Volunteers from LPGA tournaments have been nominated throughout the year for the inaugural XL Catlin Volunteer Service Award.
And in a random drawing to select a winning volunteer from among all the tournament nominees, Ellen Bruinsma of the Meijer LPGA Classic has been named as the 2018 season award recipient.
The charity served by the Meijer event – the Simply Give program – will be awarded $10,000 on behalf of Bruinsma at a tournament-partner dinner during the CME Group Tour Championship.
“I’m just so honored, thrilled, surprised and humbled to have been chosen as the first winning volunteer and for our tournament to be recognized,” said Bruinsma of Grand Rapids, Mich., who has served as the volunteer services chairperson at the Meijer LPGA Classic for five years.
“The money from this award will be put to very good use in the food pantries all over the Midwest in cities where Meijer has retail stores,” she added. “Our tournament has raised more than $4 million for Simply Give over the past five years. We’re helping people have access to good nutrition and helping stock food pantries, especially at this time of year.”
As a member of the women’s golf league at Blythefield Country Club -- host of the Meijer LPGA Classic -- Bruinsma got involved in the event when club members and club management prepared for the tournament’s arrival five years ago.
“The PGA’s Champions Tour was in our city a few years ago, but everybody was really excited to have the LPGA come here and we all wanted to volunteer,” said Bruinsma, who retired four years ago as an elementary physical education teacher.
As a volunteer during tournament week, she doesn’t get to see a lot of the competition, but when she does, Bruinsma finds a point of relevance, as well as a fair amount of respect for the level of play during the professional event.
“When I watch the pros play on my home course, I think, ‘I’ve landed in that spot before,’ so I like to see how they play it,” she said. “Of course, I need way more strokes than they do and they don’t see the whole course – from left to right – like I do when I play.”
The Meijer LPGA Classic attracts between 700-800 volunteers each June, so it’s Bruinsma’s job to check in each volunteer, provide their work assignments during tournament week and help them connect with other volunteers to work as a team at the event.
“I guess I’m the face of the tournament because everybody comes into our little area where we have lost and found items, answer a lot of questions from volunteers and the general public, and hand out tournament programs, sunscreen and pairings guides,” she said. “We’re like the hub and we’re there from 5 a.m. until about 8 p.m.”
Bruinsma volunteered to work in gate admissions during her first year, but in her second year, she stepped up to lead volunteer services – a multi-tasking role that the mother of three and grandmother of three handles with ease.
“Ellen always makes sure to welcome every volunteer with a smile,” said Meijer LPGA Classic Tournament Director Taylor Gleghorn. “She is a wonderful ambassador to the tournament even when she is working the longest hours. We’re very thankful and fortunate to have Ellen as a part of our team and our tournament.”
Even as hectic as the tournament may become, Bruinsma has drawn praise by the event’s organizers for her attention to detail.
“She makes sure that every radio gets turned in, even if it’s on tournament Sunday at the end of play when everybody else is going home,” said Jordan Cooper, senior operations coordinator for Octagon, which manages the Meijer LPGA Classic.
“Ellen always stays to make sure everything gets taken care of,” Cooper added. “She’s one of the most dedicated volunteers we have and she seems to thoroughly enjoy it.”
When asked what the highlight has been for her during her five years of volunteering at the event, the Michigander said it has been meeting all of her fellow volunteers and seeing many come back each year.
“We have a real loyal group of people who come every year to work as marshals, hole captains or handle transportation,” she said. “They travel from all over the state -- from the Upper Peninsula to Detroit -- to volunteer and it’s just fun to see everybody.”
Bruinsma also volunteers as board chair at Wedgewood Christian Services in Grand Rapids, which provides residential care for abused and neglected children. Their program provides family counseling and education for the children. In addition, Bruinsma makes sure that about 115 kids in the program receive Christmas gifts and stockings during the holidays.
Cooper sees the volunteer spirit that Bruinsma possesses and freely shares as a key ingredient at the LPGA tournament he oversees.
“Volunteers are the heart of an LPGA tournament and with only a staff of 10 people from Octagon at this event, they help provide hours and hours of work throughout the week,” Cooper added.
“We give them the tools they need to be successful and they just run with it,” he said. “Their dedication helps us more than anything.”
Bruinsma is already looking forward to her sixth year at the 2019 Meijer LPGA Classic. And she’s equally excited about seeing her peers return to volunteer.
“I always want to make sure the other volunteers are having a good time because if they’re having fun, it looks good for the tournament and I also know they’ll come back next year to help,” said Bruinsma, who celebrated her 45th wedding anniversary this year with husband Jim. “We really need good people to come back each year.”
And with Bruinsma at the helm to help other volunteers feel welcome and engaged, the Meijer LPGA Classic can anticipate another year of growth and giving when the tournament returns to Michigan.
The XL Catlin Volunteer Award was first started at the America’s Cup, where it recognized outstanding volunteers who give back to the local community in its headquartered country of Bermuda. XL Catlin is a global company that provides insurance and reinsurance to clients in more than 215 countries. As risk experts, XL Catlin relies on innovation and creativity to drive business and provide a unique approach to risk management.