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1,200 Volunteer at Capital Open

After 15 years of coordinating the 1,200 volunteers at the FBR Capital Open, this was the first time that Ellen Sullivan called up every volunteer on the waiting list.

This year, Sullivan and the heads of the Open’s 35 volunteer committees rolled with wet weather, a new sponsor and new technology.

When the pro tournament began the morning of Thursday, June 5, Sullivan and the committee heads ensured the show went on, and executed Plan B when necessary.

“The weather always wreaks havoc. It makes it hard on everybody,” said Sullivan.

The usual public parking in the fields by Avenel was rendered impassible, and spectators were diverted to Montgomery Mall and the county fairgrounds, then transported in a shuttle. Limited on-site parking remained for some who were determined to try their luck. Kevin Spellman of Burlington, Vt. was not a volunteer, but he and his fellow parking attendants were called upon to shove many vehicles mired in the lots. Spellman has made the 10-hour trip to the Open for four years now, and he wasn’t fazed by the sloppy lots.

“Two years ago, it was raining every day. At least this year we got a few dry days,” Spellman said.

But many volunteers were unable to arrive as early as planned, and coordinators executed alternate plans. Among those ready to pick up the slack was Lorraine Hixon, assistant coordinator of the Walking Scorers.

“When somebody doesn’t show up, I run out and take their place. … “I got tapped for it twice [today],” said Hixon, who called seven committee members and requested their early arrival to replace any latecomers.

The sun was out by mid-morning on Thursday, and Harold Bane, a ticket sales volunteer from Rockville, could concentrate on more typical golf issues. At the ticket booth, volunteer Harold Bane from Rockville looked forward to “the camaraderie and the excitement of the tournament. … It’s one of the big sports attractions in the area,” he said. “I think it’s a stronger field of pros this year.”

DONNA DUKE of Potomac has overseen the Youth committee’s standard bearers for 23 years.

“When it rains, it’s disaster,” said Duke. “Today it was the traffic and the kids getting here late.”

Duke and Sue Tendall of North Potomac were in charge of 110 standard bearers, the student volunteers who carry signs with each group of three pros as they move through the course’s 18 holes.

Jack Weiland, Wootton’s varsity golf coach, has volunteered at Avenel for three years, but this is the first year he got to be an official scorer. Weiland, whose daughter Jenny has been a standard bearer for four years, also helped assemble the standard bearers’ signs, each of which has the names of three PGA golfers.

It’s tougher than it looks. “For the smaller kids, when it gets windy, it gets difficult for them,” said Tendall. Gonzaga sophomore Andrew Martinez is on his school’s swim and crew teams, but after 18 holes, “my feet hurt so much,” he said.

“It’s just been a fun thing to do. You get to get out of school [and] you can listen to what the caddies have suggestions for,” said Joseph Scola, who wasn’t attending eighth grade at Hoover Middle School on Thursday. “I’ve learned a lot about course etiquette. We need to be quiet.”

Tom Daly, an eighth-grader from Olney, has advice for all rookie standard bearers: “Just listen to what the scorekeeper has to say, and try not to mess up.” Daly speaks from last year’s experience. “I forgot to put the number up. The caddie came up to me and told me what was wrong.”

Standard bearers get a view of the glamour and the underside of PGA play. Patrick Sullivan was back for his second year at the position. “It was a fun time. I did it for Charles Howell III, and he was upcoming, so it was really nice. … I talked to him a little bit,” said Patrick Sullivan. “Last year the caddie was a jerk. Charles actually said, ‘Sorry about the caddie.’ … He yelled at me, because he said I was being loud when I wasn’t making any noise.”

ONE CHANGE in the world of Avenel volunteers was the end of the volunteer waiting list, after implementation of new technology created the need for 60 additional volunteers. ShotLink, a technological system charting data about each PGA player’s shot, was implemented on all 18 holes this year. Additional volunteers were needed to operate ShotLink equipment, which includes global positioning devices that measure players’ shots.

“We depleted the waiting list for the first time in 15 years,” said Ellen Sullivan, who has been the volunteer coordinator throughout that time.

ShotLink technology also changed existing volunteer positions. Walking scorers carried palm pilots and wore battery packs around their waists this year. “We did this with paper for as long as I can remember. … We lost a lot of women,” said Hixon of the Walking Scorers committee. “This year we have a lot more men doing it.”

Working the Shotlink technology on the seventh hole was Jim Innocenzi of Vienna. “It’s point-and-click,” said Innocenzi. “It’s kind of fun. You can see how the young guns are smoking it past.”

CAPITAL OPEN volunteer Michael Burke wasn’t bothered by the new hat he wore — getting PGA pro autographs is old hat to him. A year ago, Burke’s Kemper Open hat was covered with dozens of signatures, but two hours after teeoff last Thursday, Burke’s new Capital Open hat already boasted eight autographs and counting.

Like Burke, many volunteers are motivated by their brushes with golfing greatness. “It’s fun to see when they get in the rough, how they get out, and which clubs they use to get out,” said Hixon on the Walking Scorers committee. Hixon loves “seeing the way the pros play and how they conduct themselves and give golf a good name.”

From Toronto, medical supplier Don MacPherson has volunteered at the Open for seven years. This year he was working for Contestant Services, assisting the PGA golfers when they are on the putting green or the tee. If everything is ready, “they’re happy campers,” said MacPherson. “Once in a while, we have the opportunity to grab a bite to eat with [the pros].”

A marshal at the second hole, John Maguire of Rockville has marshaled at other tournaments, and the highlight is easy for him to pick out.

“Working the U.S. Open [at Congressional] when Tiger Woods was there. There were marshals that just walked with him,” said Maguire. “It’s amazing, because I never saw him turn down a kid for an autograph the whole day.”

For those interested in volunteering in the 2004 Capital Open, Sullivan said it’s best to call the tournament in the fall. “I usually come around in October,” she said. “That’s when I start putting them on the waiting list.”

VOLUNTARY COMPLIANCE

As each group of three PGA golfers advances through TPC-at-Avenel’s 18 holes, they are joined by a band of volunteers including one standard bearer, usually an area student, who carries the sign bearing each golfer’s name and an update of how far over/under par each golfer is. By a trailer near Avenel’s clubhouse, the 110 students who volunteer as standard bearers are debriefed by Potomac resident Donna Duke, who has overseen the Open’s Youth committee for 23 years. Duke’s pointers include:

* Have six of each number in your pockets.

* Use paper clips if the numbers don’t stay fastened to the sign.

* Change the numbers after the pros leave the green; don’t do it while the pros are still there.

* Don’t ever get behind the players. If you’re golfers, you know where to stand.

* Just remember black [over par] and red [under par]. That’s the main thing.

* Don’t talk to the players unless they speak to you first.

* Don’t talk to your mother, father or friends.