Volunteers play major role in ShotLink
May 12, 2015
By Bill Cooney, PGATOUR.COM
- May 12, 2015
- Gerry Dwyer, left, and Hal Stewart man the 18th tower at THE PLAYERS Championship. (Bill Cooney/PGA TOUR)
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Each day at THE PLAYERS Championship, longtime friends Hal Stewart and Gerry Dwyer are perched high above the 18th green at TPC Sawgrass.
They’re not just there for the stunning bird's-eye view -- frankly, the spot is so good it could probably sell for a couple hundred bucks -- Stewart and Dwyer man the 18th tower as volunteers for ShotLink presented by CDW, collecting data for millions of golf fans around the world.
“I love it,” said Stewart, a 69-year-old retired principal from Maine. “The camaraderie, watching golf from inside the ropes, having something to look forward to all winter.”
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Stewart is a 12-year veteran at THE PLAYERS. He first volunteered at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions while visiting his uncle in Maui. More than a decade later, he’s volunteering at his 48th event for ShotLink. On this day in the tower, Stewart works a laser device that measures the distances of each putt on the 18th green to the nearest inch. Dwyer holds the binoculars, so the duo can identify which players are hitting their approach shots.
About nine years ago, Stewart convinced Dwyer to come down from Maine to volunteer with him for the week.
“I didn’t need to twist his arm or anything,” Stewart said of Dwyer, whom he met some 40 years ago while playing softball in Maine. “He tried it once and fell in love with it just like I did. It’s a nice relaxing way to get away from the cold.”
Stewart and Dwyer are two of the 200 to 300 volunteers at each TOUR event that help compile scoring and statistical information that is used for scoreboards, television broadcasts and websites such as PGATOUR.COM. About two-thirds of the volunteers operate lasers from towers behind each green that measure distances of approach shots and putts. Others record driving distances and some are walking scorers with each group.
Volunteers can sign up online at each individual event website. Once they are selected, each volunteer is trained the week before the tournament in a classroom session. They learn how to use ShotLink equipment and are also presented with scoring scenarios they might confront during live action. Volunteers are then trained on-site at the course the week of the event.
“Generally they just all love golf,” PGA TOUR ShotLink coordinator Jason Larson said. “They want to come out here and see the best players in the world. They’re all golf addicts.
“Our volunteers have such a big impact on how the tournament is presented. Everything they do is displayed on a scoreboard or on TV or on the Internet. They see what they’re doing, and it gets them really excited to see the impact they have on the tournament.”
The volunteers enjoy the work so much that there is an 80-85 percent retention rate from year-to-year, Larson said. A few volunteers have even graduated to paid positions at the TOUR.
All of the information the volunteers enter into handheld devices is checked over by ShotLink staff in real time. And that data is immediately funneled to golf fans all over the world.
If there seems to be a discrepancy in scoring, the volunteers get a call on the radio. Stewart, an 11-handicap when he’s the one playing the course instead of tracking players on it, takes a lot of pride in his work. If there’s an error, “we feel like we’ve failed,” Stewart said.
Like most days, no calls come over the radio on this afternoon. Stewart and Dwyer are spot-on. But it’s not all business. How can it be when the world’s best golfers are pulling off great shots right in front of them?
At one point during the round, Ryan Moore addresses his ball with an awkward stance in the greenside bunker on the 18th. “I bet he still puts it to 3 feet,” Stewart says to Dwyer.
Not quite. The record shows 9 feet, 5 inches.
And we know that thanks to ShotLink volunteers.