EDMOND, Okla. - Charlie Pierce’s thirst for learning is seldom quenched, and thankfully for the USGA, he is willing to travel the country in his quest.
Pierce, 55, of Hutchinson, Kan., began his affiliation with the USGA when he was appointed marshal chairman for the 2002 U.S. Women’s Open at his home course, Prairie Dunes Country Club. He performed the same role in 2006, when the U.S. Senior Open was played at Prairie Dunes, and Pierce and the USGA have been entwined ever since.
Tim Flaherty [the USGA’s senior director for the U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Senior Open] told me after the 2006 Senior Open that if I ever wanted to, he’d love to have me come along and help, said Pierce, who teaches biology, anatomy and physiology at Hutchinson High School to at-risk students, as well as those bound for college.
Pierce has directed the marshals program for the USGA at every Senior Open since 2008, and every Women’s Open since 2010. This year, he filled a role at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst as well, and his teaching avocation helps in more ways than a school calendar that’s conducive to the USGA championship schedule.
Teaching is a people profession, and I enjoy people, said Pierce, who grew up in McPherson, near Hutchinson, and has been a teacher for 33 years. It’s something I’ve always liked, and this gives me another outlet to do that.
Pierce coaches both the boys’ and girls’ golf teams at Hutchinson High, and is an assistant coach for the bowling team. He is also the co-chairman of the green committee at Prairie Dunes and has helped with the junior golf program there for more than two decades. In his spare time, he is also the chairman of the junior program for his section of the Kansas Golf Association, where some 90 youngsters compete in four summer events.
My kids are grown and my wife [a pathologist] is busy and she’d just as soon not see me, said Pierce with a chuckle. It’s nice to be active and have something to do besides play golf.
Pierce maintains a 6 handicap at Prairie Dunes, but the game is obviously much more of a social endeavor for him.
You have to build relationships with kids, and the better the relationship is, the better chance you have of success, said Pierce. It’s the same with being a supervisor of marshals. You have to build relationships with those people, so when we need to get things done, they’re paying attention. I need to be able to explain it so they understand it without offending them.
Pierce works through the usual challenges of moving spectators, players and other championship traffic throughout the course with the assistance of, on average, some 1,600 volunteer marshals, who are guided by hole captains, who in turn report to area captains and the host club chairmen.
There’s always bad places on golf courses, potential bottlenecks, said Pierce. Every course has adjustments that need to be made as you go along. They allow me to make changes as I see fit. In the end, you’ve just got a whole lot of people in one place and getting them to behave or to pay attention is not always the easiest thing.
According to Flaherty, the key to Pierce’s success in his role is simple: he is able to get people to do what needs to be done.
I think the most important thing with Charlie is that he just gets along with everyone, said Flaherty. Whether we’re in Wisconsin or Toledo, Ohio, after one day everyone knows Charlie. In a very quiet way, he does a great job for us. It’s as simple as that.
In the meantime, Pierce continues to soak up knowledge at every championship. At Pinehurst, he helped to organize the collection of statistical data on players [They needed someone and Tim volunteered me]. At Oak Tree, he took the opportunity to query Mark Hill, the USGA’s senior director of competitions, on how a particular hazard boundary was marked.
It’s good for me as a high school golf coach to understand the Rules and try to pick people’s brains, said Pierce. My goal is to always learn something that I can use or that I can use for my kids, whether it’s watching guys hit shots on the range or learning something about club specs from John Spitzer [the USGA’s managing director of Equipment Standards].
The USGA is surely reaping its own logistical rewards in the bargain.
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services. Email him at email@example.com