x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Pupils help keep score and peace at Abu Dhabi Golf Championship

Volunteers keep things humming smoothly behind the scenes at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.

700 volunteers are working behind the scenes at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship. Christopher Pike / The National
700 volunteers are working behind the scenes at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship. Christopher Pike / The National

ABU DHABI // He's out there somewhere; the bloke with the loud voice that twangs "You're the man" after every successful putt.

But as some the world's best golfers teed off in the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship yesterday, 700 volunteers were working behind the scenes to keep him and thousands of fellow fans happy - and firmly in the background.

Volunteers will be especially vigilant around the tees and holes, ensuring the players have absolute silence, there is no movement in the crowd, and that mobile phones are set to quiet.

"It's very distracting in a backswing," said Peter German, executive director of the championship. "Whistling and shouting also distracts you."

Golf fans, unlike those that follow other sports, usually keep quiet and follow the rules. But there is always an exception.

"As an organiser, you can't be looking at 126 players playing 18 holes and we rely on people to help with that," said Mr German. "Here you need a lot of people.

"We brief them on their roles and what they must do. It is a very important function."

The biggest crowds are expected to follow world No 1 Rory McIlroy and No 3 Tiger Woods at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. And it will be the job of volunteers, many of them children, to keep them orderly.

Organisers are providing extra marshals and security guards around McIlroy and Woods throughout the tournament.

Of the 700 volunteers, 120 are pupils from the American Community School, Al Raha International School and Al Yasmina School.

They will act as marshals, stewards, walking scoreboard holders and leader-board operators.

"The championship is my favourite event in Abu Dhabi," said Emilio Martin de Bustamante, 15, from the American Community School.

Emilio has volunteered for the past three events and got close to some of the biggest names in the sport.

"The fact that younger players like Matteo Manassero are playing at such a high level shows us that anything is possible with the right amount of training," he said.

"This year I will be carrying a scoreboard so I get to walk around with the players. I can't wait."

The golf club ran a campaign for the past few months seeking volunteers of all ages.

"We like to pick kids who are switched on for the scoring. You can't be a slacker," said Shawn Lundy, the leader-board co-ordinator.

Ms Lundy said the club worked closely with teachers who showed them the right kids for the right jobs.

Max Franke, 14, from Germany, was working the scoreboard at the media centre yesterday.

"My dad and brothers play golf but I don't," Max said.

Having spent enough time on the fairways with his father, however, he has a good understanding of the game.

"The scoring's OK. It's easy enough when you understand the game."

But in front of the packed media centre where sports writers expected to see scores posted quickly, Max said he was kept busy.

"It can be a bit stressful because the papers [with the scores] start coming out fast."

Last year, he was keeping score on the 18th hole. "I prefer the media centre in the morning when it's chilly, but in the afternoon I'd like to be outside," Max said.

Katha Toma, 15, from Austria, said volunteering at the event would help her with a career in events management.

"I get to see everything going on behind the scenes and this is very good for that," Katha said.

She was based at the first scoreboard fans see when they enter the course, and as an avid fan and player she knows its importance.

"They look at it to see who is playing where and how well," Katha said.

"From there they decide what hole to go to and it's got to be right.

"Nothing has ever gone wrong, really. The printer malfunctioned once but it's all pretty simple once you get the get the hang of it."

The volunteers usually work in shifts. If they are walking with the game they will be in the winter sunshine for four hours, or two hours on and two hours off if they are stationed at a hole.

Carl Morin will be walking behind the players marking the scores for television, but said he would also keep an eye on the players' form, trying to gain all the tips he can.

"I'm a great golf fan and try to improve my game," said Mr Morin, 50, from the US. "They are so great to watch and they have such an elegant swing."

With seven years of experience volunteering at the event, he said he had several memories and tips he could pass on to the younger volunteers.

"Ricardo Gonzalez had a hole in one two years ago and he gave me the ball, which I still have," Mr Morin said.

"They are very friendly and supportive of us."

eharnan@thenational.ae