Richard Block has participated in 70 professional golf tournaments, but not by playing golf.
Block, 77, an Atlantic City native now living in Somers Point, is one of more about 750 volunteers who each year help make the ShopRite Ladies Professional Golf Association Classic golf tournament at the Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club in Galloway Township go off without a hitch. From picking up players at the airport, to picking up golf balls on the practice range, volunteers are a crucial part of the weeklong event that ended Sunday.
"Without them, there really is no tournament," said volunteer coordinator Jenna Boyce.
Some volunteers are avid golfers or golf fans. Others first came out to support one of the charities that benefits from the tournament, and had such a good time they keep coming back. Most are retired but are still game for very long days rubbing elbows with some of the best women golfers in the world. A few will even open their homes to them, housing some of the new younger players who can't afford hotels and experienced players who have now become friends.
Block, who worked his eleventh local LPGA tournament this year, specializes in being a "walking scorer" one of the most popular volunteer jobs. They keep track of every score and get up real close to the players.
"I've learned a lot just from watching the players," said Block, who has golfed for 55 years. It gives me the chance to walk with players, see how they manage the course. It also keeps me in shape, and the ladies are so nice."
This year Block's son will be married during the tournament, so Block will work the practice rounds before leaving for the wedding.
Serena Smith of Galloway Township, a retired Atlantic Electric employee, got involved in the tournament eight years ago when she was volunteering with the Community Food Bank, one of the recipients of tournament proceeds. She began working a few weeks before the tournament began, helping to coordinate the volunteer packages and later staffing the volunteer tent.
"I'm very organized," she said. "And I enjoy the environment. It's very exciting. You have the best of the best here. When the tournament starts, I'm here from 5:30 a.m. to
7:30 p.m. every day."
Smith said she's amazed every year at how a large group of people, each doing a little piece, brings the tournament together.
Boyce said some volunteers are employees from the partner groups. AtlantiCare this year is sponsoring the volunteer program. Volunteers will come in from Richard Stockton College and the Food Bank. The Carriage House in Galloway Township hosted the volunteer appreciation dinner and local businesses, including area golf courses and restaurants, donated door prizes.
The largest group of volunteers, some 300, are the marshals who manage crowd control at each hole. Bernadine "B.I." Kanakis heads a group of 35 residents from the Greenbriar Oceanaire 55+ Golf and Country Club in Ocean Township, who come down to volunteer each year.
"We've got the seventh and eighth holes," Kanakis said. "It is tiring, but it's also fun. Our holes are right near the water and the turtles come out. It's really nice."
The group members are avid golfers, playing almost daily, and they relish the opportunity to get close to players.
"This is the only sport where you really can get up close and personal with the players," Kanakis said. "The ladies will sign your hats. They are so nice. The women golfers really do have to work harder to get recognition. And we all have our favorites, but we cheer for them all. It's just a sport we love."
Volunteers who get really up close and personal are those who open their homes to players. Linda Sayers, of Brigantine, started doing it when a neighbor was chairing the committee, and had such a good time she started recruiting other friends. This year Barbara Welsh and Judy and Tom Starkey, all of Brigantine, are also hosting young players and caddies.
"There's such an energy around the tournament," Sayers said. "And it is for charity."
Welsh doesn't golf, "but I do happen to have an empty bedroom," she said. She also worked concessions.
Tom Starkey joked that he just got coerced into hosting by wife Judy, whose sister had done it before.
"She was so excited," Judy said of her sister. "She said it was the best week of her life. And I've been so impressed at how well organized it all is."
Boyce, who has been coordinating tournament volunteers for three years, said she is always impressed by the enthusiasm and energy of the people who donate their time to help the tournament and the charities it supports. The tournament holds training sessions for the volunteers, going over rules and course etiquette.
"They're here from 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day," she said. "And you never have to worry about them. They're here, and they love it."
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