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Thousands of volunteers work behind the scenes at PGA Championship at Bethpage

This year, nearly 3,600 men, women and teenagers, ranging from 16 to 89, will work the tournament, while another 75 landed on a waiting list, said Kate Kinderwater, the PGA's volunteer operations manager.

More than 3,600 volunteers are involved in the PGA tournament, representing 45 states and 20 countries.  (Credit: Newsday / Yeong-Ung Yang)

The wake-up calls come at ungodly hours. The work, on a massive and often unfamiliar golf course, can be downright grueling. And the salary … well let's just say they're not here for a big payday.

For the volunteers working the PGA Championship tournament at Bethpage State Park this week, the long hours and 4 a.m. alarms are worth it for an opportunity to give back to their community and brush elbows with some of the sport's megastars.

"This is my labor of love," said Bob Dow, 59, of Miller Place, an experienced volunteer who helps supervise 1,300 volunteer marshals responsible for player movement and crowd control. "Golf is my passion. I love this sport. I love being around it. I love seeing the players. It’s very exciting to do things that most people never get to see or do. That’s why we are all here."

Volunteering to work the seven-day event, which began Monday, may be the next best thing to buying tickets for the tournament.

This year, nearly 3,600 men, women and teenagers, ranging from 16 to 89, will work the tournament, while another 75 landed on a waiting list, said Kate Kinderwater, the PGA's volunteer operations manager. Roughly 850 will work in the PGA merchandise tent. Others will be operating the leader board, working as laser operators or be transporting guests around the course.

"It's a big undertaking," said Kinderwater, who moved to Huntington 18 months ago to help plan the tournament volunteering. "It takes a lot of organization and skill to put it together."

The volunteers, about half of whom have previously worked PGA events, come from 45 states and 20 nations, including Canada, Australia, the Netherlands and the Philippines, Kinderwater said. 

Jeff Price, the PGA's chief commercial officer, said about 75 percent of the volunteers come from New York, with many from Nassau and Suffolk counties.

“We are thrilled to be able to have locals involved to make this tournament come together,” said Price, who lives in Sea Cliff.

Volunteers, who are required to work a minimum of four shifts of four hours apiece, must pay a $175 fee to help offset the cost of their uniform, which includes two golf shirts, a light jacket and a hat.

But there are perks, including proximity to the likes of Tiger Woods, free access to the tournament, food and beverage vouchers, complimentary parking and preferred registration to volunteer for the 2024 Ryder Cup at Bethpage Black. 

Volunteering, however, can be pricey for those visiting from out of town as the PGA does not reimburse travel or room and board. 

Lesley Heath, 65, traveled nearly 24 hours last week from Australia to volunteer as a marshal on Bethpage Black's 16th hole. The cost: about $8,000 plus hundreds more for an Airbnb in Mineola.

But Heath, a golf enthusiast who has volunteered at tournaments in Australia, calls the trip the "adventure" of a lifetime.

“No one looks at this like work," said Heath, a historian at the University of New South Wales in Sydney who plans to visit Boston and Washington, D.C., once the tournament ends. "It’s just such a great atmosphere."

Jenna Felder, 31, said volunteering is its own reward. The Islip Terrace resident is spending the week shuttling guests with physical disabilities around the course in a golf cart. Felder's day job is director of day programs at Old Bethpage-based Family Residence and Essential Enterprises, which supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“It’s just such a cool experience," said Felder, whose father and older brother are also volunteering at the tournament. "We are the golf course Uber."

But volunteer roles are also serious business. Mistakes can cost the PGA cash, create safety concerns or potential embarrassments to an international TV audience.

A self-described "perfectionist," Dow said he treats his volunteer role no different from a paid position. He arrives at the course every day at 5 a.m. and typically leaves anywhere from 7 to 9 p.m. Dow says he'll sleep just two to three hours during the tournament, often consumed with the tasks awaiting him the next day. 

"I am a professional," said Dow, whose "real job" is president of employee engagement at Augeo, a Ronkonkoma firm that manages employee discount and recognition programs for large employers. "I put 100 percent into absolutely everything I do … But if you love what you do it’s not really work."

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