Friday I decided to do something a little different at the Wyndham Championship and instead of trudging from hole to hole and hanging out in the air-conditioned Irwin Smallwood Media Center – which is stocked with cold drinks, a coffee bar complete with a barista and lots of snacks – I thought I’d get a behind-the-scenes look at the tournament.
The most difficult part of completing this task was tracking down former City Councilmember Mike Barber, who had agreed to let me follow him around for an afternoon. Mike was chairman of the Wyndham in 2012, is currently on the executive committee and wears a lot of hats during tournament week.
I wandered around asking anyone who looked official if they had seen Mike lately and heard about a number of Barber sightings, but as to where he might be at that moment, nobody knew. I ran into him standing beside his golf cart behind the first tee. One of his many duties is to announce golfers on the first tee, which he had done in the morning, and I thought he might check back by, just to make sure things were going well.
I caught up with him because Mike had found someone who needed directions and was offering to give them a ride. Fortunately, they turned him down, so there was room for me.
It had been decades since I rode a golf cart at the Wyndham. In fact, as best I can remember I think it was called the K-Mart GGO and was out at Forest Oaks. My job was to keep the concession stands supplied with hot dogs, which, as you might assume, means I was pretty high up in the organization.
Being on the the executive committee means that, while 1,700 volunteers work the week of the tournament, many of them for decade after decade, Barber works on the tournament year round.
While the clean up is still in progress, the full-time staff and the executive committee are talking about what worked, what didn’t and what they want to do differently with the new dates in 2019.
The tournament is constantly changing. I remember when they would confiscate your cell phone just for bringing it to the course in your pocket.
One of the things we didn’t have back then were concrete barriers blocking every road. While we were out and about, we stopped by the Sedgefield club house and Mike talked to the head of security for the tournament about painting the concrete barriers.
Everyone agrees that in the world we live in, where people use vehicles as weapons, the concrete barriers are necessary. But the question is, how do you make them less ugly. With so much time, money and energy spent on making the place beautiful, it does seem a shame to plop down concrete barriers at every corner.
My guess is that next year the concrete barriers will be painted or covered.
But getting to the clubhouse with Barber driving a golf cart is a long process. In fact, getting anywhere with Barber driving the cart is a long process because every three or four feet he sees somebody he knows or somebody calls out, “Mike.”
Barber’s day job is as president of First Tee of the Triad, which is in charge of the Kids Zone, where kids can work on their golf swing at the entrance to the tournament.
The first 500 kids that visited during the tournament got Wyndham T-shirts, which is a pretty nice deal. My suggestion for next year was that they have some adult sizes for journalists and special guests who happen to stop by.
We gave a couple of women a ride from the Beach near the 15th green over to 13 because they asked how to get there. To almost everyone we met, Barber’s parting comment was, “If you need anything, give me a call.”
We went by to see Mayor Nancy Vaughan, who volunteered to work at the caddie shack, except I don’t think they call it that. But it’s the place where the caddies hang out. It’s one of the things that make the Wyndham unique. I’m not sure how many tournaments on the PGA tour have the mayor volunteering at the caddie lounge, but Greensboro has long worked hard at making, not just the golfers, but everyone involved in the tournament feel welcome.
We stopped to talk to Jelly with CBS Sports to make sure he had everything he needed.
This was pretty typical, if anything about riding around with Barber at the tournament is typical. When we were walking through the locker room, one of the PGA officials told Barber how much they had enjoyed the tenderloin biscuits he had provided that morning for breakfast. Barber asked if they’d like to have some on Saturday and the guy just repeated that everyone had really enjoyed them.
So when we went outside, Barber hit Country Barbecue on his phone and ordered 25 tenderloin egg and cheese biscuits to be picked up at 7 a.m. It says something about a man when he has Country Barbecue in his phone.
Barber did get a little work out of me, which is not easy, but I helped take a couple cases of water and other soft drinks to the Kids Zone, so I guess I should have written 1,701 volunteers were working at the Wyndham.
Riding around on a golf cart at the Wyndham is a blast, and one thing that impressed me is how polite people are. Once people realized there was a golf cart behind them or coming straight at them, they stepped out of the way and many smiled and waved. I’ve been in a lot of crowds and it’s not like that everywhere in the world, but it sure does make life more pleasant.
I didn’t make it out to the pro-am on Wednesday, and even those who were in the stands at the first tee may not have caught everything that was happening.
Announcing the players is a pretty serious business during the tournament, the pros are playing for a lot of money and don’t need distractions like having their name or the city they’re from mispronounced.
At the pro-am, there is no money at stake and things are considerably more relaxed. So when announcing the golfers for the Louis Dejoy and Aldona Z. Wos Family Foundation Pro-Am on Wednesday, Barber said he asked Henrik Stenson, who is from Gothenburg, Sweden, if he was still from Gothenburg or where he wanted to be announced as being from. Barber said he added, “You know, since you won last year, we’ve kind of adopted you here in Greensboro.”
Stenson said, “Why don’t you announce I’m from Greensboro?” So Barber did.
Next up was Bobby Long, who said that if Stenson didn’t want to be from Gothenburg, Sweden, he did. So Barber announced that Long, who is head of the Piedmont Triad Charitable Foundation that rescued the tournament and still owns it, was from Gothenburg, Sweden.
One other that people may have missed is that Jonas Blixt said he wanted to be announced as being from nowhere, so Barber said, “Now teeing off, Jonas Blixt from Nowhere.”
And finally, one golfer was late for the pro-am and the tee times are tight, so you really can’t wait. Barber said the golfer ducked under the ropes around the tee just as it was his turn to tee off, so Barber announced, “And now, from the Central Time Zone …”
You won’t catch Barber playing around like that during the tournament, but Barber, who lived in Spain for a year, is known to pronounce the golfers with Spanish surnames with more verve and perhaps a more accurate pronunciation than some of the other announcers.
In all my trips to the Wyndham, I had never made it out to the Beach or into the players’ locker room, so those are two things I can now cross off my bucket list.
After a couple of hours with Barber, when we passed by the media center, I told him I thought I’d gotten a good feel for the tournament as seen from a golf cart and I went in for some cool air and a snack. Barber took off to run another errand for someone.
Not that anyone would ever ask me, but I’m pretty sure I don’t have the energy to be on the executive committee.