Beginning Aug. 9, the PGA Championship will grace the greens of South Carolina for the first time in the tournament’s 94-year history. The Ocean Course on Kiawah Island has the distinction of representing the Palmetto State for this prestigious event, and a large number of local residents will be among the 3,000 or so volunteers whose efforts will help the tournament run smoothly.
Local volunteers will donate a minimum of 16 hours of their time, plus a $200 fee, for the privilege of helping the Professional Golfers’ Association of America orchestrate a historic event not only for the South Carolina but also for the Ocean Course. In exchange, the tangible benefits they will receive include food and water vouchers, discounted rates to play the Kiawah Island Golf Resort courses, a uniform and a copy of the official program. However, it’s the intangible bonuses that really excite the volunteers.
“I feel it’s a privilege just to be able to volunteer,” said Mount Pleasant resident Carl Piontek. “This is a major golf tournament on the tour. You’re going to pay a little more to be a part of it, and that’s fine by me.”
Piontek’s eyes absolutely light up when he talks about being on the Ocean Course with some of the greats of golf, such as Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and last year’s champion, Keegan Bradley. In addition to feeling like you are part of the action, there is always the chance you will get to meet the players during the practice rounds.
“The biggest perk for me is that I just enjoy doing it,” said River- Towne Country Club member Ray Dennis, who will be marshaling the fifth hole. “You really feel part of an event when you volunteer.”
Becky Jones, a food and beverage manager at Patriots Point Golf Club, is used to being part of the action. As a former caddy at the Ocean Course, her participation in the PGA Championship will be a homecoming of sorts. She was hoping to be a walking scorer, so much so that she woke up at midnight the day the volunteer slots opened just to snag the coveted position. However, she is not complaining about her assignment as a marshal.
“I’m just majorly excited to be in the middle of all the action and watch the guys hit the ball,” said Jones.
She knows the course better than most people, and she knows all too well that a windy day will pose a difficult challenge even for the best and most experienced golfers on the PGA Tour. More than two decades after the fact, most golfers and golf enthusiasts still remember the epic “War by the Shore” Ryder Cup match hosted by the Ocean Course.
“I think it will be fun just to see what the pros can do with the course,” said Dennis. “Either they will play the course or the course will play them.”
Being up close and personal with the pros offers a bird’s eye view of the action, but Steve Segall, a ranger at Charleston National, has no illusions that he will be able to implement any of the pointers he may glean from the pros while handling his marshaling duties.
“Their horrible game would be better than I could ever hope to play my whole life; they just play a different game,” said Segall.
The PGA Championship will provide an opportunity for golfers from all over the world to shine, but it also will give the fast-growing town of Mount Pleasant the chance to show off. With 27,000 people per day expected to converge on Kiawah and its environs, there is little doubt that Mount Pleasant won’t disappoint those who choose to visit other parts of the Lowcountry.
As for the local volunteers, their passion for golf is matched by their passion for the community in which they live. It’s as if they feel so lucky to live in such a beautiful area that they are compelled to pay it forward.
“If it’s local, I definitely try to volunteer. It’s hometown,” said Dennis. “This is just my way of giving back to the community. It’s nice to see the area and the course get the recognition it deserves.”
While working at Charleston National, Segall has the opportunity to meet golfers from all over the country. He has heard them express many times how being in Mount Pleasant is like “living in a postcard.”
Segall, who is a real estate attorney as well, knows a thing or two about prime locations and echoed their sentiments.
“It’s just a wonderful lifestyle here,” he said. “I did a lot of research before I moved, and this was the greatest place I found.” “This is big stuff for the Charleston area,” Piontek agreed. “This is a really nice way to showcase our lifestyle down here. Not that we want any more people. We kind of like it the way it is.”
Photography by Kayla Jones