It doesn’t feel like 10 years, but if LPGA players and caddies have spent the last decade on tour, chances are good volunteer John Doughty has either driven them somewhere or was the guy on the radio requesting their transportation.
Doughty, of Tulsa suburb Coweta, Okla., takes a week off every year to volunteer and will return for his fifth year as transportation chairman of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G.
He got started as an LPGA volunteer in 2007 and 2008 when the tour held an event in Broken Arrow, Okla. The tournament chair asked Doughty if he would consider volunteering at the LPGA’s tournament in Rogers, Ark., where he began working in 2010.
“That’s about a two-hour drive from where I live in Oklahoma,” said Doughty, who retired from American Airlines as a staff engineer and currently works in Tulsa for American as a contract engineer.
During tournament week, Doughty’s day starts around 5 a.m. and goes until 8-9 p.m. He oversees a team of 35-40 volunteers on his transportation committee, with about 75 percent of his team returning as volunteers each year.
“John is very dedicated and puts in long hours during the tournament week to ensure his committee runs smoothly and accommodates all requests,” said John Post of Octagon, the tournament’s management group. “He is the first volunteer to arrive onsite each morning and the last volunteer to leave each night.”
With Doughty dispatching service from the transportation desk in the tournament’s clubhouse, the transportation committee puts 15 passenger vans into action all day, every day until a champion is crowned.
“We transport players, caddies and LPGA VIPs to and from airports and the hotels to the golf course, and we make continuous runs back and forth all day long from the tournament’s main hotel where most of the players stay,” he said.
“Then we also have ‘on call’ transportation,” Doughty added. “I’m at the transportation desk and we have several volunteers who are available to drive players and caddies where they need to go. If they want to go shopping, we’ll take them to the mall and go back and pick them up. Whatever they need, we’re there for them with transportation.”
While top-ranked players may be assigned courtesy cars, Doughty said his team tries to help those players who “are on their own.” Over the years, he has struck up friendships with players and caddies from behind the wheel.
For example, when Sarah Kemp was an LPGA rookie in 2008, Doughty met the Australian when the LPGA played in Oklahoma and he was in his second year as a volunteer.
“Every time she came over to transportation to be taken back to the hotel, it seemed like I was the one there to drive,” laughed Doughty. “It almost got to be a joke because all week long, it was like I was her personal chauffer.”
Of course, Doughty quickly learned the seriousness of getting players and caddies to the course in a timely fashion. Most players like to be at the course to warm up and prepare for their rounds two hours before they tee off. A missed tee time could result in disqualification from the tournament.
“Transportation is a very important part of the tournament and we have to be on our toes and be available at the drop of a hat,” he added. “We have to make sure they get to where they need to be at the time when they need to be there. If we don’t do that, the players are not happy, and if they’re not happy, nobody’s happy.”
Another important duty that falls under Doughty’s supervision is overseeing the deployment of evacuation vans on the course in the event of severe weather. When tournament officials identify dangerous weather moving into the area during the event, Doughty’s transportation team springs into action.
By the time the inclement weather is three miles away, transportation vans are in position on the course to pick up players and caddies and take them to the clubhouse. Once play is suspended, people and golf clubs pack the vans and head for safety indoors.
And when play resumes, players, caddies and officials need transportation back out to the course. The entire process becomes a well-orchestrated drill of dodging thunderstorms during summer-month golf championships.
“One year, we had to evacuate players from the course four times during the tournament,” said Doughty. “But safety is very important and getting players and caddies off the course is our number one priority whenever there is bad weather in the area.”
As the transportation chairman, Doughty doesn’t do much driving anymore. Admittedly, he misses the contact with players and caddies and calls the highlight of his decade of volunteering a moment he had with the event’s 2016 champion, Lydia Ko.
“I drove her to the airport on the Monday after the tournament and when we got to the curb at the airport, she pulled out a couple of hats and some golf balls and signed them for me,” said Doughty. “That was really nice.”
The transportation desk is located near the clubhouse dining area, and Doughty tries to keep an eye out for the players he has met over the years.
“As they pass by, I get to see them sometimes and can holler at them,” he said. “It’s always great to see them return each year.”
As an Oklahoma State University alum, he hopes he can meet some of the former OSU Cowgirl collegians, such as 2018 ANA Inspiration winner Pernilla Lindberg.
And he also hopes to see a tiny bit more golf this year. Because of his busy schedule dispatching drivers, Doughty sees very little golf during tournament week. He’s hoping to train a transportation co-chairperson, which would allow him to see a few shots in competition or even a few swings in the practice area.
Doughty plays in a nine-hole American Airlines league each Monday night with his colleagues and lives on a golf course. He describes his game as “just for fun.”
And when he’s not volunteering at the LPGA tournament, he helps in his church.
But while tournament week days are long, Doughty says he always feels a sense of excitement with each new year as his committee comes together and prepares for the event to take place.
“I always look forward to working with the players and caddies, and the tournament staff is like family,” he said. “When everybody shows up, it feels like old home week.”
“The great thing is we have a really good group of volunteers to help,” Doughty added. “Each day is a long day, but it doesn’t feel that way when you truly love doing something.”
As a nominee for the 2018 XL Catlin Volunteer Service Award, Doughty will share the honor with a deserving local charity if his name is drawn at the end of the year.
But for now, his focus is on tournament week in Arkansas and keeping the wheels rolling.
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.