The LPGA Tour’s 2020 season will forever be remembered as a COVID-delayed year in which thousands of tournament volunteers stepped up to help make events happen, albeit with modifications for safety.
It was a year of adjustments, changes and completely new protocols following CDC guidelines, but each week, LPGA tournament volunteers raised their hands to help run the events that generate millions of dollars for their local charities.
Thanks to the AXA LPGA Volunteer Service Award, a program created three years ago to honor deserving volunteers at each LPGA Tour competition throughout the season, 24 nominated volunteers were saluted in 2020. These individuals were singled out for exemplifying the spirit of volunteerism and for performing beyond the expectations of their respective roles.
Tournament directors and title sponsors at each event were asked to cast a nomination for their volunteer who exemplified this spirit, which then placed those individuals into a pool of nominees for a random drawing. The tournament charity of the selected 2020 volunteer season winner would receive a $10,000 charitable donation by AXA in their name.
This year, Cambia Portland Classic’s co-caddie masters Stan Kawamoto and Lee Hoffman became the season winners of the 2020 AXA LPGA Volunteer Service Award Program.
Their tournament charity is the nonprofit Tournament Golf Foundation, which has distributed more than $18 million to the Greater Portland community in the nearly 50 years the event has been held.
“These are really committed volunteers and I think it’s fantastic they are being recognized,” said Tom Maletis, Tournament Golf Foundation’s president and board chairman. “This is a great program and it has added a lot to the tournaments. Whether it’s our tournament or other tournaments, it’s so important to recognize these key volunteers.”
Kawamoto, of Renton, Wash., began volunteering for the Tournament Golf Foundation in the mid-1980s. He met Hoffman, of Salem, Ore., at the Portland LPGA tournament. Hoffman actually caddied at the event for the first time in 1978 and continued looping there each year for about a decade.
Ten years later, Kawamoto asked Hoffman to join him as co-caddie master at the Portland tournament and the two have worked together since that time at the LPGA’s oldest continuous tournament, founded in 1972.
Because of Hoffman’s extensive experience as a caddie and Kawamoto’s attention to detail, the Portland LPGA event has drawn rave reviews for years from professional caddies making that tour stop in the Pacific Northwest.
And for the tournament organizers of the event, caddie concerns have been in good hands for more than 35 years.
“We have around 600 volunteers at our tournament, but when it comes to Stan and Lee, what makes them great is they have been consistently good for a long period of time,” said Chris Garrett, tournament director of the Cambia Portland Classic. “I never have to worry about the caddies being taken care of at our event.”
Kawamoto and Hoffman have been such reliable volunteer caddie masters that when Garrett’s duties with International Management Group (IMG) required him to bolster the caddie-master program at the LPGA’s ANA Inspiration in California three years ago, he asked the Portland duo to also head up that program at the LPGA’s season-opening major championship.
“The [professional] caddies know what to expect when Stan and Lee show up,” added Garrett. “You can’t say enough about the type of people who come back and volunteer for so many years for no payment, and in some cases, probably at their own expense. They are great volunteers who are also great people and they have meant so much to our event.”
Volunteers at the Portland tournament have chaired and orchestrated more than 23 committees through the Tournament Golf Foundation. In fact, some of its volunteers helped run the LPGA’s tournament in Phoenix for six years until the event became the Founders Cup and established its own local volunteer base in Arizona. Under guidance of the Tournament Golf Foundation, more than $5 million was contributed to Phoenix charities during the six years of the Portland-based nonprofit’s direction.
“Volunteers are the reason we have been able to give so much to charity over the years,” explained Maletis. “Instead of paying for-profit groups to come in and do the duties needed during tournaments, we have been able to tap into local groups to provide needed services and give money to those charities.”
For example, groups such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of America have handled Portland’s tournament parking, while Easter Seals has handled its concessions and the Oregon Golf Association has served as walking scorers during competition.
The nonprofits provide a needed service to the tournament by bringing their own volunteer teams to oversee the various areas of responsibility and ultimately benefit through their participation.
“They don’t just get a check from us every year,” Maletis said. “They add a lot to the tournament and the overall execution of the event.”
Maletis and Garrett are still discussing with others how AXA’s $10,000 donation will be spent. Programs such as Portland’s First Tee and Oregon Junior Golf are on their radar because the groups have provided service as tournament standard bearers over the years.
They also may make “meaningful upgrades” to their tournament’s caddie program in an effort to acknowledge the work that Kawamoto and Hoffman have provided as co-caddie masters.
“We will seek them out for ideas about how to upgrade the experience here at our event for caddies,” said Garrett.“Stan and Lee are the best at what they do and I’d put them up there with any one on any tour,” Maletis said. “It really takes a burden off tournament management when you have key people like them overseeing an area of responsibility. We want people who have a real passion and motivation to be there and who get a lot of pleasure out of volunteering. This wonderful program recognizes those individuals.”