RENO – When the then-Reno Tahoe Open was looking for volunteers for its first-ever tournament back in 1999, John Benkert was quick to respond.
And, except for the 2001 tournament, the 67-year-old Carson City resident and member at Dayton Valley Golf Club, has been a fixture at the annual event at Montreux Golf & Country Club.
“I decided it was a good community thing to do,” Benkert said earlier this week. “And, I enjoy golf. I enjoy watching the pros and their approach to the game.
“I’ve played golf off and on for 45 years. If I wasn’t so interested in it I probably wouldn’t be doing this. I appreciate the precision of their shots and how they approach their shots. They know exactly how they want to hit the ball; where they want to hit it. Where I’m just happy to put it on the green in two, they want and need to be much more precise than that.”
In 1999, Benkert worked as a marshal at the RTO, and the second year was made a hole captain. In 2001, he missed the event for the first and only time.
“I didn’t like the way things were being done,” Benkert said. “They asked us to recruit people which I did, and they took them somewhere else, so I decided not to work that year.”
Benkert came back in 2002, and started working as a laser operator. This week he’s sitting in the No. 1 tower and shoot everybody in the field all four rounds.
“I just wanted to try something different, so I put in for that,” Benkert said. “It’s really what I enjoy doing.”
In the modern world of professional golf, there are two lasar operators on every hole, one for the fairway and one for the green. The fairway operator “shoots” the player’s tee shot and subsequent shots until the ball reaches the green. That’s where the tower lasar operator takes over. The information is put into Shot Link, which tracks every shot a player takes. You can find out how far each shot goes and how far each putt is.
“I wait until the ball comes to a complete stop on the green or just short of the green,” Benkert said. “The lasers are in fixed positions, and we’ll be within an inch or two.”
Benkert said players can get information on all of their shots AFTER the event is over.
Benkert, who has a 12 index, worked at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am this year for the first time.
“They run it differently (than at Montreux),’’ Benkert said. “It’s almost by invitation only. They have a long list of 40 or 50 people that have worked 40 straight years.”
Volunteering at Pebble is an expensive proposition. Not only do you have to pay for your uniform, but you have to stay in a hotel for four nights, and prices are always jacked up in the Monterey, Carmel, and Salinas areas during tournament week. Throw food into the equation, and you are talking $500 easy.
Because of his veteran status, Benkert receives his shirt and hat for free. Otherwise it’s $60 and $15 for extra shirts.
Benkert has attended the Frys.com Open in the Bay Area. That event is moving to Napa for two years, but Benkert doesn’t know if he will look into volunteering.