Don Dolphin's view of Monday's practice round action at the U.S. Senior Open was a bit obstructed.
Behind the leader board at the 17th green, the retiree from Indianapolis stood on a raised platform and opened small metal doors on the board, carefully attaching magnetic letters before closing them again.
“Give me a B-L-A-K-E, Bob,” he shouted to another volunteer. Bob Rainer, a retired UPS driver from Pender, Neb., searched through neatly stacked piles of magnets to find the right letters and consulted a program to double-check the spelling of players' names.
Up on the metal platform, with the temperatures rising into the upper 80s and the air still and humid, the job was hot, repetitive and not exactly glamorous. And for their trouble, the men won't be paid; in fact, they each shelled out $125 for the privilege.
But both said they were excited to be a part of the weeklong tournament — as is the rest of the army of nearly 3,000 volunteers who signed up to do everything from directing traffic to shushing spectators on the course.
The call for volunteers from tournament organizers was answered loudly and quickly, mostly by locals.
About 80 percent of the championship volunteers are from Omaha, Lincoln and other surrounding communities.
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John Jacobsen, a retired deputy director of the Nebraska Department of Roads, said he read about the search for volunteers in the newspaper and figured he couldn't pass up a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” He'll be spending part of the week as the hole marshal at No. 6, handling crowd control and answering questions, among other duties. He's looking forward to the work, and the chance to see players like Fred Funk and Fred Couples in action.
“It's an opportunity to get inside the ropes,” he said.
Plus, Jacobsen said, lounging in a cushy leather chair inside the air-conditioned volunteer tent, the job does come with other perks.
In exchange for $125 and a commitment to work four shifts, each lasting four hours, volunteers receive a pass to every day of the event (which would otherwise cost $150). They get United States Golf Association polo shirts, hats and water bottles. While they're working, volunteers get meals in a tent that has a pool table and few massage tables.
Many of the volunteers are retirees. Some are people who opted to spend vacation time at the tournament. Several of the youngest volunteers are teenagers who typically spend their summer days at the Omaha Country Club, working as caddies.
This week, those caddies are out in force, selling programs. The money they make will go into a caddies' scholarship fund that some, including 19-year-old John Powers, have already used to help pay for college.
Powers, who has spent six summers as a caddy, said he's been excited to see the course transform for the tournament and he's happy to help.
“It's a way to give back,” he said.
For some of the out-of-town volunteers, Omaha is just one stop on a busy summer schedule of golf tournaments.
Dolphin said he and his wife started volunteering with the USGA when they retired eight years ago. Now they go to at least a couple each year, picking destinations where they can get in some sightseeing. In Omaha, they're hoping to visit the Henry Doorly Zoo and Boys Town.
Kathy Wood, of Ogallala, Neb., got interested in golf after she retired from a data processing job at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She volunteered at a tournament in Lincoln and got hooked. Next month, she'll head to Colorado to pitch in at an event on the LPGA tour.
“It's just seeing all the people and the players,” she said. “You can see them on TV, but it doesn't do it justice.”