Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Lakewood Ranch residents score important volunteer roles with LECOM Suncoast Classic

The second year tournament is still accepting volunteers for next week's Korn Ferry tournament at Lakewood National.

The LECOM Suncoast Classic utilizes Juan Gutierrez's leadership abilities as a volunteer.
The LECOM Suncoast Classic utilizes Juan Gutierrez's leadership abilities as a volunteer.
  • East County
  • News
  • Share

In Lakewood Ranch, it's not unusual to find residents who possess an amazing variety of talents.

That makes the volunteer pool very deep, especially if a fundraising event needs an accountant, a mechanic, an artist or chef.

But would that talent pool translate to a professional golf tournament?

The answer is a resounding "yes."

Three weeks before the inaugural LECOM Suncoast Classic in Lakewood Ranch, Lakewood Ranch's Tracy Wofford was online, looking to see if the region hosted any professional golf events. She hadn't heard about Lakewood Ranch hosting the Tour (now the Korn Ferry Tour). Then she saw the stories.

Wofford and her husband Bob had substantial PGA Tour volunteer experience as supervisors. She immediately signed up to help at the LECOM Suncoast Classic.

"We both love golf," Tracy Wofford said. "It's fun getting inside the ropes (that separate the players from the spectators). It's fun to talk to the players."

It didn't take long for those organizing the volunteers to learn the Woffords, who moved to Lakewood Ranch in 2017 after they retired, had considerable experience. They volunteered to be course marshals and Susan ended up as the marshal chair.

She had less than three weeks to coordinate efforts.

"It was a little bit of chaos at the beginning, because we don't have as many volunteers (as a PGA Tour event)," she said. "But it's also much more relaxed."

Meanwhile, another Lakewood Ranch resident, Juan Gutierrez, also had experience volunteering at tournaments, such as Champions Tour, Symetra Tour and LPGA Tour events. He had read about the upcoming tournament and wrote to Tournament Director Justin Kristich to see if he could offer his assistance.

For eight years, he worked as a hospitality volunteer at the Outback Steakhouse Champions Tour event that was hosted just north of Tampa in Lutz. At the first LECOM Suncoast Classic, he worked hospitality again along with duties at the driving range.

He was the volunteer chairman over the cart barn, making sure all the volunteers were fed and clothed. The cart barn also handled other duties, such as lost and found.

"Somebody's got to do it," he said.

But was Gutierrez the right man to work as a supervisor?

Imagine the tournament staff's joy when it learned Gutierrez was a CEO of major corporations such as AchieveGlobal and Omega Performance.

Yes, the talent pool is deep.

Gutierrez said it wasn't a hard decision to give up his time to work the event, both last year and again this year. The tournament runs Feb. 13-16 at Lakewood National Golf Club.

"Experienced volunteers are critical and I've done this 10 to 12 years," he said. "Here's a way to give back. I'm a golfer so how can I help? I can give a week a year to something like this."

Like the Woffords, Gutierrez said his first volunteer work at a professional tournament was to experience the inside-the-ropes experience with the professionals. It quickly grew into much more. Consider last year's event in Lakewood Ranch.

"I did not see a single shot hit on the golf course," he said.

It was much the same for the Woffords, who also are giving back to a game they love.

Lakewood Ranch's Tracy and Bob Wofford brought extensive PGA Tour volunteer experience to the LECOM Suncoast Classic.
Lakewood Ranch's Tracy and Bob Wofford brought extensive PGA Tour volunteer experience to the LECOM Suncoast Classic.

"It interesting to see how much goes into putting on an event," Tracy Wofford said. "It takes years of prep, especially at the PGA Tour level."

The Woffords began volunteering in 2006 at the AT&T at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. They lived nearby in Potomac Falls, Va. Besides becoming regular volunteers at that event, they worked the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional along with being part of the executive committee for the 2017 Senior PGA Championship at Trump National in Potomac Falls. 

They are passionate about making the tournaments they run go smoothly "People don't realize how much work the players do and the stress that is on them," Tracy Wofford said.

She started out on a mission last year to lead that smoothness but was advised to "chill out a bit."

That advice came from her husband, who reminded her it was a first year event, and a notch below the PGA Tour.

"It's much more relaxed," she said.

Having worked the Symetra Tour, which is a developmental tour for women golfers, Gutierrez knew the volunteers would make a few errors along the way, but they also would be asked to do more since there would be more work to go around than a PGA Tour event.

"There is a major difference in scale," Gutierrez said about the different levels of professional golf. "We have about 400 volunteers. There are a lot more moving parts because it is a new event. I think the spectators thought it ran smoothly (in 2019), but we had a few problems. We're not going to have them this year."

Tracy Wofford said the 85 marshals will have two training sessions before this year's tourney, on Feb. 8 and Feb. 10. She said that's standard procedure for PGA Tour events. Other changes include more ropes for crowd control.

Gutierrez said the pros were very complimentary about how the tournament was run in 2019 and they should be even happier in 2020.

He hopes his wife, Cindi, feels the same.

"The tournament falls on Valentine's Day," he said. "How do I deal with that one? I told her, 'Let's do one (Valentine's dinner) before and one after."


Latest News