S. As luck would have it, I spotted Director of Grounds Jon Urbanski and was able to give him a quick handshake and congratulations before heading out.
Jon, his team, and the army of volunteers presented an absolutely first-class championship level golf course for this event. I was lucky to be a part of it.
Group photo courtesy of Becca Mathias.