Susan Gardner began her tenure as a tournament volunteer 26 years ago at the Kingsmill Resort River Course in Williamsburg, Va.
In those days, she added the scorecard numbers of PGA Champions Tour players competing in their annual tournament at Kingsmill.
But after three years of hosting the senior men’s professional event, Kingsmill rolled out the red carpet for the women pros, and in came the LPGA Tour. Kingsmill now stages the Pure Silk Championship in Virginia’s historic Tidewater area and Gardner has served on the volunteer team for every tournament.
Gardner was recently nominated and honored as the top volunteer from the Pure Silk Championship for the 2019 AXA LPGA Volunteer Service Award, which recognizes an exemplary volunteer at each LPGA tournament.
“I’m overwhelmed and didn’t expect anything like this,” said a surprised Gardner, who was honored during the first round of the Pure Silk Championship. “To be nominated and to win from our event is really something special.”
The retired nurse was honored not only for her longevity, but also for the personal touch she brings to her volunteer role, said Pure Silk Championship Tournament Coordinator Lauren Hall.
“It’s evident what a gracious and kind person she is and so many people at this event know and respect Susan,” added Hall. “She’s also involved in our community and those are the kind of volunteers we want in our tournament.”
Hall noted the friendly way Gardner always greets players when they come off the course following their rounds and observed that her hospitable outreach to others has made a difference over the years.
“She truly exemplifies what it means to be a great volunteer at our tournament,” added Hall, who oversees a crew of 1,200 volunteers at the Kingsmill event.
Now in its 15th year of hosting the LPGA Tour, Kingsmill and its volunteers have, indeed, welcomed players from around the world to Virginia. Gardner has enjoyed being a part of that group of ambassadors tasked with tournament-specific duties, as well as human outreach.
“I just hope that I’m doing something that will help them feel better,” said Gardner, of Poquoson, Va., located 30 minutes away from Williamsburg. “Sometimes players are down and out after their round and all you have to do is give them a smile.”
But there’s also the serious side of her job – and it’s one that Gardner and her fellow volunteers take to heart every round.
“I’m there to go through their scorecards after the round, but also to make sure their scorecard is signed before they walk out of that scoring tent,” she said. “That’s something you never want to happen.”
Gardner first became involved as a tournament volunteer when a friend encouraged her to sign up as a walking scorer. She signed up, but discovered that she “didn’t feel confident enough” to walk the course with the PGA players and add their scores throughout the round.
When she was given the option to add their scores after the round in the scoring tents located adjacent to the ninth and 18th holes, that was where Gardner landed -- and where she has been for more than a quarter century.
“It’s interesting to see them all come through the scoring area during tournament week and to follow them over the years,” she said. “It’s also interesting to see them grow and to become more confident as they have success.”
As an amateur golfer, Gardner enjoys playing nine holes with her Monday-morning women’s group in Newport News, Va. She worked as a nurse in an area hospital for 13 years before moving into a private practice to work in internal medicine for 25 years.
“I played golf before I retired in 2015, but not as much,” she said. “My handicap is not very good right now and I’m going to try to work harder on my game this year, but I still have a good time.”
Gardner says she volunteers because she enjoys “being around people” and working with other volunteers.
When she’s not playing golf or volunteering at Kingsmill, she sings in her church choir and performs with the Yorktown Chorale.
“We sing at nursing homes,” she said. “I enjoy it and the residents seem to enjoy the music.”
But each spring, when it’s time for the LPGA to roll into town, Gardner has found she’s humming a different tune in anticipation of her community’s annual tournament. It’s a chance for volunteers to come together to host an event and it’s an opportunity for a championship course in their region to gain the international spotlight.
“I just look forward to participating each year and seeing all the volunteers and players return to the tournament,” Gardner said.
And while Gardner says she enjoys “watching them all,” she admits she has paid special attention to American players Juli Inkster, Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Lexi Thompson and Cristie Kerr each year the tournament is held.
Currently, the Pure Silk Championship does not have a designated charity, but if Gardner’s name were to be selected in a random drawing from all of the LPGA tournaments’ top volunteers at year’s end, her event would be awarded $10,000 to assist charities in her community.
“That would be great,” she said of the possibility. “It would be wonderful to know you could be a part of giving that amount of money to those in the community to help them.”
Hall added that the Pure Silk Championship could not happen each year without the support of the Greater Williamsburg community.
“We are largely supported by members of Kingsmill Golf Club and residents of the Hampton Roads community,” she said. “Anything we can do to give back to the people who have supported us and made this tournament successful, would be the best use of the volunteer award prize money. I hope that can happen in Susan’s honor.”
The AXA LPGA Volunteer Award program will designate a top volunteer nominee at each of the LPGA’s tournaments. At the conclusion of the 2019 season, the name of one volunteer will be drawn in a random selection. That winning volunteer’s tournament charity will be awarded $10,000 on behalf of AXA.
AXA XL, the property & casualty and specialty risk division of AXA, provides insurance and risk management products and services for mid-sized companies through to large multinationals, and reinsurance solutions to insurance companies globally. AXA XL proudly serves as the Official Property/Casualty, Reinsurance, Auto and Professional Liability Insurance Sponsor of the LPGA. Additionally AXA XL has partnered with the LPGA on a season-long AXA LPGA Volunteer Service Award which recognizes tournament volunteers who have exemplified the spirit of volunteerism and gone above and beyond expectations. For more information, please visit www.axaxl.com