‘It becomes family’: TPC Boston’s Blue Crew volunteers lament lost labor of love
The four friends are walking along a cart path behind the clubhouse at TPC Boston, August’s hot sun, near-triple-digit temperatures, and thick blanket of humidity proving summer can still maintain its grip as Labor Day weekend approaches.
For this quartet of tournament volunteers, the unofficial gateway to autumn has long since been surrendered to golf anyway, a combined 62 years’ worth of time given to the Dell Technologies Championship (formerly known as the Deutsche Bank) that begins Friday.
But this time around, there is more than just humidity hanging in the air. Now, it’s accompanied by a sense of melancholy.
“The tough part is that you can’t say, ‘I’m going to see you next year,’ ” Al Cameron says, casting his eyes toward Gunnar Nordahl, toward Jim Miskel, toward Diane Fuore. The three men have volunteered for all 16 of these tournaments; Diane for the last 14.
“It ain’t happening.”
No it isn’t.
Not like this.
So go ahead and savor it, Boston fans, because next year, the PGA doesn’t make its stop here, not since the Tour announced in July it was altering its schedule, compressing the season to leave August open to host the reconfigured FedExCup playoffs. An event will return to TPC Boston in 2020, but in a different form and at a different time. It will come back as the Northern Trust, kicking off the month of August and sharing an every-other-year entry with the New York/New Jersey market.
“Labor Day weekend is going to be gone,” Nordahl says. “Well, it’s going to be back, really. It’s been gone for so long. I always took my vacation before Labor Day. Now I can wait.”
It’s been a heck of a run. Amid vocal throngs of spectators looking to bridge their way out of one season and into another, the atmosphere has resonated well with the golfers.
“I remember the fans being pretty crazy last year,” said Cameron Smith, a rising star from Australia looking to follow in the footsteps of countryman Adam Scott, the tourney’s first winner. “Is it Labor Day weekend this weekend? Yeah. So we finish on the Monday.
“Everyone was out having a good time Saturday and Sunday. It’s like a big weekend, I guess. We usually don’t get it on Sunday as much, because everyone has to go to work. It was a pretty cool vibe. I’d kind of like it again.”
The tournament has delivered plenty of good golf to go with the good times, providing the perfect antidote to summer’s sports doldrums, the perfect precursor to the Red Sox’ expected deep dive through October and the Patriots’ predictable push toward a winter of dominance.
The list of champions includes a pre-Masters-winning Scott taking that first title in 2003, everybody’s nemesis Vijay Singh channeling the height of his “Tiger Who?” bravado to win a year later, the aforementioned Tiger Woods and his rival-turned-buddy Phil Mickelson going back-to-back in 2006-07, Rory McIlroy winning the first of his two titles in 2012, crowd favorite Rickie Fowler crowning himself in 2015, and childhood friends Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas battling down to the wire of Thomas’s 2017 victory.
While another young American cruises here on the wings of his win at last week’s Northern Trust in New Jersey, he does so with his own good memories of being here a year ago.
“TPC Boston and the Boston area has been fantastic for me,” current FedExCup leader and all-around student of the game Bryson DeChambeau said Wednesday, in between discussions of Newtonian versus quantum physics, brain training, and Ping-Pong-playing robots. “I love it here. And I’m going to be missing this place a little bit.”
So too will the 1,300 men, women, and children of what is known as the Blue Crew, the turquoise-clad army of volunteers doing anything from tracking statistics to controlling the crowds.
“I remember helping Tiger across the ropes by his belt, the crowd was so big, more than 25,000 people, and trying to get him to the height of the clubhouse,” Nordahl, of Lunenburg, recalled.
As they have for so many years, veteran American stars Woods and Mickelson are sure to attract pulsating galleries this time around. Some of these fans, like the volunteers, have watched them grow up on the golf course.
“I remember Phil’s kids rolling around on the 18th green in the sand trap,” Nordahl says, laughing, and prompting an “I forgot about that!” punctuation from Cameron, who makes the commute from Southborough.
“It’s going to seem strange not volunteering around this time next year,” Miskel, of Taunton, says. “But I’m looking forward to 2020 and being around these guys.”
Because as Nordahl says, “It becomes family.”
At least they have June, when they plan to see each other at a golf outing Nordahl puts together for the volunteers. And it’s possible they could reconnect at the Travelers Championship in Connecticut, where Fuore, an Avon, Conn., native and experienced Travelers volunteer, was essentially recruited from, and where the others have occasionally worked as well.
But this ride, at least as they know it, is over, mowed over by progress. Though wise and sensible as it is, it still brings a touch of melancholy.