By Chris Vogt at Kingston Heath
STAGING a golf tournament is a colossal undertaking. The size of the playing field alone makes it a daunting task. Add to that thousands of spectators without assigned seats watching a game which takes players to all parts of the site, and the logistics become the stuff of nightmares. These events demand planning, commitment, and the coolest of heads.
Norm Emerson (pictured above left) has one of those. For twenty-five years, he has pulled together and coordinated the Volunteer workforce at tournaments in Victoria and elsewhere. These armies of club members and golf lovers work long hours in trying weather conditions, with deference to Emerson, who is glowing in his praise for them.
They’re terrific people”, he says, comfortably aboard the cart allocated to him for this week’s World Cup at Kingston Heath. “Most of them are a joy to work with, and they’re loyal, too.”
Emerson is in final preparations for yet another major event. Emerson’s involvement reaches back decades. As a Huntingdale member he volunteered at some of those 1980s Masters when Greg Norman was in his prime, although Emerson described the volunteering experience as “a shambles”. On Huntingdale’s committee in 1990, he was given the role of Volunteer Coordinator for the Masters.
Emerson set about assembling and retaining a group who could meet the demands of the country’s biggest tournament. He was well-supported by Trevor Herden, who at the time was with IMG, a key player in the success of the event.
“The tournament had sparkle”, says Emerson, recalling the glory days. “I watched Seve (Ballesteros) top his drive fifty metres, Greg Norman reach 14 with two drivers, and Langer’s hole-in-one was special, too.” The Shark’s duel with young Huntingdale member Craig Spence also produced a moment of near chaos, saved only by the calm of Emerson.
“The huge crowd spilled onto the sixth fairway”, remembers Emerson. “I called out ‘STOP!’”. They did, and for the remainder of the day, walked the fairways in an orderly fashion, with Emerson as their shepherd.
He believes it should always be this way. “I’ve said it for years. The players don’t mind having spectators around. They’re used to the noise. It’s movement that disturbs them. But Australian galleries are so knowledgeable and respectful, it could work. The PGA says TV wouldn’t like it. TV says they wouldn’t mind. I’ll let them work that one out.”
Emerson has dozens of player-related anecdotes, but it’s the volunteers who make it for him. He recently returned from the Fiji International, where he performed his usual role, but with volunteers who knew little about golf. His preparations included teaching locals the basics. “This is a tee, this is a green”, says Emerson, laughing now, though at the time it was a concern. “Language was a problem, but they’re such wonderful people. We got along and had a lot of fun.”
Weather is always a factor. Emerson recalls consecutive 42-degree days at the 1998 Presidents Cup.
“I thought we were going to lose people out there. The crowds were massive and by the afternoon, they were drooping in the heat. The Volunteers were outstanding that week. Rarely does a tournament go by without extremes of weather, but we’re looking ok at this stage. A little sun would be nice.”
This year’s World Cup Volunteers are set to go. All 520 of them. Emerson is working with members of Kingston Heath, along with his core group of regulars. This core group comprises members of various local clubs (he sets them up one club per hole). “We’ve a full roster, plenty of courtesy cars and shuttles, and there’s a great marquee for the volunteers. Australian tournament organisers appreciate the efforts of these people.”
The Volunteers, too, can’t speak highly enough of the man.
“I don’t know how he does it,” says a shuttle driver who is in his 12th year as a member of Emerson’s troupe. “He has so many people to deal with, all these different personalities, and has to juggle everyone’s moods. Somehow, he pulls us together, year after year.”
Another, a longtime scoreboard walker, marvels at the work done behind the scenes. “We have uniforms in our exact size, caps, water bottles, sunscreen, the works. It doesn’t just happen, yet it seems that way because of Norm’s experience, disposition and commitment.
Some volunteers are asked by friends just why they do it. More than one admits, “Sure, there are perks, like free entry, lunch, and walking the fairways with great golfers.” Others talk of friendships built and nurtured, and that they find themselves hooked on it.
“But to be frank,” one says, “We do it for Norm. Tournament golf is indebted to him.”
Norm Emerson is closing in on 50 PGA events, but seems indefatigable. “I’ll continue for as long as they’ll have me. The tournament days are punishing, with dawn starts, heat, cold and rain, and late finishes. But I still enjoy the atmosphere, the familiar faces, and working with a fantastic team.”
Australian golf is lucky to have him.