NOTHING COULD BE FINER THAN…..(Part 2: Charlotte and the Golf Tournament

From the time I landed in Raleigh, light rain, cool temperatures, and drizzle seemed to be the order of the day, or should I say, days. There were about seven of them, replete with widespread flood warnings throughout the whole region in which I was to travel. The best descriptor was “soggy”, as the falling waters combined with the ugly orange of the Southern clay and eagerly caked onto whatever footwear you sported.

I arrived early enough in Charlotte to check in to my hotel before picking up my golf tournament volunteer credentials and passes and heading to my grandson’s baseball game, a hotel which I had booked through one of those online “lowest price guaranteed” websites that don’t tell you the name of the hotel until you’ve paid for the lodging upfront. Never again. When I clicked on “Hotel.com” it sent me to “Bookings.com”, and after completing some information and making two phone calls, succeeded in getting a nice LaQuinta lodging for five nights. However, I had to buy some extra insurance to cover costs in case I had to cancel the reservation, or check out earlier than planned. Given my current health status, this was a minor possibility. I was instructed to carry with me a copy of the insurance policy, which printed out to 15 pages! Ultimately, the lodging cost at least as much as it would have had I booked directly with the hotel, and had a lot more hassle. Furthermore, I discovered that since I had booked through a third party, I couldn’t receive any credit in my LaQuinta account toward free nights.

The credentials pickup area was located in a mall contiguous to Carowinds, the huge amusement park straddling the South Carolina/North Carolina border, and most noticeable from a distance by the terrifying monster of a coaster ride rearing up in spirals and loops over the surrounding landscape. For the first five days of tournament action, the Carowinds parking area was to be used in conjunction with shuttle busses as the major parking venue for attendees. Another area was set aside for persons with Special Needs, closer to the tournament site at Quail Hollow Golf Club. Weekend parking would be elsewhere, but with the same shuttle busses wiggling their way through the sometimes-godawful traffic during rush hours. One had to be patient and generally, I was. After all, I used to have dial-up on my internet connection.

I bonded with my son and grandsons at the ball game, played in a continuing alternation between merely damp and a light mist; my 11-year old grandson’s team giving up five unearned runs on throwing errors didn’t help make for a pleasant evening. However, I soothed the savage beast inside me with two hot dogs; the younger grandson worked me for several items which his mom would probably designate as “non-essential”, including grape soda and a large pretzel. But he’s so cute, for a 7-year old, how could I resist?

Charlotte is a beautiful city, and one of the few I can tolerate. Particularly in the spring of the year is it draped with a cacophony of colors surrounded by green, especially the azaleas blazing their smorgasbord of hues throughout the well-landscaped city. I use that verb intentionally; some of the plants are so vivid that they almost shout out for attention: “Look at me”. I’m always happy to come to Charlotte, further enhanced on this trip and for future visits when I discovered that there’s a Nordstrom’s Rack discount store in Charlotte. Naturally, I helped the local economy when I dropped in, “just to look around”. Two pairs of shoes later, I went on my way.

Now for the golf. Over a year ago, when my son suggested that I become a volunteer helper (read “Ambassador”), I filled out the application and waited a reply. Finally it came, a rejection, indicating my name would be added to a 700 name waiting list. I promptly forgot about it and drowned my sorrow by acquiring a new set of Callaway clubs. So I was surprised this past March when I received a message of “Greetings. You have been selected…..” Breathing a sigh of relief that it wasn’t from my Draft Board, I immediately accepted the invitation and sent a check. For what, you may ask? Well, one must wear the “official uniform” whenever on duty and, as it goes through Ralph Lauren Polo, it was a mere $92 for the hat, knit shirt, and short-sleeved pullover rain jacket. And that wasn’t the end of it; if you were working during a rain, you had to wear the “official” rain suit, at $141. On the bright side, all Ambassadors receive a free pass for one day of the tournament for a guest, and have free entry for themselves on any day. They also get free parking and, when working, $12 per half day lunch vouchers.

I had to think long and hard about which schedule to sign up for; after all, I wanted to have some time with the family during the few days I would be there. A volunteer must work either four half-days or two full days, sometime from Monday’s practice rounds through Sunday’s final competitive round, and maybe even Monday if there is some delay in finishing. I decided that I would spend Thursday afternoon getting acquainted with my supervisors, colleagues, and the course layout; work Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., enjoy the family on Saturday, and work again on Sunday, 6 a.m. – 6 p.m.

So, on navigating the shuttle maze and getting to the golf course on the Thursday afternoon, in the rain, I found my way to the trailer where Ambassadors get their assignments, and met Paula, Ginger, and Mike, the coordinators of volunteers, and they are a delightful trio. Out of curiosity, I asked how many volunteers it takes to operate this event, and was astounded to hear, “2300”. In probing into that answer, I discovered that virtually everything except the food venues is run by volunteers, from trash can emptying teams through transportation of players and officials; laser operators at each hole to measure driving distances, snack bar operators for the comfort of Ambassadors, information booths, parking lots far removed from the tournament site, and of course, marshals on each hole.

My sense of personal importance was diminished a bit when I found that I wasn’t really that unique, but I persevered. Paula is a year-around employee of the Tournament, sponsored by Wells Fargo Bank, and she also does a similar activity for the John Deere Classic in the Quad Cities of Iowa and Illinois later in the year. One of the other Ambassadors told me that he works a number of tournaments annually, some of them due to his association with Paula. The degree of organization would have made my wife proud, as she enjoys a widely-recognized talent in that area too and would have fit right in.

I had been assigned to something called “Paula’s Pool”, which turned out to be the best assignment I could have. It’s one of those things where any need that arises dictates what one will do; I was happy not to have to stand in the rain at one of the holes, holding up a sign that says “Quiet Please” when a player is ready to hit. Instead, I sat at a table with a colleague selling raffle tickets to the other Ambassadors, for a golf vacation at the Golf Hall of Fame in Florida. After a few hours of that, I was reassigned to the practice range area, to supervise the mostly-middle school age kids allowed to be in a section close to the players warming up, and ideal for getting autographs. The kids were to be “12 and under” so when an apparent “borderline individual” appeared, we were to ask, “What year were you born?” The expressions on some of their faces were interesting as they attempted some rapid calculations and, in general, failed. While we were doing this, we were also casting penetrating stares at adults in the grandstand who were holding their cell phones; the PGA doesn’t want pictures taken of the golfers when they’re on the course due to either camera clicking or cell phone flash disturbing the players in the middle of their swings. This prohibition is widely known but as you might imagine, there are some who try to sneak. One of my colleagues, a trim and fit middle-aged lady who works for Wells Fargo, had an eagle eye for the offenders and warned them that some of the local law enforcement available could escort the person out of the tournament, and confiscate the cell phone. And the rain continued.

Friday evening was special. My son was taking his wife to dinner to celebrate her birthday, so I engaged in some real grandfatherly activities, i.e., taking the kids to see Iron Man 3, and having them spend the night with me at the hotel. The movie constituted a series of explosions, at least that’s what I got out of it due to not having seen Iron Man 1 and 2. But it finished late enough that they went right to sleep, and in the morning I was the first one to awaken. After a family breakfast, I took a few hours break and then headed once again to the ball fields, for another baseball game. In the rain. This one was a bit more successful, garnering a win. After the game my son and I headed for the tournament, he to entertain a client and me to wander about. I verified the next day’s assignment, which would again be at the practice range, my venue of choice. With the prediction of more heavy rains on the final day, some major schedule adjustments had been made including an earlier start, threesomes instead of twosomes, and half the field starting on the back nine. The intent was to finish before the late afternoon rain, and it proved fairly successful although there were some intermittent drizzles off and on during the day following some real rain around sunrise, when I was working.

My assignment at the practice range was shorter and less involved than the day before; watching people hit golf balls during a downpour is not my choice of entertainment but the job had to be done. Very few kids showed up; perhaps the word had gotten out that an ex-principal was running the show and one could be put in in-school suspension for misbehavior. Or, they just wanted to stay dry. And given that there would be no one using the range after about 9:30 a.m., as everyone would have teed off, I looked for other tasks. And I found one that also was just right for me, ferrying new Mercedes SUV’s and 500 series sedans across Charlotte to a fleet staging area at the airport. Six of us were selected for this assignment, and spent a few pleasant and dry hours going back and forth. The vehicles were part of an approximate 100 vehicle fleet provided by Mercedes Benz, for the use of players and officials. The ones we were driving had been used by players who did not qualify for weekend play; all the cars were silver grey, and loaded with extras.

When we finished, it was still fairly early in the afternoon, and there were no more things for us to do so we were dismissed. One of my colleagues visits Wyoming each summer, and stays on a ranch belonging to people I know and in fact I’ve also stayed at that ranch for an education conference. She also knows my brother-in-law and sister-in-law quite well, from working with them in theater projects on Hilton Head Island. We decided to have dinner together later, and I strolled out onto the course to see what was happening. I got there in time to see Phil begin his downfall on the 16th and 17th holes, and I watched the eventual winner climb into a tie for a playoff. I then left the course, preferring a dry shuttle to staying out in the rain, and went back to the hotel to change for dinner. All in all, a great day.

My summary is this: if you volunteer, don’t expect to see much of the tournament. Quite honestly, I’d rather watch one on TV than be there; I like to see what all of the golfers are doing. But if you want to see what kind of atmosphere prevails, or pay premium prices for food and merchandise, you’ll love it!

Part 3: Atlanta, Duke, Clayton, and the trip home

I have to stop for a few days; this is the week I hit the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, and I found out today that they have me scheduled for at least three days of testing and etc. beginning Wednesday, with some potential follow-up the next week. I’m still vertical, able to walk at least nine  holes carrying my clubs, and haven’t yet noticed anything significant affecting my arms, hands, or upper body. Except my chip shots around the green, but that may only be Operator Error. The hope is that they can halt the progression of this stuff; my appointments seem to be split between neurologists, about the CIDP, and haemotologists, for the MGUS. Or maybe they’re just testing my spelling ability. Watch this space for breaking news!

Always Be Happy!               To Our Youth!

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