IMPACT
Get Involved! Volunteer for 2018 USGA Championships August 31, 2017 | FAR HILLS, N.J. By David Chmiel, USGA

USGA volunteers can find themselves close to the action on golf's grandest stage. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

Gerry Blank and his wife, Martha Kitchell, of San Jose Calif., spent some vacation time attending the 1998 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club and the 1999 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach. Their experiences at the USGA championships led to unexpected golf opportunities. 

“We were asked to be volunteers in 2000 [at Pebble Beach], said Blank. “It was an epic U.S. Open with Tiger’s record-setting destruction of the field. Then we attended the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black as spectators and decided that it was more interesting when we were volunteers. We’ve been on a streak since then.”

That’s an understatement. Since 2000, Blank and Kitchell have volunteered at 17 championships, including the back-to-back U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open championships in 2014 at Pinehurst No. 2.

“In our small way, we can have an impact on golf’s national championships,” said Blank.

Since 2000, Gerry Blank and Martha Kitchell have supported the USGA, and traveled the country, as championship volunteers. (Courtesy/Gerry Blank)

Thousands of USGA volunteers work the USGA’s 13 individual championships and team championships each year, giving them access that few get to experience, all while helping the USGA connect with communities and some of the greatest golf courses across the U.S. Many of these volunteers are USGA members who perform many roles, including working on the practice range, driving courtesy cars, working in the merchandise pavilion and walking inside the ropes with players to keep score.

“Volunteers play an integral role in the success of all of our USGA championships, and that is most evident at the U.S. Open,” said Charlie Howe, director of the 2018 U.S. Open Championship. “The USGA is grateful to share our love of the game by showcasing the ultimate test in golf on one our most timeless and iconic championship host sites. We look forward to making more history at Shinnecock Hills.”

The iconic course in Southampton, N.Y., is one of five founding member clubs of the USGA. Shinnecock also has the distinction of being the only course in the country to have hosted a U.S. Open in each of the past three centuries (1896, 1986, 1995, 2004). Howe says the USGA will rely on volunteers more than ever to make the 2018 U.S. Open special.

“The U.S. Open welcomes more than 200,000 people during the week. A team of more than 5,000 volunteers from all over the world serves as the driving force behind the championship,” Howe said.  “We’re humbled by the commitment of our returning volunteers and are thrilled to welcome first-time volunteers to the USGA championships family.  With only a limited number of volunteer positions remaining, we encourage those interested to sign up soon to be part of the team.”      

Joining Blank and Kitchell as longtime volunteers who will be making a long trek to Shinnecock are Maarten Van Kooten Mol and his wife, Gerrie. The pair were late to golf, getting hooked after friends took them to watch the Irish Open in person. They made up for lost time, becoming avid players at their home club in the Netherlands – and becoming USGA members. Then they decided to match their newfound passion for golf with their love of travel by becoming USGA volunteers.

“We started volunteering in 2004 at Shinnecock Hills,” said Maarten. “We did it to give back to golf and take a holiday in the U.S. We saw more than we expected, because we thought we could rent an RV and stay in the parking lot. Of course we couldn’t, so we had an adventure driving it back and forth on the highway. But we met so many wonderful people and had such a great time. Now we look forward to it every summer.”

No matter how far they travel, volunteers look forward to connecting with each other and sharing stories.

“One of our greatest moments came in 2000. We were at the volunteer tent when Arnold Palmer, Clint Eastwood and Peter Ueberroth dropped in to thank everyone for their time and enthusiasm,” Blank said. “That was the only time that has ever happened with us being present. Very cool!

“But the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont was our best location ever!  On Sunday afternoon, we were assigned to the 14th green leader board. We had a clear view of 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 17 green and all of 18.  Watching [eventual champion] Angel Cabrera hit his winning drive on 18 was dumbfounding. I was like: ‘He must be playing his third shot. He couldn't have hit it that far!’ Of course, he did. Then Jim Furyk and Tiger came next and fell a bit short.”

Next year, Blank and Kitchell will be sending ball-location data to the Fox production studio.

“We like being inside the ropes and we’ll be right in the action again,” Blank said.

USGA volunteers serve the game and witness history during the championship season. (USGA/Jason E. Miczek)

Whether it is at Shinnecock Hills or not, you can make a difference for the USGA in 2018. From April through October, the USGA will host 13 championships in 11 states, including the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club. Volunteer at any of the 2018 USGA championships and experience the action yourself.

David Chmiel is manager of member content for the USGA. Email him at dchmiel@usga.org.

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