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                             First Downs and Second Guesses

                          Blog #195 - October 2021

I was one of 3000+ volunteers to work at the Ryder Cup last month at Whistling Straits golf course in Sheboygan, WI.  My wife did not work this event with me as her name was not chosen from the 30,000+ applicants from around the world to sign up to work the Ryder Cup.  Just lucky on my part, I guess. But we have worked several major sporting events together in Omaha since the 2008 Olympic Swim Trials.

The focus of this column is not on events that I've volunteered at over the years.  The focus is on the act of volunteering itself.   

Volunteering is giving back to the community, whether in your city or a setting outside your state.  There is an excitement about being a part of a community event as a volunteer.  The excitement might be in wearing the cool shirt or hat that distinguishes you as a volunteer.  It might be the credential you have hanging on your neck by a lanyard.  It might be the open access you command to every venue at the event.  It might be the parking space close to the front gate that saves you a lot of walking distance.

Some people find it incredulous that you must pay in order to volunteer at a major event.  The Ryder Cup "fee" was $250.  The Senior U.S. PGA Golf Championship was around $150.  The Olympic Swim Trials was a little over $100.  Why would anyone want to pay to volunteer, you ask?

As a part of that "fee", you receive merchandise and access that far exceeds the amount.  For the Ryder Cup, I received two custom shirts, a jacket, a hat, a commemorative pin, credentials, a parking pass, food and water vouchers for the days you worked, food and perks inside the Volunteer Headquarters, and open access to the course.  Judging from the prices that fans paid for merchandise inside the Ryder Cup Shops that I worked in for my volunteer shifts, day/week passes to watch practice rounds or the actual competition days on the course, and food from the concession stands, I say the total was about half what those people paid.

I had a chance to venture to the course when not working my shifts.  During a practice round, I stationed myself at one of the greens.  I pigeon-holed myself among the 30,000+ spectators that attended the practice rounds during the week.

The European team was playing their practice round that day.  I remember watching Sergio Garcia, Jon Rahm, Hovland, and Fleetwood practicing putting from all different angles and distances on the green.  They probably were on the green for 10-15 minutes.  The most amazing site was watching Rahm hitting wedge shots from a 10-foot deep bunker next to the green, without any line sight to the cup, to within a couple feet on every pitch shot.  Even the thousand people surrounding the green thought that accuracy was worth a round of applause.  That's the kind of excitement you feel while volunteering.

Being chosen to "volunteer" at a major sporting event is a crap shoot.  Your name is buried in the group of thousands of names that organizers choose from to fill volunteer positions.  If your name is picked, it's almost like winning a lottery.  After returning from the Ryder Cup, I signed up my wife and I to receive volunteer information for the next Ryder Cup in the United States in 2025 at Bethpage Black Golf Course in Farmington, NY.  Heck, it's worth a shot.

Volunteering is fun and gratifying at the same time.  You meet a lot of wonderful people from around the country (and for this Ryder Cup, people globally).  In your community, volunteer for fun runs and walks associated with fundraising for a social or medical issue.  There is no cost to volunteer for those nonprofit events.

If you want to give back to your community, volunteering is a fabulous way to do it.  I highly recommend it.

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