Switching gears to volunteer at the U.S. Open

Caddie Matt O’Brien has temporarily traded golf bag for bunker rake.


Matt O'Brien
Matt O’Brien spends Monday morning on bunker duty at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club ahead of practice rounds for the 118th U.S. Open. Photo by Howard Richman

Normally, you can find Matt O’Brien working as a caddie at a famed U.S. golf course. At the moment, however, he’s on location at the facility at the center of golf’s attention: Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y., site of this week’s U.S. Open, where O’Brien is pitching in as a maintenance crew volunteer for Jon Jennings, CGCS.

O’Brien spends many of his days at Pine Valley Golf Club in Clementon, N.J. The private club, which hosted the Walker Cup in 1936 and 1985, has been ranked as the No. 1 U.S. golf course by Golf Digest on more than one occasion. What makes O’Brien raking bunkers this morning before practice rounds particularly interesting is that Pine Valley GC is rake-free.

So, how did O’Brien get this duty? He met Jennings in 2009 when the superintendent attended the Walker Cup at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. In a golf outing the day following the Walker Cup, O’Brien caddied for Jennings. “He (Jennings) was a great guy. We kept in touch,” says O’Brien, 31, who has been at Pine Valley GC for three years.

O’Brien discovered the caddie life at 14. Some of his baseball teammates had been hired to do it in the Philadelphia area, and when he heard they made $30 a bag, he signed up. “I liked being around people. Every day is different. You learn something new every day,” O’Brien says.

The biggest difference between being a caddie and working on Jennings’ crew? “The hours,” says O’Brien. “But it’s a cool experience working on this side of it for a change.”

On Sunday, O’Brien was on the divot crew, so he’s getting to try his hand at a variety of tasks. There may be a limit, though. “I don’t see myself getting on any mowers,” O’Brien says.

Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.