Volunteers witness a number of firsts at Senior Women's Open

Updated 7/12/2018 7:30 PM
  • Volunteers at the Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton monitor the leaderboard during Thursday's opening round of the first U.S. Senior Women's Open Championship.

    Volunteers at the Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton monitor the leaderboard during Thursday's opening round of the first U.S. Senior Women's Open Championship. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

They had never volunteered as standard-bearers before Thursday's opening round of the first U.S. Senior Women's Open, but Anahi Gutierrez and Ximena Zuleta are definitely overqualified for the job.

The teenagers took a break in their seven weeks of caddie training this summer to spend the day alongside a trio of players in the championship hosted by Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton.

They were responsible for hoisting a heavy scoreboard on a sweltering July morning around 18 holes of a links-style course (translation: there are few spots in the shade).

But Anahi and Ximena, both 17-year-olds from Chicago, were no less thrilled with the prospect of seeing the women who paved the way for them as students of the Western Golf Association caddie academy in Lake Forest.

"It's nice to have a lot of girl caddies out here because golf is such a male-dominated sport," Ximena said before their group teed off. "So it's really nice to see there's girl caddies supporting the women golfers."

Female empowerment has inspired some volunteers to contribute to a championship of LPGA pioneers. But for others, it's simply the desire to be part of a historic milestone in the women's game.

"There are very few moments in your life when you can say you've been part of a 'first," said Marisa Giglio, the championship coordinator for the Senior Women's Open.

Volunteers have responded to that history in a big way: Nearly 500 will help stage the championship and practice rounds. USGA organizers initially started a waiting list in early June after filling the available slots but made an effort to involve those who signed up before the end of last month.

"So luckily, I think for the most part, we were able to pull most people in. We really wanted to try and include everybody," Giglio said.

The volunteer force is mostly local -- about 78 percent are from Illinois -- but it also represents 12 states and Canada.

Volunteers receive a shirt, a hat, a water bottle, a commemorative volunteer pin, and breakfast and lunch served each day. USGA also will mail each volunteer a scroll reproduced from the one signed by the 120-player field.

But the nicest perk might be their volunteer headquarters: The air-conditioned tent occupies a prominent spot alongside the first tee, not unlike the corporate hospitality pavilions you see at other events.

Inside are life-size cardboard cutouts of Charles Blair Macdonald, Chicago Golf founder and original architect, and Bessie Anthony, the last woman to win a national championship at Chicago Golf 115 years ago.

But it's safe to say that Anahi and Ximena, who arrived at Chicago Golf at 5:30 a.m. Thursday, weren't spending much time in the coziness of the volunteer tent and away from the star power on the course.

"It's very special that we do get to participate," Anahi said. "And especially being so young and being able to walk with these successful people, I think that's really exciting."

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