The Open Championship comes to life with the help of dedicated staff and volunteers, including some GCSAA members. Photos courtesy of BIGGA.
Sean Tully’s first official act as volunteer bunker raker at the 2019 Open Championship left him wondering if maybe it also might be among his last.
Tully, GCSAA Class A superintendent and 24-year association member, was among the superintendent — er, greenkeeper — volunteers who participate in a joint program between the British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association (BIGGA)
and the R&A to lend a hand at the annual Open Championship. The 50 or so members of the annual Volunteer Open Support Team are BIGGA members of at least two years who had won a lottery, and Tully is one of only a few Americans to have had his
One of Tully’s first duties at the 2019 Open at Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland was to rake the footprints one of his group’s players had made in a bunker on the par-4 No. 5 hole. He notes that Royal Portrush’s bunker is
filled with “dune sand” that gets sticky when wet. “That sand is really hard to rake,” says Tully, director of grounds maintenance at Meadow Club in Fairfax, Calif. “It took a lot of effort to get it where I wanted it.”
As he was raking, officials called up the next group to tee off. “They were waiting for me to finish the bunker, but I didn’t realize that,” Tully says. “They waved me out of the bunker, so I ran across the fairway.”
Sean Tully took in the action during the 2019 Open Championship at Royal Portrush as a part of BIGGA’s Volunteer Open Support Team, a role he will reprise this month at St. Andrews.
South African Justin Harding in the following group then hit into the bunker that Tully had just tended, and Tully was mortified to see Harding pointing toward his ball.
“Did I screw something up?” Tully recalls thinking.
It got worse. Harding took an awkward stance, made his swing to get out … and tumbled, along with his ball, on his backside in the sand.
“The guy falls down after the first bunker shot of the day,” Tully says. “I spent the next holes thinking it was my fault. But it wasn’t. His ball was just plugged to the face. It wasn’t my fault.”
Apparently not, since Tully this month will join another American — Rick Tegtmeier, CGCS, MG, director of grounds at Des Moines (Iowa) Golf & Country Club and 41-year association member — on the BIGGA Volunteer Open Support Team for the
historic 150th Open on the Old Course at St. Andrews.
This volunteer trip across the pond will be the first for Tegtmeier, who twice before has vacationed in the UK and Europe, but never in Scotland.
“Never done it,” Tegtmeier says. “I’ve known some Americans who were members of BIGGA who applied and got on it, and I thought, ‘I’m getting toward the end of my career. It’s the 150th at St. Andrews. I’ll
apply.’ I’m pretty elated.”
Tegtmeier has worked his share of Ryder Cups and PGA Tour events, and he hosted a Solheim Cup, but The Open, at the Old Course, is on a whole other level. “It’s the home of golf,” he says. “It’s where Old Tom Morris is buried,
where Young Tom Morris is buried. There’s just so much history. That’s a big deal.”
Rick Tegtmeier, CGCS, MG, will join Tully as American superintendents working this month’s Open Championship at St. Andrews as a part of BIGGA’s Open Support Team. Photo courtesy of Rick Tegtmeier.
The nature of the work, too, makes it a once- (or, in Tully’s case, twice-) in-a-lifetime event. Volunteering at most big stateside golf tournaments usually means long, grueling hours spent toiling on the course. The BIGGA volunteer crew is more
relaxed. For years, BIGGA says, golfers complained about inconsistent bunker raking at The Open until, in 1984, the Volunteer Open Support Team made its debut at St. Andrews. The crew has attended every Open since, freeing caddies to perform their
other duties and ensuring top-notch raking from start to finish — with 50 or so veteran turf pros onsite should any agronomic emergency arise.
“I’ll be walking with the players inside the ropes,” Tegtmeier says. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”
The significance of St. Andrews isn’t lost on Tully, an avid hobbyist golf/course historian — especially since the Old Course served as inspiration for Dr. Alister MacKenzie when he designed Tully’s workplace, Meadow Club, MacKenzie’s
first build in the U.S. Tully plans to walk the Old Course — and as many historic courses nearby as he can — as often as he can.
“I’ve never done a U.S. Open, but that’s too much commitment. I say that, but here I am, going to England,” Tully says with a laugh. “But this is different. We don’t have to wake up at 3 in the morning and set the course
up and fluff rough. You get to walk with a group of players and rake bunkers. There’s no other event we can do that. It’s a wonderful opportunity. They put us up someplace, set up a bar … there’s a lot of camaraderie. People
really get to know each other. We sit down and talk. It’s really cool. I have to be careful, though. I don’t want to make it sound too good. I don’t want to have too many people competing with me for a spot in the future.
“I’m pretty damn excited,” says Tully, who boasts Irish and Scottish heritage. “I can’t wait to get over there. I’m over the moon.”
Andrew Hartsock is GCM's senior managing editor.