Tales of the golf tournament volunteers, Constellation FURYK & FRIENDS edition
November 15, 2021
By Adam Schupak , Golfweek.com
- November 15, 2021
- (Courtesy of Adam Schupak/Golfweek)
Editor’s Note: The following story is republished with permission from Golf Week. Completing its inaugural year, Constellation FURYK & FRIENDS debuted at Timuquana Country Club from October 4-10, 2021. Tournament proceeds benefitted several North East Florida charities, including the Jim and Tabitha Furyk Foundation.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It takes a village to host a professional golf tournament.
Actually, what it took to make Constellation FURYK & FRIENDS, which debuted last week at Timuquana Golf Club, run like clockwork is a small army of approximately 600 volunteers, some who took vacation or flew in just to work long hours doing such trivial but vital chores as parking cars, shuttling players, picking up range balls and sorting them, and hauling trash.
Week after week, year after year, many of the same faces greet me at tournaments and make my job and those of so many people they touch that much easier. I always marvel when they inevitably tell me this is their 25th or 30th year volunteering at a particular tournament.
Why do they do it?
I decided I was long overdue to give back at a tournament and find out. There was no better place to do so than at one of my hometown events. Over the years, I’ve noticed ways that charitable causes big and small in the Greater Jacksonville area have benefited from the generosity of THE PLAYERS Championship, most notably at Nemours Children Hospital, where my daughter has received care.
On Friday, I did the volunteer pu-pu platter of sorts, partaking in short stints working the driving range, walking with a standard-bearer and scorer, chatting with the guys who wash caddie bibs at night and even rode around with the chairman of ecology. He didn’t make me haul any trash, but that’s only because it would’ve spoiled the fun for Mike Crumpler, a lawyer by trade, who called volunteering for the tournament and tossing around trash the best week of his year.
In all, there were 26 committee leaders – everything from first aid to admissions and first tee announcers. They oversee teams of people, some of who take days off from work, pay for hotel rooms out of their own pocket or travel from out of town and spend $45 for the official volunteer uniform of shirt and hat. (Lesson learned: you must wear khaki pants or shorts).
Tabitha Furyk said she wore out her friends and family, who pitched in to make the tournament a success, including father-in-law Mike Furyk, who greeted players on the practice tee as he puffed on a cigar. But it takes a village and she couldn’t tout the work of her volunteers enough, some of whom never even saw a shot, depending on their assignment, which is why she couldn’t wait for the volunteer appreciation party on Sunday night.
“When you have total strangers working for you, it warms your heart,” she said. “I feel like I have new friends that I haven’t even met yet.”
Here are some of the incredible people I met on the job.
Robert Davis, Volunteer Chairman
Let’s start with Davis, the tournament volunteer chair (pictured above left). He’s been a tournament volunteer since working as a standard bearer as a 13-year-old at the Greater Jacksonville Open, the precursor to THE PLAYERS Championship. Thirteen years ago, he held a charity tournament in honor of his late father, the Don Davis Memorial Tournament. The beneficiary was Hospice, and Tabitha served on the board. The Don Davis Memorial evolved into Constellation FURYK & FRIENDS, which in its earlier iterations was a two-day event held in advance of THE PLAYERS.
“I knew they would raise significantly more money than I ever could,” Davis said.
When the Furyks decided to take their tournament next level and become a PGA Tour Champions event, Tabitha called Davis and asked him to be the volunteer chairman.
“I’ll do it for you because I know you’ll do all the work,” Davis told her. “When Tabitha puts her mind to something, she will not fail.”
As Davis pointed out, most new tournaments struggle to earn significant charitable dollars in its first year. Not this one. Tabitha set an ambitious goal to raise $1 million in the first year. The way she looked at it, they had generated $500,000 for local charities as a two-day event.
“So there’s no way we’re going to do a week-long event and not increase that,” she said. “Then I want to grow it to $2 million and then $3 million.”
Davis was a key ‘get’ for Tabitha, almost as big as landing Phil Mickelson in the field. Davis was the volunteer chairman at THE PLAYERS in 2013 when Tiger Woods won. He’s remained active in the tournament as a walking scorer, including on Sunday with Rickie Fowler in 2015 when he birdied 17 at TPC Sawgrass three times in a row and won the title in a playoff. Davis reached out to all of the chairs and assistant chairs at THE PLAYERS and recruited a core group – including 15 past volunteer chairmen of THE PLAYERS – to make sure Constellation FURYK & FRIENDS had an experienced crew.
“We’re one big team. We can’t tell him no,” said Mark Haines, chair of ecology. “When Robert called, I said ‘Looks like we’re putting the band back together.”
John Felice, Practice Facility ChairRobert Petty sorts practice balls at the Constellation FURYK & FRIENDS at Timuquana Country Club in Jacksonville. (Adam Schupak/Golfweek)
Felice has chaired the practice-range committee at THE PLAYERS for a decade now. He considers himself a big golf fan and says he always learns something from watching the players. This time, he took a liking to the swing of New Zealand’s Steven Alker. Felice, who is in pharmaceutical sales, also noticed that the best players tend to set up at the end of the range for a quick getaway. The coolest thing he saw? After the pro-am, Joey Sindelar took his amateur partners to the range and spent 45 minutes with each player giving them a lesson.
“All of them left saying they’d been in several pro-ams but no one had ever gone to such lengths to help them,” he said.
It warmed Felice’s heart. When I asked him why he volunteers at golf events, he said he likes to give back to the game. The creation of Furyk means he’s now setting aside not one but two weeks of his year to oversee 18 volunteers at the range, including range runners, who had to be at least 10 years old.
Felice assigned me to work alongside Robert Petty, a healthcare worker, who was raking bunkers and separating Titleist Pro V1s (there was a shortage) at the practice green. I told him that I saw Mickelson nearly hit a volunteer that was sweeping balls away with a flop shot the day before.
“That was me!” he exclaimed.
What did he gain from volunteering at the tournament? Petty did offer a secondary reason besides doing a good deed. Those who volunteer more than a certain number of hours were eligible to participate in a “Play Day” on October 18. Petty, who volunteered along with a buddy, had never played Timuquana.
“I can check that off the bucket list,” he said. “We can’t wait.”
Emily Popp, Standard Bearer/Wynne Kalish, Walking ScorerEmily Popp is all smiles as she holds the mobile scoring sign at the inaugural round of the Constellation FURYK & FRIENDS. (Adam Schupak/Golfweek)
Kalish lives in Miami and got the bug for volunteering at golf tournaments in the 1990s. He used to work for accounting firm PWC and one of his clients was Royal Caribbean, which sponsored the Royal Caribbean Classic. He once volunteered at the former PGA TOUR event at Doral while he had the flu. In April, he drove to Naples to work a Champions tour event there, and he was pretty stoked to be walking inside the ropes with his tournament hat signed by David Frost and Davis Love III.
The only person happier may have been Popp, 17, a senior at Paxon School for Advanced Studies, who smiled wildly when I asked her if she got out of school for the day to walk with Lee Janzen, Loren Roberts and Olin Browne. This wasn’t Popp’s first rodeo as a standard bearer. She had Shane Lowry and Brian Harman at THE PLAYERS and blushed when she mentioned that champion Justin Thomas signed a pin flag for her as part of her award as Standard Bearer of the Year.
Back when she was in elementary school, Popp’s mom was given two tickets to THE PLAYERS and took her daughter and they followed Tiger Woods.
“I fell in love with golf walking the course that day,” she said.
Popp’s the captain of her golf team and when she isn’t playing, she enjoys trying to introduce the sport to other young girls hoping they will learn to love it as much as she does.
“Just before COVID, I started a club called ‘Girls Teeing Off.’ I managed to get some golf clubs and balls donated and volunteered at John E. Ford K-8 where I was able to spend a few afternoons golfing with girls who had never been around the sport before,” she said. “Unfortunately, schools aren’t letting volunteers work with students right now, but I am still giving free lessons to interested girls whenever I can. Hopefully, I will be able to work with more students in a school again soon. Until then, I will continue to swing my club every chance I get.”
Buzz Berger, Operations/Ann Nimnicht, Hospitality(Courtesy of Adam Schupak/Golfweek)
Berger, 77, has volunteered for THE PLAYERS 42 times and countless other tournaments. Berger’s scratch with scissors and a hammer; his specialty is roping and staking and he showed me how he does it to avoid knots. Berger had COVID last year and required an extended stay in the hospital.
“They were betting against me,” he said. “When I walked into the First Aid test at THE PLAYERS in March, one of the docs said me, ‘I never thought I’d see you alive again.’ ”
How did he get started as a tournament volunteer all those years ago? He chuckled.
“Ann Nimnicht. I came down to visit my sister and Ann was a friend of hers and she came by and said, ‘You’re not doing anything are you?’ ”
Nimnicht is a legend among the volunteers. Given the family’s car dealership, she was a natural to help with transportation in 1964. She’s picked up Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer and their families at the airport and was halfway there once when Charlie Sifford realized he forgot his heart medication at his hotel. She turned the car around, retrieved the medicine and somehow Sifford still made his flight. She was the first female “Red Coat,” the name given to the volunteer chairperson of THE PLAYERS, in 1997 (Steve Elkington was her champion) and has volunteered at local PGA TOUR, PGA Tour Champions and Korn Ferry Tour events. During Constellation FURYK & FRIENDS, she was helping out at Club 58, one of the hospitality areas that overlooked the par-3 17th and 18th tee. What keeps her coming back?
“The people,” she said. “I’ve met people I never would have met otherwise. Every year, it’s like a big reunion.”
Former PGA TOUR Commissioner Deane Beman had the foresight to envision a day when purses would grow into the millions and made it Tour policy that all tournaments must support charitable initiatives and preferably be organized as 501-c3 organizations.
“It starts with a passion for golf, but it is bigger than that,” Tabitha said, taking a stab at why 550 people donated their time to help make the tournament a success. “It’s seeing how it changes their community.”
Tabitha said Constellation Energy selected five charities and she expected at least another 15 will benefit from the tournament’s largesse locally. Davis may have summed it up best: “We can’t all write big checks but we can all give our time.”