When Gypsie Hutchinson teed it up for the Morehead State University women's golf team, she felt a sense of comfort when she looked down the fairway and saw volunteers.
So she understands how thankful the Korn Ferry Tour players are when they hit shots at the LECOM Suncoast Classic at Lakewood National Golf Club.
"I've been in the players' shoes and I know how much easier the volunteers make the players' lives," said Hutchinson, who now is the volunteer coordinator for the LECOM Suncoast Classic. "Oh goodness, yeah. It makes a world of difference and it makes the players' experience 10 times better.
"It's the relief you feel, knowing someone is out there watching the ball. Losing a ball can make the difference between making the cut, or even winning the tournament. The stakes are so high."
Of course, volunteers do more than watch the flight of the ball. They are involved in almost every facet of running the tour's events. Hutchinson said they are key to operational success.
The LECOM Suncoast Classic has seen a great turnout of volunteers from the Lakewood Ranch area through all four years of its existence. The first two years saw 450-500 volunteers used. Last year that number dropped to 400 volunteers because of the COVID-19 pandemic and protocals.
Hutchinson is hoping that number goes above 450 again this year, with about 345 volunteers signed up at this point. She is hoping anyone who has thought about volunteering goes to the tournament website and checks out the opportunities.
"We know how important and valuable the volunteers are," she said.
Hutchinson lives in Lexington, Kentucky and works for SportFive/Global Golf Management, which runs the tournament. She said after the pandemic year of 2021, it will be more "the normal days in the life of a volunteer" in 2022. There will be no mask requirements or vaccination cards checked.
"In the Lakewood Ranch area, it is impressive how many people want to be involved," she said. "Our volunteers are our eyes and ears of the tournament ... spotting balls, making sure fans and players are safe, working with the marshals' committees.
She also noted that players and caddies once again in 2022 can stay with host families who have room in their homes. Anyone who wants to host a player or caddie can send a note to Kay Scholten at [email protected].
Here is a look at four LECOM Suncoast Classic volunteers and their view of giving their time to the tournament.
Juan Gutierrez, LakeHouse Cove
Has previous volunteer experience at LPGA Coates Championship in Ocala and working Champions Tour events.
Supervises about 100 volunteers
In charge of the volunteer headquarters, shuttles, product distribution, carts, and uniforms.
"We provide breakfast and lunch for the volunteers and the caddies, distribute clothing (for the volunteers), handle the lost and found, and provide information. I don't see any golf other than the final two or three groups on Sunday.
"For me, I enjoy helping people be successful. About 90% of our volunteers know what they are getting into and they want to help. About 10% ... it's just a challenge. Actually, that might be 99% to 1%. But for those who want to volunteer (for the first time), just know that if you are a volunteer, you are coming to a supportive environment. You will be with people who will work so you can be successful. We want you to enjoy your time here.
"This is my contribution back to golf and this tournament generates some money for charity. My rewarding moment is when I look at people who volunteer for the third year in a row. I know I must be doing something right. We know we have to be successful for the players, for the fans, and for you."
Don Avolio, Country Club
Has previous volunteer experience at the Valspar Championship, PGA tournaments at Doral and at LPGA tournaments in Rochester, New York.
Supervises about 150 volunteers
In charge of walking scorers, standard bearers, and scoring control.
"As a walking scorer, this is as close as you can get to the players. You will be seeing some of the best golf, and you will be seeing the way it is played. If you love golf, there is nothing better than walking 18 holes with these guys.
"Our volunteers go through a training session. The etiquette is magnified when you do this, so you learn things you do and things you don't do. You never talk to a player unless they talk to you first. You learn all the formalities. But it's not hard. In the 24 years I have done it, I've never made a mistake."
John Mihocik, Tara
Has volunteered at the Concession during the NCAA championships in 2016 and has volunteered at the Concession Cup, also has volunteered at LPGA tournaments.
Supervises about 10 volunteers.
In charge of caddie services.
"The first couple of days when the caddies register, they want to have a conversation, find out things. They have little needs. One might say, 'I can't eat a meal right now, but can you hold it for me until later?' One caddie had a falling out with his player, so I took him to the airport.
"I would tell people who are thinking about volunteering that it's a good experience. You meet people ... great people. You are going to see players who in the future will be really good players, like Will Zalatoris (who now is doing well on the PGA Tour). And the people you are working with will be some of the best people you will ever meet.
"My best moment doing this is when the caddies come in and show their appreciation on Sunday because they find out how well they have done. They are so happy."
Kay Scholten, Heritage Harbour
Has volunteered at PGA Tournaments at Bay Hill in Orlando.
Supervises about 80 volunteers
In charge of hospitality services, admissions, and announcers.
"I am a Mary Kay senior sales director so hospitality is a draw for me. I love being part of this and meeting other business people and clients. The volunteers we get are very willing. Nobody wants to look dumb or bad. I would tell anyone who wants to volunteer to not let the lack of understanding stop you from trying. You will find the people here fabulous and you will go away with new friends.
"And you are going to recognize these young men. You can watch them develop. I love to hear their stories."