KIAWAH ISLAND — Paul Romano paid $200 and had to set aside part of his leave from a U.S. Army base in Hawaii for the privilege of being a “volunteer” at the 94th PGA Championship.
He also had to submit to a criminal background check and be willing to spend hours in the hot sun. But it’s all worth it, he said, for an assignment that included marshaling at the 18th-hole grandstand.
“You can’t be any closer when they’re coming in,” said Romano, a North Charleston native and lieutenant colonel assigned to the Army’s Schofield Barracks on Oahu.
This PGA tournament is working thanks to more than 3,100 volunteers who are making everything tick. The free labor is needed, officials said, because paying any of the course extras minimum wage would be cost prohibitive.
The recruiting started more than 15 months ago, and those selected represent 44 states. Each also got a choice of what to do, ranging from carrying score sign boards, to keeping the crowds quiet during a swing.
Sixty percent of those in the volunteer force came from South Carolina, though not necessarily Charleston.
While volunteers had to pay $200 from their own pockets to work the course for the week, there are benefits. Each gets a PGA hat and a couple of tournament shirts. Plus there are meals, water and free practice round tickets.
Even better is the thrill of watching rope-side, not knowing what action is going to happen.
“It’s great,” said Steve Segall, another course volunteer. “I enjoy seeing the professionals up close and meeting the people.”
Segall has volunteered at a number of big-name events held around Charleston over the past few years, including the LPGA tournament event at RiverTowne in Mount Pleasant, and a Nationwide Tour event on Daniel Island.
“So far I haven’t had a bad experience,” he said.
Romano, an avid golf fan, remembers following the Ryder Cup at Kiawah back in 1991, which set the golf hook deeper.
“Bernhard Langer missing the putt,” he said, going back to the error that secured the U.S. victory that year.
Romano said the best part about marshaling is seeing how truly good the pros are, and admits his own golf handicap is “some place north of 20.”