Butterfield Bermuda Championship a trip down memory lane for volunteers
4 Min Read
Written by Helen Ross @helen_pgatour
When he looked at the island on Google Earth, Tommie Taylor saw condos and resorts where he once worked building a fuel pier and remodeling the barracks on the U.S. Naval Air Station Bermuda Annex.
“The whole island looks like that now,” Tommie says. “It looks very expensive.”
Of course, that was 50 years ago. Tommie spent nine months stationed in Bermuda in 1972-73 as a member of the United States Naval Construction Battalion, more commonly known as the Seabees.
And until this week, he had not been back. But Tommie’s wife Pamela persuaded him to return and volunteer at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship.
The two are working in caddie hospitality, just as Pamela did earlier this year at the Rapiscan Systems Classic in Biloxi, Mississippi, which is about 30 minutes from their home in Gulfport. She has volunteered at the PGA TOUR Champions event for the past seven or eight years.
During the tournament, Pamela was talking with the volunteer coordinator Arden Vickers and discovered she was from Bermuda. So, she asked Vickers if there were any tournaments on the island. When Vickers said yes, there was one in October, Pamela didn’t hesitate.
“Sign us up,” she says.
Pamela, who has also volunteered at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and last year’s Solheim Cup in Toledo, started recruiting friends to go with them. But it turned out that she and Tommie – who are both fully retired – were the only ones who could make the dates work.
So, they booked an Airbnb and rented a Twizy, a two-seat electric microcar, for the trip down memory lane. The couple arrived Monday and are volunteering Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning in caddie hospitality. The rest of the time they’ll get to be tourists where Tommie once worked.
An equipment operator, Tommie was attached to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Four out of Port Hueneme, California. After a brief deployment in Puerto Rico, he was sent to Bermuda – by way of Rhode Island where they built a barge with a crane that they could use to drive the pilings on the fuel pier.
Once the barge was complete, it was loaded onto a ship called an LPD, or landing pad dock. The trip to Bermuda took three – LONG -- days.
“They're flat-bottom ships,” Tommie recalls wryly. “So, it was three days and nights of rocking back and forth and trying to stay away from the side rail. Trying to keep your crackers down.”
In addition to the fuel pier, Tommie also worked on the sea plane hangar and stripped down, resealed and repainted the water catchment on Tudor Hill. Only, the paint the Seabees were given for that project turned out to be mercury-based.
‘Whoever gave us the paint didn’t read the labels,” he says. “So, we ended up poisoning the hill. I remember the U.S. Navy had to send in big water-tanker ships to supply water to that area.”
As hard as Tommie and the other Seabees worked, though, there was also time for some R&R around the archipelago, which is known for its pink sand beaches. Bermuda, which is a British territory, consists of seven main islands and is 25 miles long with an average width of one mile.
“All I can remember is the beautiful water,” he says. “I got my diving quals there. We did a lot of diving around the island. I remember building some of those resorts there on the southern side of the island, I believe, and New Year's Eve at one.
“And of course, back then, the college week, Easter week, down there when college kids came and swamped the island and acted all wild and crazy. That was a lot of fun.”
Tommie, who’s looking forward to visiting the Bermuda Maritime Museum among other things, is still in contact with some of the Seabees in his battalion. He’s told them about the trip and “they want me to make sure I take plenty of pictures of where we were and what we did.”
The Naval Annex closed in 1995, several years after the Cold War ended. Tommie ended up spending 26 years with the Seabees before retiring. He then worked as an OSHA safety instructor and later as a civilian contractor running the motor pool at the naval base on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
While he was in Cuba, Tommie met Pamela, a fellow Seabee who was stationed there, and they later married. Of the two, she’s the golfer, shooting in the 90s on a good day and always playing for fun. Tommie likes to drive the cart.
Pamela tried to get Tommie more interested in golf when the couple was stationed at the Naval base in Rota, Spain. He played for a while but “it’s just not his cup of tea anymore,” she says.
When Pamela volunteered at last year’s Solheim Cup, though, she learned that the 2023 matches would be played at Finca Cortesin in Casares, Spain. That’s less than 2 hours from Rota and -- you guessed it – she’s already submitted her application.
“I’m there,” Pamela says. And so is Tommie, another adventure through volunteering.