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Jock and Jill

MARSHALLING THE PGA As we've seen for the past 18 months, the spirit of volunteerism is alive and well in Vancouver. At Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club, the RBC Canadian Open registered the fastest volunteer sign up in event history.

MARSHALLING THE PGA

As we've seen for the past 18 months, the spirit of volunteerism is alive and well in Vancouver. At Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club, the RBC Canadian Open registered the fastest volunteer sign up in event history. Approximately 1,400 volunteers stepped up to support and witness the competition, held this month in the 100th year of the private, West Side golf course. The field is studded with some of the top golfers in the world, but hundreds of volunteers signed up nearly a whole year before players announced their intent to play.

Steve Smith wasn't starstruck-"I'm too old for that," said the lean and tan golfer-but he stood in awe as three chip shots landed on the 18th green, dropping at his feet where he stood in the rough as a volunteer course marshal. Each two meters from the next, the balls encircled the pin like landlocked capital cities thirsting for port access.

Observing the talent, consistency and strategy of a player like David Duval from just a club's length away, I know aspects of my own game would be sharpened. Said Smith, who moved to Vancouver from Seattle two years ago, "It certainly makes you want to practise more and that means you get better."

On the first day of competition, Chloe Wong, 16, walked the course carrying one of the small, lightweight billboards that displayed the score for a group of three players. For her, there were lessons at each hole. "I'll make adjustments to my short game," she said.

Some volunteer assignments, like Smith's and Wong's, come with the privilege of proximity, a brush with celebrity and a close-encounter with the talented kind.

At the first tee, where the player's names are announced and they take their crucial first drive, it was John Wilson's responsibility to hush the crowd. At each tee and every green and along 18 fairways, dozens of volunteers raise their arms and sometimes instruct, "Please stop walking." Privy to the conversations and analysis of the professionals, Wilson said players were generally friendly and personable. Their focus will sharpen as Sunday's final round approaches, and Wilson acknowledges he and the legion of volunteer marshals help ensure the players can get down to business. (The purse is $5.2 million.) But the joy of watching the best compete in the flesh, is undeniable. As the crowds grew larger Thursday morning, Wilson said, "You're inside the ropes. It's pretty cool."

mstewart@vancourier.com

Twitter: @MHStewart