Most readers have not had an opportunity to cover a professional golfer at a PGA Tour tournament. And I’m thinking that most people haven’t attended a PGA Tour tournament as a spectator either. So I’m going to try to paint this with a fairly broad brush.
About nine months out of the year, there is a weekly PGA Tour tournament somewhere, sometimes two. That’s in addition to two other tours — the Champions Tour is for the tour’s seniors and the Web.com Tour develops players for the PGA Tour, similar to baseball’s minor leagues.
Besides opportunities for tour players to earn an income, the tournaments offer opportunities to enhance life in the host communities. PGA Tour tournaments are huge fundraisers for more than 2,000 charities.
For example, last year’s Farmers Insurance Open at La Jolla raised more than $2 million for charities. This year, tournament organizers were aiming at $3 million.
The PGA Tour acknowledges that it is able to pass on so much to charities because of its backbone of volunteer workers. I met a tournament marshal in her seventies who volunteers to work the Torrey Pines tournament each year even though she lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. She plans her annual visit with her daughter in San Diego around the La Jolla event.
Spectators can purchase either daily or weekly passes to PGA Tour tournaments. As a spectator, I’ve identified three basic ways to enjoy a PGA Tour tournament. Many fans simply choose their favorite player to shadow. Pick out one player and walk the entire course with him.
Another option that enables one to see the entire field of players is to locate yourself at one hole. You’ll see each golfer as the pros play through during that day’s round.
Some spectators just hang around the main clubhouse area catching a tee off here and a green there and enjoying the several beer and wine gardens, which usually are equipped with huge television screens and leaderboards. And, of course, you can employ any combination of the three.
Following Idyllwild native Brendan Steele as a media member is not a whole lot different from following him as a spectator, except that as a media person I get to use a camera.
I need only outside-the-ropes photography credentials since shooting with a 300mm lens is good enough from the gallery. Unfortunately, I don’t always get a good camera angle from there. Sometimes when I do a caddie or another player blocks it. So every few holes, when I do get a good angle, I certainly want to get the shot.
But the first two years I covered Brendan at Torrey Pines the volunteer marshals had trouble seeing my photo ID, which was just a small paper wristband. Three or four times each round, one of them would interrupt my attempt to get a good photo.
One marshal jumped in front of my camera and asked, “Do you want that thing confiscated?” This year, the PGA Tour began issuing very large, bright yellow IDs for outside-the-ropes press photographers, and I had no trouble at all.
For me, following Brendan means that I generally arrive at a tournament an hour or so before his tee time. I catch his warm-ups on the practice tee and putting green before his round begins.
I try to stay out of his way, and I click off shots only well after he has contacted the ball. I also keep a running description of his round, shot by shot, using my own shorthand.
As either spectator or reporter, you get much more of a personal feel for a golfer and his abilities when you follow him around the course watching his every shot. That requires at least five miles of walking daily, so you do get some exercise.
Different tournaments have different facilities. At the Farmers Insurance Open in La Jolla, the media has access to the clubhouse restaurant and lounge along with the pros. The Northern Trust Open at the Riviera Country Club has personally-assigned laptop desks for each media member. The Humana Challenge in La Quinta lets media members use the players’ refreshment areas that are placed around the course, a very welcome media “perk” indeed.
Of course, walking with the pros you do have to be a bit careful. Once on an overcast day I lost the flight of a ball while I was standing near a green and got hit by one of Brendan’s 365-yard three-wood shots. It hit me on my thigh, no damage was done. Brendan did make me the gift of an autographed glove, which is kind of traditional when a spectator is hit.
Some people don’t know that a player’s official score card is kept by another golfer in his group. The players exchange score cards on the first tee, and when the round is over, they go immediately to the scorer’s trailer where they each go over their own card meticulously before they sign it.
If they mistakenly sign for a higher score on a hole than they actually shot, that higher score becomes official. If they mistakenly sign for a lower score, they are disqualified from the tournament.
So when Brendan comes out of the scorer’s trailer, I step inside the ropes for an interview. Brendan is the most cordial of interviewees. I’m sure it’s natural for him, but it’s like he’s thinking of ways to make the interview go well for you. One PGA Tour employee, when he learned that I was covering Brendan, told me that he was the nicest guy on the tour.
Of course I can’t attend all of Brendan’s tournaments — only the two or three that he plays in Southern California. So for the great bulk of the year I’m following him only on television and by computer.
If you love golf, you’ll find a wealth of detailed information about each player’s rounds at the official PGA Tour website: www.pgatour.com, including play-by-play descriptions with yardages. When I’m not present at one of Brendan’s tournaments, I do my best to cover his play by sewing together information from that website and every other source available.