It was chilly. It was early. The winds weaved through the course reminding everyone exactly what state they resided in. This particular Saturday morning might have been better off spent in bed.
He was equipped with a windbreaker, a thermos full of home-brewed coffee, a walkie-talkie and a prototype gasoline powered cart.
"Oh gosh, that is so dangerous," said Jack McClain, who was watching a couple of novice golfers amble around a tee box. One took a practice swing while the other stooped behind him blindly picking up a dropped tee.
The tee box was 50 yards away and not in our sightline. His periphery picked up the hazardous condition in real-time. Since yelling across a golf course is frowned upon, he could only shake his head in disbelief.
The 72-year-old McClain has been a course marshal since 1993. Before he steered golfers around the course, he guided students in the classroom.
He no longer is chasing the big paydays. "I make minimum wage for crying out loud," laughed McClain. Now it is about something every golfer dreams of. Free golf.
So you want to be a golf course marshal. Aside from the pay scale and main benefit, what else should you know?
No. 1 on McClain's list is protecting the golf course. There are many facets to this integral part of the job.
"Don't go wading out in the water because you hit a ball out there," McClain said. "Don't jump up and down on the greens. Don't throw your clubs."
McClain has seen it all. One time a challenged golfer drove his cart into a fairway bunker -- on purpose.
"I drove up laughing wondering how in the world you get the cart in the bunker," McClain recalled.
Mr. Dune Buggy took the defensive smart-mouth approach. "Well it is where the ball was." McClain finally stopped laughing long enough to urge the use of some common sense.
"You wouldn't drive it in the lake if you hit the ball in the lake would you?"
"I don't want you doing that," McClain recalled telling the man. "When you get up to the tee box, I want you to keep the cart on the cart path. When you come to the green, I want the cart on the cart path."
Two holes later the confused soul drove the cart across the green. "I took the key out of that cart," McClain said.
Cart control is an issue. Wet courses post "Carts on Path" signs throughout. McClain points out golfers are not the best readers on the greens.
Out of control drivers cause tons of extra work for the course maintenance crew. Instead of perfecting a tee box or green, they are correcting issues the golfers themselves should have prevented.
One time during a fundraiser-scramble event, McClain was forced to take action again. "I saw them over here on 10," he said, pointing to a steep incline separating two holes. "What they were doing was coming across the big hill that goes down to 18 and they were spinning (the cart) coming down the hill."
The top priority is protecting the course. Also on the list is protecting the golfers.
Soaring down a hill and doing doughnuts creates a multitude of issues. The course takes punishment. More importantly, the people in the cart and in close proximity are endangered.
The course marshal serves as the golf clubs PR spokesperson on most occasions. Every once in a while business must be taken care of sans the smile.
He rides over to the group and encourages course-friendly behavior. "Guys, that is not going to happen anymore," he explains. "The next time I see you handling these carts any way that they are not supposed to be, I'm taking the keys from them and you are going to walk."
As you can imagine, they challenged him. Was alcohol involved? Most likely.
"Don't make me do it now," he continued. "I'm just warning you."
He caught up with them between holes 13 and 14. Now they were jumping over a hill between the two and trying to spin between the tee boxes.
"I went up and took the keys out of the cart and drove off," he said. "I never said a word to them. I just drove."
These are extreme cases. Seventy-five percent of the golfers he encounters on the weekends are regulars.
McClain tries to remind players to repair divots in the fairway and ball marks on the greens. "A lot of players know to do it, but just don't."
Your 18 holes should flow as smooth as the drinks on the 19th. The four-hour round should not be stretched into five or six.
So the number two job responsibility is one many are familiar with: Speed of play.
According to McClain, the slow-play culprits fall into one of three categories.
No. 1: They are hitting it too many times. They just are not good enough. Although he admits bad golfers can play fast if they want too.
No. 2: Guys who think they are ready for the pro tour. "They are going through all these gyrations," he said.
No. 3: The group is out on a holiday and should not be playing golf. "They are busy talking and yapping and slowing it down," he said.
The cure? Play "ready" golf. If you are ready to hit it, then hit it. Forget honors until you make the tour. Also, feel free to concede a short putt, unless it is a money game.
McClain recalled watching a young man dribble a tee shot about 10 feet. Still on the tee box, he slaps it another 10 feet. By now, his playing partners are in the fairway waiting to attack the green with their second while he is on his fifth shot.
The hacker du jour now strikes the ball just over the hazard about 20 feet beyond the women's tee box. He yells out to his playing partners "Where is the pin? I cannot see the flag."
Without missing a beat, McClain told the guy to hit it straight. He was more than 250 yards out.
The relationships he developed years ago are intact today thanks to a weekly golf outing with his group. He meets new golfers every time he patrols the course. He has learned the difference between poisonous and friendly snakes. But most of all, he gets to play golf for free.
Not bad for a minimum-wage earner.
Special thanks to Bailey Ranch Golf Course in Owasso and their director of golf, Corey Burd. Unlike many of the golf courses in town, a real person answers their phone.
Many courses have gone the way of the credit card company-type of Interactive Voice Response system.
Press 1 for ... press 2 for ... etc.
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