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Volunteers Help USGA Get a Handle on Media

Wednesday, June 17, 2009 , Posted by Christopher Byrne at 8:57 PM, under , ,

A media horde has descended on Bethpage Black for this week's U.S. Open Championship. How do you handle the masses? A group of volunteers known as the "Minnesota 10," have donated their time to help ever since the 1991 Open was held at Hazeltine National Golf Club, outside of Minneapolis.

The familiarity to the working media cannot be understated, as as soon as they walk in the door, they are in a comfort zone with the people staffing the media center. In this article from the USGA, David Shefter writes about this group of volunteers.

Dedicated to the cause, the Minnesota 10 has helped out since 1991

By David Shefter, USGA

Farmingdale, N.Y. – Neatly attired in matching polo shirts and equipped with gregarious personalities, the group of men behind the counter inside the spacious U.S. Open Media Center are usually the first people any of the more than 1,000 credentialed journalists encounter when they register.

They hand out the credentials, know all the seat locations and offer other vital assistance.

Got a question? They can answer it. Need directions to a specific location? They can point the way. Looking for copies of a particular transcript? They can provide it.

Without their benevolence, the entire U.S. Open media operation would suffer, the way a computer hard drive would be crippled by a virus.

Since the 1991 Open at Hazeltine National Golf Club, outside of Minneapolis, this fraternity, known affectionately as the Minnesota 10, has assisted the USGA’s media relations staff at its most visible national championship.

What began as a small act of giving back has turned into an annual rite of June.

“I shudder to think what it would be like to do a U.S. Open without them,” said Pete Kowalski, the USGA’s manager of championship media relations. “When the focus is on the USGA’s largest and best known national championship, to have them here is more than comforting.”

Running a successful media center at a major championship is no small operation. The litany of tasks can take up an entire notebook. Not only must credentials be handled for the crush of reporters, but pre-championship interviews have to be coordinated, seating arranged, food and beverage organized, transportation handled properly and copies of transcripts made. Plus a whole host of other unanticipated issues crop up and must be handled swiftly and without incident.

Properly training a volunteer group to accomplish these tasks could take weeks, or even months. But that’s not the case with Minnesota 10 members, many of whom have worked more than a dozen U.S. Opens. The group has grown to 14 over the years, but the name hasn't changed. Three members, Bruce Bahneman, Pat Logan and Bob Seeger, have been around since the group’s inception in ‘91.

Chemistry, consistency and camaraderie are the group’s three underlying themes. Everyone gets along. They can all playfully rib each other, but when it comes down to business, they take their tasks as seriously as the competitors.

“We believe we compete with the three other major championships for providing a quality media center that allows the press to do their job,” said the 59-year-old Bahneman. “That’s really what we are trying to do and we try to do it with a sense of humor.”

It was Bahneman who started everything by working as a volunteer chairman at the ’91 U.S. Open. He was assigned to the media tent, handling food service and scoring. That year, Diane Stracuzzu, who was the marketing director for the Pebble Beach Company, happened to be onsite to look at the operation for the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Her group was seeking volunteers for the ’92 Open because Pebble Beach was hosting two big events, the Open and the annual AT&T National Pro-Am on the PGA Tour.

“She wanted to know if we would consider coming out to Pebble Beach,” said Bahneman. “So 10 of us went. Seeger was there. So was Darrol Mason, Pat Logan and Jack Chapman.”

When then-USGA director of media relations Rich Skyzinski saw how efficiently Bahneman’s group worked, he invited them to the 1993 Open at Baltusrol and a tradition was born. At this point, the USGA stepped in and offered to pay the group’s travel expenses in exchange for the volunteer work.

Over the years, some original members have left and new recruits joined. Recently a few non-Minnesotans have been brought aboard in Steve Merrill from Nashville, Tenn., and Skip Foreman from Raleigh, N.C. But the turnover is very infrequent; the newest member, Tim Hogan, having joined three years ago.

“I would not trade any of these guys for anyone,” said Bahneman. “They do just an unbelievable job.”

To accommodate the early morning television and radio personalities, this week some Minnesota 10 members have awakened at 3 a.m. to shuttle them from Farmingdale at 4:30 a.m. to do their shows onsite. Another individual has helped ensure media members board the proper shuttle bus back to the hotel.

Other responsibilities include handling the various microphones during the press conferences, communicating with Rules officials in case of a weather delay, ensuring the Wi-Fi inside the media center is functioning properly, getting messages to players in the locker room, getting players finishing on the ninth hole to the interview area near the clubhouse, tracking golfers' shirt colors so they can properly identify players when they finish competitive rounds, copying transcripts and notes, and setting the lines for the photographers at the closing prize ceremony on Sunday.

Merrill, who came aboard in 2005 at Pinehurst, handles the flash area for post-round television interviews. The senior vice president for the Tennessee Golf Association Foundation discovered the operation through retired USGA staffer Larry Adamson, who had landed a P.J. Boatwright internship with the TGA. Merrill’s brother-in-law lived in Pinehurst so he asked Adamson about volunteering and he wound up in the media center passing out credentials and re-stocking water.

“I had been in media centers at the NBA Finals and World Series,” said the 50-year-old Merrill, “but when I saw the tables and all the desks [inside the U.S. Open Media Center], I was just like, ‘Whoa, this is a big deal.’ ”

A background working for NFL Films, ESPN video and the NBA helped Merrill transition into the flash area a year later following the tragic death of Bill Crumley in a boating accident.

Former Minneapolis Star-Tribune golf writer Jon Roe also made an easy transition from media member to volunteer. He retired from the paper in 1999 and in 2000, he, along with St. Paul Pioneer Press writer Gregg Wong and Star-Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse, was asked to join some Minnesota 10 members at U.S. Open media day at Pebble Beach. Most Minnesota 10 members knew Roe from his days at the paper and he became a vital cog in the operation in 2002.

In Roe, the Minnesota 10 had a media member who not only knew most of the reporters, but also could relate their needs and issues back to the USGA media relations staff.

And Roe, who turns 70 in August, gets emotional when talking about the friendships he’s forged with Minnesota 10 members, particularly Chapman.

“I can’t tell you how lucky I was that Jack was the guy who needed a roommate,” said Roe. “In these seven years, we’ve become really good friends. We talk about stuff that two guys don’t always talk about.”

That sums up the entire group. They are as comfortable behind the counter at the U.S. Open as they are playing a casual round of golf back home.

And the feelings are mutual from the USGA side.

“They are our friends now,” said Kowalski, who talks to members of the group year-round. “We work together. It’s the crew in a submarine deal. You can’t get away from them so you might as well get along.”

David Shefter is a USGA Digital Media staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at

This article was originally published on the USGA Website.

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