Through recruitment, training of volunteers, ASU students help USDGA golf tournament go on
Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic led Jason Faircloth, founder of the United States Disabled Golf Association, to cancel the association's annual national golf tournament, which was scheduled to be held in Mesa. This year, a severe lack of volunteers and sponsors – the lifeblood of a golf tournament – led the tournament’s founder to think seriously about shelving the 2021 event as well.
That is, until Faircloth sought help from an Arizona State University clinical assistant professor and her event management students to solicit, sign up and train volunteers. Without their involvement, the event would not have been possible, he said.
“ASU students have been phenomenal in overseeing our volunteer program,” Faircloth said. “The event cannot happen without the volunteers, it’s that simple.”
Faircloth contacted ASU Clinical Assistant Professor Erin Schneiderman last summer to request help from her and her students from the School of Community Resources and Development to stage the USDGA Championship Open, May 17–20 at Mesa’s Longbow Golf Club.
Four students — Jordan Fezler, Fernanda Garcia, Jennifer Lopez and Matteo Zazza — met with Faircloth last fall. They and Schneiderman became captains of the event’s volunteer corps, developing a plan to fulfill the tournament’s many expectations. They produced a marketing flier and created a database of organizations from which to recruit volunteers.
The requests circulated widely throughout the ASU community, Schneiderman said, but the largest number of volunteers were employees from the university’s own facilities department. A total of 75 volunteers signed up.
Sponsors also started getting on board once Valley-based golf equipment manufacturer Ping stepped forward as presenting partner, Faircloth said. Hanger Clinic and About Golf joined as official partners, while Adaptive Golfers, Ability360, About Golf, Troon Golf and the PGA of America all made in-kind contributions. The Arizona Golf Association also helped organizers run the event, Faircloth said.
Once the volunteers were enlisted, the students applied their classroom knowledge to properly train them to perform jobs ranging from caddy to course marshal, scorekeeper, photographer and registration worker, Schneiderman said.
And the Open went on, successfully hosting 82 golfers with disabilities from 32 states, each one competing in one of nine classifications.
Faircloth said the tournament had to be a cherished memory for players, something that they felt proud to be participating in, even if they didn’t win a prize. The ASU students were key to making that happen, he said.
“Without volunteers it would be an everyday event, and that is not what we are trying to do,” Faircloth said.
Students worked in two full-day shifts during the week of the tournament.
Lopez, a nonprofit leadership and management major, said participating combined her academic knowledge with on-the-course experience.
“It gave me a hands-on opportunity to see what it was like to be a volunteer coordinator, how it was to run an event and have everyone looking up to you for guidance,” Lopez said. “I believe it gave me an experience towards my academic career that has shifted it forward.”
Lopez said she learned an important lesson: “That it is OK to be 100% prepared and things still won’t go as planned, but as long as you stay focused, calm and collected, things have a way of working themselves out for the better.”
Garcia, a tourism development and management major with a concentration in meetings and events, said watching the event take off was amazing.
“This experience has been awesome,” Garcia said. “Witnessing everyone come together and participate in the event is fascinating to me, because we are all here for different yet similar reasons, and we all have different experiences. Participating in things like this gets me excited in starting my career in special event management.”
Zazza, a parks and recreation major, said the experience helped him expand his horizons as an aspiring physical therapist.
“Through this opportunity that ASU gave me, I am realizing what my passion is. I can change the lives of people where it matters,” he said. “I don’t have much experience with golf, but this was a taste of the real world and an opportunity to take what I learned in the classroom and apply it to help others.”
Players also took notice of the students’ contributions.
“The volunteers have been very helpful with the pace of play,” said Douglas Shirakura, who is from New York. “They are a really nice touch.”
Andreas Brandenberger traveled from Greece to play in the tournament. He said his experience has been “absolutely amazing.”
“I think the volunteers from ASU have been just fantastic in helping out with the USDGA,” he said. “It’s really huge and it shows that they’re committed to making golf more accessible to everyone.”
Brandenberger said he saw volunteers deftly handling several roles.
“Having the volunteers out there and having them be a part of the spectator crowd, taking some photos and interacting with players, shows a big commitment to the game, helping everybody just play the game and feel part of it,” Brandenberger said. “It’s a sport for everyone, and coming out here and showing their commitment to other players who are learning the game and thriving out here in different conditions, it’s a pretty remarkable thing.”
Schneiderman said it was an honor to welcome the elite group of golfers to Arizona.
“Our ASU students have absolutely shined that week,” she said. “They have served in multiple capacities ensuring this tournament was a success, and I could not be prouder of their hard work and dedication.”