I just finished 4 days at the Quicken Loans National at Robert Trent Jones golf club in Gainesville working as a Shotlink volunteer, Va. Wow what an awesome course! Between the tall oaks, the undulating but never really steep terrain, the views of Lake Manassas (a public reservoir with no public boating access!) and the immaculate course conditions you can see why membership at RTJ is by invitation only (and obviously $$$$$).
The main jobs on the Shotlink crew are working the Fairway and Greenside lasers. The job is to zap and manually grid every shot (including drops) and then send the location information through a handheld device to the Shotlink trailer. The folks in the trailer (which is crammed with high tech) combine the laser information with the walking scorer information to verify the accuracy, then the info is broadcast out to TV and the Internet. If you ever hear a TV broadcaster for a PGA event who is not sure about the distance of a drive or distance to the hole then you can bet behind the scenes that the TV crew has radioed the Shotlink trailer crew and they have radioed the laser operators to get the data entered faster. Saturday I got to see Tiger hit an incredible flop shot on the 18th green. His approach shot was so far off the green it was close to the temporary stands. It settled into the rough too quickly and disappeared so I was unable to laser where it landed right away. While I was waiting for him to take a stance to give me a clue where to shoot the location, the trailer was on the radio asking what the problem was because TV was asking about it. The problem was Tiger needed a ruling for a free drop. Once Tiger gets the ruling he picks up the ball (and I take the first shot), he drops it while I'm entering the shot data in on the hand held device, takes his stance (so I can get the second shot), hits this incredible flop shot out of thick rough on a steep downhill lie from about 4-5 feet above the green over a bunker below the green onto the last inch of fringe before the edge of the green where the ball checks up 99% of forward motion, but rolls one revolution off the fringe onto the green and then starts rolling downhill to a tight pin, stopping 3 feet short of the pin. For reference, we saw most players who were in the bunker shooting on the same line (and uphill) either send their balls 30 feet past the pin or come up short in the rough (or stay in the bunker). We only saw one player stop his ball short of the pin from the bunker (and that was shooting up hill!). Tiger's facial expressions and body language was priceless. His tee shot on the hole was a disaster, when he found his ball and saw the lie he shrugged liked "what are you going to do - I'm going to get a really bug number on this hole now and then both before and after his shot he was all big smiles like this is going to be fun and boy was that a great shot. I was told that I was on TV in the background before Tiger took the shot, but I didn't tape it.
One cool part about working Shotlink is the opportunity to be inside the ropes and get a birds eye view of the action. On Friday I worked 11 green. It was a par 3 and had a front pin position. In front of the green was a steep slope leading down to the lake. Of course a few players were short and balls rolled in the water. A couple players (no names mentioned Sam Saunders) were so pissed about their play on the hole that they threw their ball into the lake when they were done. I was curious to see if any of the players were playing prototype balls so during breaks in the action I'd sneak out of the tower I was in, duck under the ropes and fish the balls out with a bunker rake. I got 7 balls. Sam plays a Callaway Speed Regime 3 S that has 3 dimples stamped with "D", "N" and a number (e.g. "5" or "6"). The Pro V1X's were stamped "o" and "L" in the dimples. A Pro V1 was stamped "1", "Z" and "S". Does anyone know what that these stampings mean? Yesterday I got to the 17th green early and had time to go all round the green and pace off distances to (cough) verify the map and see what the players were going to face from all angles. Staying at the same hole all day, you get to see the different strategies the pros use and how well they work. 17 was a "short" (380 yard) par 4. With a back pin position, a back to front slope and a lot of players hitting wedges into the green, we saw a ton of shots zipping backwards 20-40 feet after landing but we also saw players choose to land in the front and let the ball release to the pin or choose to "drop and stop". It was painful to see the Big Easy (Ernie Els) 4 putt, missing 3 from inside of 5 feet. We could see how guys who choose to hit their tee shot long had an advantage on their approach shot. The long guys were closer to the hole then their playing partners when they both hit good shots, but about half the time the long guys made mistakes on their approach shot and got into trouble (e.g. going long over the green and unable to spin the ball back out of the rough or Bowditch shanked his 70 yard approach shot into the green side bunker). It was really cool to watch putts on 17 roll past the hole in 3 different directions, then creep back closer to the hole.
Working the lasers is pretty easy, but can get hectic at times. There is online training, an offsite training session before the tournament and a practice laser set up on the pro am day. We usually have two people working each location. Although working Shotlink is a volunteer job, you do have to pay ($75). This gets you a uniform shirt and hat, food every day you work, a pass good for every day, a parking pass, tickets for every day (approx $30 value each) you can give to a friend and goodies (e.g. water bottle, Golfsmith discount coupons). And you get to meet some interesting people. This year I met the guy who was the boss of the shotlink development team at IBM and Jeff Overton. At the DC tournament, we're always looking for more people to volunteer, but you'll need to commit to working a weekday. If you're interested in working the DC tournament next year at Congressional, send me a PM and I'll get you on the list. If you're in interested in working PGA tournaments in other cities, check out the tournament web sites about 6 months before the tournament to see how to volunteer.