The Ocean Course
Kiawah Island, SC
April 23, 2017
Remember asking that cute girl from math class to your first middle school dance? That took preparation, right? A team of 12-year-old mad scientists overanalyzing the situation in the locker room before PE every day. A lot went into those five seconds of glory prior to her acceptance... pending parental approval of course. Although the stakes differ, that same precise preparation is required to run a professional sporting event.
In 2012, Kiawah Island, SC and The PGA of America shared hosting responsibilities for the PGA Championship, the final major championship each year. The event operations team began to take shape years before the first tee shot would be hit. That long-term, precise planning included city permits, new construction, major security, and nearly 400 golf carts.
I had the opportunity to be a small part of that major undertaking. I spent ten weeks of my summer as a PGA Championship Operations Assistant.
As a golf fan, this was a dream summer internship, or so I thought. I would be able to work at one of America’s top courses, The Ocean Course, surrounded by golf's best. Glamorous! Not so fast. Like I mentioned earlier, preparation was required. Serious preparation.
That summer was spent alongside 13 other "Swampers" as we were called. That tells you all you need to know about the glamour of the job. We were doing manual labor on the South Carolina coast in the dead of summer to make sure the PGA Championship went on without flaw in the public eye.
The two months leading up to the tournament were a grind. Working 95 hour weeks tightening and zip tying windscreen around porta-potties in the SC sun was not my dream internship.
However, many of life's most satisfying moments come after you put in hard work and preparation. The summer of 2012 was no different.
Tournament week arrived and we swampers began to see the fruits of our labor come to life. Tiger, Phil, Rory... The game's best had arrived, along with 30,000 spectators.
One practice round morning, following a heavy rainfall the night before, I was tasked with squeegeeing off the walking bridges on the back 9. As I cleared the path between holes 12 and 13 around 8am, a couple of golfers were heading my way. Those golfers were Tiger Woods and Davis Love III.
As Tiger approached me, staring into the alligator infested water, he said, “You don’t want to find yourself in that water.”
My response, “Nope. You might not come out alive.” was followed by a smirk and nod of agreement from the world’s greatest golfer. I look back on that brief “conversation” and smile. Very few people get the chance, even for five seconds, to have a causal and genuine exchange with Tiger.
Soon after the bridges were cleared, my favorite golfer made his way to the back 9. Webb Simpson, a former Wake Forest Demon Deacon and fellow Raleigh native, was preparing to play his first major championship following his US Open victory a couple of months prior.
Having run into Webb and his caddy, Paul Tesori, a few times before, they recognized me. They were kind enough to invite me on the 404-yard walk down the 13th hole. Walking inside the ropes during a major championship practice round with two guys that I look up to was a special moment for me.
Only needing to work the morning shift during tournament week, I had the chance to take in the event during the afternoons. The preparation paid off. Cruising past 30,000 people in a golf cart and walking through the club house gave me lasting memories. As many looked at my “All Access” badge with envy, what they didn’t see was the hard work that 13 other swampers and I had put in up until that point.
The PGA Championship concluded with Rory McIlroy running away with an 8-shot victory. Following his victory, all of the swampers had the chance to get a group photo with Rory on the 18th green.
The two days following the last putt, I was able to play the entire course with the Sunday pin locations and the grand stands still in place. That is a memory I'll never forget.
I never could have guessed the number of lessons 100-degree days, windscreen, and a nasty farmer’s tan would teach me. Thank you, preparation.