The Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades has one of the oldest and most storied golf courses in Southern California. Since opening in 1926, Riviera has hosted the U.S. Open, two PGA championships, and of course the L.A. Open under various sponsorships. The list of pros and amateurs who have walked its grounds, which now stretch out to 7,298 yards, include Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Charlie Sifford, one of the first African American players on the PGA Tour, won the event in 1969.
It is currently home to this week’s PGA Tour event, the Northern Trust Open, which gets underway today, Feb. 18.
No tournament can get along without its stars or sponsors. Even more so, no tournament can function or survive without its behind-the-scenes support of builders, transporters, movers, attendants, marshals and go-fers.
Their scientific name is “volunteers.” Some you will see during the actual tournament. Many you don’t, in the weeks before and after said event. But there are an estimated 1,200 of them diligently working some 12,500 hours to make the tournament run smoothly.
“We rely a lot on volunteers,” said Julia Schmitt, Riviera’s tournament services manager. “If we are short, it’s more difficult for our staff to be able to run the tournament efficiently. Having the people who commit the time and passion for the event is special. It’s a lot of work but it is rewarding.”
Among these faceless, selfless individuals here is Doug Shaw. Born in North Hollywood but now living in Panorama City. Shaw, 59, has been a volunteer since 1991; the only year he’s missed was 2010 when, as a member of the U.S. Air National Guard, he was deployed to Iraq.
At Rivera, he is the chairman of the warehouse committee, a position he’s held for 11 years.
An avid golfer himself — although, Shaw admits, he “never practices, just plays” — working the tournament gives him a chance to be a part of the event.
His very first time was helping out at a PGA Senior Open Tour event at Rancho Park.
“A friend of mine gave me this application for a Senior Tour event — The Senior Classic at Rancho Park. I thought that sounded like fun, and I signed up for that. And it was “fun,” Shaw said. “And one of the ladies I worked with on that event was a tournament committee member here (at Riviera). I told her I was interested in working at this tournament and she said ‘yeah, sign on up.’
“I came out that year, and I’ve been doing it ever since.” Rancho might have been in 1990, but 1991 was definitely the first time here at Riviera.”
Today, Shaw is taking a visitor in a golf cart around the course and his appointed rounds. At present, he is dropping off boxes of materials and spoils for one of the many hospitality tents that are pocketed around the course. He and his crew of 15 volunteers — including good friend John A. Duran (“my righthand man”) of North Hills — will be unloading and distributing goods for hospitality tents as well as donated items for expectant wives of U.S. military men who are deployed or deployed female military members who are pregnant — one of the PGA’s various charities. Shaw’s day begins at 9 a.m. and concludes around 5 p.m.. But starting Monday, Feb. 16, Shaw arrives at 5 a.m. and doesn’t leave until dark. “By tournament week I’m running on fumes,” he said.
Make no mistake, folks, this is work. And it’s a labor of love. Shaw has been at the Riviera for 25 years and has never drawn a check for his time or effort. He doesn’t really see the actual tournament, except for the moments he can steal a glance or two at the television in the warehouse.
Shaw is amused by some of the first-time volunteers who have a different idea of what will take place.
“Some think they’ll be having out with the golfers, maybe some celebrities, and watch a lot of golf,” Shaw said. “If you’re working something like a marshal, shot length, walking score, those are out on the course, that’s more involved with the actual golf. But many other [jobs] aren’t. We’re doing more nuts-and-bolts work. But we enjoy it.”
Schmitt has witnessed Shaw’s work at other PGA Tour events, specifically The Barclays Tournament in August where Shaw has also volunteered. She describes him as “one of those guys who is a hard worker who flies under the radar. He gets his job done and does it with passion. Really enjoys what he does and we are lucky to have him.”
Like Shaw many of the volunteers come back year after year — and including Shaw’s wife Linda. It’s not unusual to find people that have worked at a Riviera tournament 40 years or longer.
What’s the appeal?
“I enjoy the people I work with,” Shaw said. “I enjoy the cause we’re supporting (the City of Hope). I like the camaraderie. It comes over time.
“You get to meet and know people, develop friendships, play golf together. A few of us go work other tournaments as well. I like giving my time. It’s fun. You never know whom you’re going to meet or run into.”
He recalled the time he got to meet Jerry West, when the former Laker and NBA Hall of Famer was the tournament director. And In 2013, Shaw was a last-second fill-in for a foursome that played with pro Dustin Johnson in a pro-am event before the tournament starts.
“It’s a scramble; you can use either the pro’s shot or one of the amateurs,” Shaw said. “The other two amateurs I was with were really good. Me, I’m like a 20-handicap.
“But they did use one of my shots. I got us a net birdie on the 12th hole, par 4. I had an actual par, but with the stroke handicap it was a birdie. No one else birdied it. I don’t remember the group score. But soon as I was done playing I said ‘thank you very much,’ and went back to work. However, I did enjoy the moment.”
Shaw is retired from his paying job as safety inspector for a defense contract agency. He will retire from the Air National Guard in May being credited with 30 years of service. He hopes to work the tournament for another 10 years. “As long as I’m physically able to move stuff around,” he said.
Retirement means he and Linda can also look forward to more extended vacations together, touring in their RV. He’ll have more time (and two pensions) for fishing — his other outdoor passion — and playing golf.
And the golf cart ride in will be carrying clubs, not boxes.
“That’s the plan,” Shaw said, smiling.