Volunteers keep Las Vegas Shriners Open on course

Ingrid Saunders was patiently waiting for a female customer to show up so she could take a look inside her handbag.

No, Saunders wasn’t some nosy TSA wannabe thinking this was McCarran International Airport. She was at the entrance to TPC Summerlin on Monday, one of approximately 850 people volunteering their services this week at the PGA Tour’s Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

Saunders’ job? Check bags to make sure no one is bringing in a video camera or other unapproved electronic devices.

Few of the volunteers will see a single golf shot. If they’re not helping spectators find their way around the course, they’re running water out to the tee boxes. If they’re not busing tables or picking up trash, they’re making sure players and their families are getting to and from the course safely.

"I don’t mind," said Saunders, who is in town from Calgary with her husband Garry, a Shriner who is volunteering this week working at "The Hill," the tournament’s hospitality spot. "I’ve done a lot of volunteering with the Shriners. I’ve ridden a bus with kids from Calgary for eight hours to the (Shriners) hospital in Spokane (Wash.). I’m OK with not seeing the tournament."

It’s the Saunders’ first visit to the Shriners Open, which begins Thursday. Their local temple in Canada was recruiting volunteers, and the retired couple decided, "Why not?"

"There’s a real sense of camaraderie here," Saunders said. "You meet other Shriners, and everyone’s working to help the kids. It makes you feel good inside."

Every volunteer will tell you it’s about helping kids. Tournament director Adam Sperling said people such as Ingrid and Garry Saunders make the Shriners Open special.

"It’s impossible to overstate the importance of having the volunteers," Sperling said. "They are the lifeblood of the tournament, and this couldn’t work if we didn’t have them."

Sperling said many volunteers come from out of town, including some from Europe and Africa. Some work one day, others work the entire week. All pay $50 for the privilege of volunteering. In return they receive a shirt, jacket, hat, access to the course for themselves and one guest, and meals while on their shift.

Stacy Haynes has spent the last four years as a tournament volunteer and is on the supply distribution committee, which makes sure any item connected with the tournament is adequately replaced or restocked.

"You want to make sure everyone has water and anything else they may need," said Haynes, a counselor at Hyde Park Middle School. "It’s like if you run out of something at the house and you have to run to the store to get it. That’s what the week of the tournament is like for me. It’s like constantly having to run to the store."

John Pennington is doing a lot of running around this week, too. As transportation chairman, he’s responsible for making sure the 132 players have their courtesy cars, a common perk at golf tournaments. He also sees to any needs of players’ family members.

"We’re on call from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.," said Pennington, a retired construction executive who has lived in Las Vegas since 1968 and has volunteered at the local PGA Tour stop for 12 years "It’s becoming part of my life. It’s something I love to do."

Pennington said he sometimes gets to sneak a glance at the action on the weekend after the field is cut down and players who missed the cut are on their way home or to the next tour stop.

"It’s very hard to get away, but I don’t mind," Pennington said. "I like golf and the people who are into it."

While Pennington might not be around TPC Summerlin watching birdies and bogeys, Justin Hoeft is always on the course. As a marshal captain, he is responsible for making sure the 300 volunteers who secure the course enforce spectator rules. Though only 22, Hoeft, who works at a local golf store, has learned to be a diplomat.

"We want our marshals to be approachable, and we’re not looking for confrontation," Hoeft said. "We want the fans to enjoy themselves but to also behave and be respectful of the golfers and the other fans. The players are out there working; this is their job, and our job is to make sure they can do their job without any incidents."

Hoeft has served as a marshal for four years and said there have been few problems. He recalled a potentially uncomfortable incident two years ago when a man whose home was along the course decided to sunbathe in the nude within view of the players and gallery.

A brief chat with the man alleviated an embarrassing moment with the television cameras rolling nearby.

"We were able to explain the situation and he covered up," Hoeft said.

Sperling said many veteran volunteers sign up early each year to get their favorite tasks. Some enjoy being indoors. Others want to be in the middle of the action outdoors. First-time volunteers are asked to rank their top three choices from a list of options. If a particular task is available, it’s theirs. Longer-serving volunteers receive preferential treatment for job changes.

Sperling said if anyone still wants to volunteer to work this week, all they have to do is go to the tourney’s website – jtshrinersopen.com – click on the volunteer tab, and sign up.

"We’ll find something for them to do," he said.

Even something as simple as looking inside a purse.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.

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