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July 13, 2014

U.S. SENIOR OPEN: Kansas man king of the course

STILLWATER, Okla. —  If you’ve got a problem at the U.S. Senior Open Championship, odds are Charlie Pierce will know.

As the chief field marshal, he’s the man who is in charge of more than a 1,000 volunteers and by default the resident problem-solver at Oak Tree National. This week’s senior championship, which runs through Sunday in Edmond, marks the eighth time he’s volunteered at a senior open; he’s worked six women’s opens; and one PGA Open.

And he does it all for free.

The soon to be 56-year-old Hutchinson, Kan., resident volunteers at an average of two big golf tournaments a year, leading thousands of volunteers a year. As the volunteer who is often among the first to arrive each day — at 6 a.m. — and the last to leave — at about 8 p.m. — the U.S. Golf Association even gives him his own golf cart that has his initials on the front when he volunteers.

“I don’t lose my patience very often,” he says.

When people mob a golfer seeking an autograph, he is the one who steps in to help a golfer escape. He’s the one who helped re-arrange walkways after this week’s rainstorm made the existing ones a muddy mess. His people also deal with guests who have imbibed too much alcohol. He oversees the gatekeepers who make sure people stay off the course when golfers are playing.

“Every golf course has got something crazy,” he said. “This golf course it’s (holes) 10, 11, and 18. That’s where most of the trouble is. They all cross over and they all mix up. So you’ve got a lot of people going different directions. So you’ve got to figure out what’s the best way for them to go, the most efficient way for them to go.”

Pierce, himself, is always on the go.

“You getting enough fluids and stuff? You’ve been out here three straight days,” he queries one volunteer as he speeds by in his golf cart to address the latest problem — an allegation about lack of strong volunteer leadership on Hole 16 and a volunteer who gave away all the Powerade to course visitors — drinks that were supposed to hydrate other volunteers working in the scorching heat.

Then his radio buzzes. Uh oh. “Charlie where is that scooter down at?”

“We have a hard time with those little (motorized) scooters,” Pierce confides. “They’re not made to be on these courses. We just about lost a woman this morning. She about turned it over. Most of the time, they get about 100 of them here, and by the end of the week, there’s about 40 of them left alive.”

He learns the latest casuality wiped out on his Hoveround-like craft near Tee 10.

Satisfied that that issue is being dealt with, he’s off.

“Every 30 seconds the world changes,” he jokes.

Tall and tan from hours in the sun, Pierce said he loves golf. He’s been playing since age four and says he’s fairly good. The high school, anatomy and physiology teacher coaches the Hutchinson High School boys and girls golf teams, and in his spare time serves as assistant bowling coach.

He’s been married 34 years this August and has two grown children. With his wife working during the summer months, when he’s on vacation from school, he discovered she “doesn’t need me getting into trouble.”

So he spends time each year, pitching in to make the Opens run smoothly.

“It’s a pretty good sidelife if you get the chance to do it,” he said.

Janelle Stecklein covers Oklahoma politics and state issues for CNHI newspapers. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhi.com or on Twitter at @ReporterJanelle.

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