The 76th playing of the U.S. Women’s Open brought 156 competitors to The Olympic Club in San Francisco in pursuit of the most prestigious title in women’s golf. It also brought together a group of 29 women, all volunteers, united by their passion for turf and their willingness to assist host director of golf maintenance Troy Flanagan and his team with the staging of the event.
Jill Seymour was one of them.
Seymour is the superintendent at Charleston Springs Golf Course, a municipal facility in Millstone Township, New Jersey. The course is part of the Monmouth County Park System.
During the week of the Women’s Open, however, she and her peers were members of Flanagan’s team. Seymour, who holds a turfgrass science degree from Penn State, notes the volunteers came from a variety of backgrounds.
“We had not only superintendents in there, but we had educators in there,” she told Rick Woelfel in the latest episode of the Wonderful Women of Golf podcast series. “We had researchers in there, we had a lot of up-and-coming superintendents in there, so it was definitely a wide assortment of knowledge and experience.”
Seymour had an assortment of responsibilities during the week. Each morning she and an Olympic Club staff member were charged with setting up the front nine. “We would drop off the tee markers,” Seymour says, “and then we’d double back around and work hand in hand with the PGA professionals to cut pins every day.”
After the setup was finished, it was time for breakfast, and then on to an educational or networking event. Seymour’s evening assignments then ranged from assisting with hard packing bunkers to hand watering fairways.
” You eavesdrop on some of the people standing next to you. They don’t know who you are or what you’ve been doing since 3:30 in the morning.”
Seymour was impressed with the attention to detail that characterized the crew’s efforts during the week. And she relished being able to do the type of work that is at the core of her profession.
“I got to do what I want to do,” she says. “To get in there and get my hands dirty and do the actual work was amazing. But to do it to that level was amazing. The fact that we’re hard packing bunkers in the evening just to re-rake them in the morning … not only are we filling divots, but we’re filling ball marks in fairways. I don’t know who does that. I know sometimes we don’t even have time to do divots in our fairways. So, definitely doing work shoulder to shoulder with other women in that element is super cool.”
Seymour enjoyed the opportunity to network with her fellow turf professionals over the course of the week. “I’m used to cold-weather grasses (at Charleston Springs), a Northeast climate, and I’m talking to people from Arizona about some of the stuff they have to deal with,” she says. “It’s a different kind of learning. It was very interesting.”
Watching play during the afternoons allowed Seymour to reflect on what the Olympic Club’s storied Lake Course looked like under tournament conditions, and also allowed her to gauge spectator reaction.
“It’s kind of cool to eavesdrop,” she says. “You eavesdrop on some of the people standing next to you. They don’t know who you are or what you’ve been doing since 3:30 in the morning. It’s definitely a different perspective. One of the funniest things is during the afternoon, you’re definitely not allowed inside the ropes and in the morning, that’s all we are is inside ropes. But it’s nice to reflect on that kind of condition of that style golf course.”
Another highlight was receiving thanks from the players themselves.“We would be behind the No. 16 green,” Seymour says, “and we’d be watching some golf as it was coming through and a lot of the players were stopping to thank us for the conditions. There were so many of us we’d start to do ball marks in fairways and we’d start to pick up pine needles. When you get to that sort of stuff then you kind of know, ‘All right the course is in pretty good condition if this is what we’re doing.’”