If he’s not delivering ice and water to some 45 different stations on the golf course during the LPGA’s ANA Inspiration, Michael P. Riley is cheerfully leading his longtime corps of fellow volunteers in whatever tasks are needed during tournament week.
Now in his 13th year at the LPGA’s traditional season-opening major championship at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., Riley’s tenure dates to 2008, when the event was played as the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
Riley has been recognized for his service as the ANA Inspiration’s winning volunteer and joins the nominated volunteers from each LPGA tournament for the overall AXA LPGA Volunteer Service Award. The award is presented at the end of the season.
“I was really quite surprised about that,” said Riley, 83, a native of Jefferson City, Mo., who winters and volunteers in the California desert with his wife, Marla.
During the Kraft Nabisco years, patrons at the event enjoyed the “sampling” that Riley helped orchestrate as they filed onto the grounds.
And when Riley and his product distribution crew weren’t handing out Oreos and Fig Newtons to golf fans, they were moving equipment for exhibitors at the championship, helping ESPN set up its broadcast compound and even hustling on-site package deliveries for players to the clubhouse.
“Mike brings all of his expertise and his own team of volunteers – the same people who work with him year after year and love him – and they just get the job done,” said Dianne McPherson, ANA Inspiration Volunteer Coordinator. “I don’t have to worry about micromanaging him because he knows what to do and gets it done.”
Nearly 700 volunteers help the ANA Inspiration operate smoothly each year at the event held in the California desert, but McPherson rests a little easier knowing that Riley is getting ice and water to all of the tournament tee boxes, fan and corporate skyboxes and to the staff mobile offices at the course.
“This is my 23rd year connected with this event and I’ve watched things come and go and change, but Mike has been a constant during all of those changes,” McPherson added. “It’s been a pleasure to work with him and I hope he continues to volunteer with us and that he stays healthy for many years to come.”
And while Riley’s work ethic has always been impeccable, even McPherson has shaken her head in amazement at times.
“He’s in his 80s and carries cases of water up and down steps with no problem,” she noted.
There was also a memorable final round one year when the tournament fell on Easter Sunday.
“Mike brought a bunch of bunny ears to the course that Easter and had all of these U.S. Marines helping us at the tournament wearing Easter bunny ears,” said McPherson with a laugh.
And that describes the type of fun Riley and his fellow volunteers bring to the event each year. Retired for three years after practicing law in Missouri for 50 years, Riley brings his Midwestern sensibility to the sizable task of making a major championship successful.
“You need to walk in the door with a positive attitude and believe, ‘We’re going to get this done,’” he said. “That’s the name of the game. It’s like, we’ll take care of the immediate needs and the impossible will take just a little longer.”
Riley, who plays recreational golf three times a week, began volunteering at professional golf tournaments 15 years ago at the PGA Tour’s former Bob Hope Desert Classic in Palm Desert, now called The American Express.
It was at that event that Riley was asked to volunteer for the 2007 LPGA Samsung World Championship, also in the desert at Bighorn Golf Club. At that event, he was asked to volunteer in 2008 at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
“For the first few years, I worked in security – which is another way of saying that I handled parking,” laughed Riley.
His next role was as chairman of the product patrol committee, which he led until stepping down this year, while continuing to volunteer with the group.
“The whole crew that I work with has been together for a long time and we also get together socially outside the tournament,” said Riley. “Some of us have worked together for 10 years and we also volunteer together at other things.”
In addition, Riley volunteers three days a week at the Palm Springs Air Museum, which houses nearly 60 vintage planes. When he returns home to Missouri, he volunteers for the Goldschmidt Cancer Center Boost Barbecue and the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store.
He has also served on the library board and the parks and recreation board in Jefferson City and is a co-founder of his community’s Little Theater Company.
But when asked what has been the highlight of his tenure as a volunteer at the ANA Inspiration, the U.S. Army veteran recalls a young woman from the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., who volunteered at the tournament one year after three tours of duty in Iraq as a sniper.
“She could throw a 50-pound bag of ice over her shoulder and go up the steps like you couldn’t believe,” said Riley.
Riley was so impressed by the young soldier that he took her into the LPGA Players’ dining area at Mission Hills and introduced her to Michelle Wie, Paula Creamer and several other professionals.
“It was so much fun the way the players jumped up and thanked her for her service,” said Riley. “It was just a really great experience.”
Marines from Twentynine Palms have long volunteered at the tournament and have carried the scoring standards with each group of players on the course. Often with extra Marines onsite who weren’t walking the fairways, Riley would recruit some of the soldiers to ride with his volunteer team to distribute ice and water.
“We let them do the lifting while I did the driving,” he explained.
But Riley always takes care of his volunteers and about 10 years ago, he rounded up some extra VIP passes to invite some of the Marines to visit the 18th Green Suites overlooking the last hole. It was a perk the soldiers never expected to have and one that Riley was more than happy to provide.
After 13 years, Riley marvels at the tournament’s changes. He also appreciates how the ANA Junior Inspiration, now in its ninth year, has attracted top female amateurs and awards a spot into the LPGA’s ANA Inspiration for the winning amateur.
“There is always something more the tournament wants to do to make that amateur event better and to enhance it each year,” said Riley, who begins his week volunteering with the amateurs and ends it with a professional champion a week later.
When asked why he enjoys volunteering, Riley said his desire to give back started years ago while he was still working. It was a way to make his community better.
And it was a way to better understand the needs of his community and to impact charitable giving. The ANA Junior Inspiration, for example, will benefit from the proceeds at the LPGA’s major championship, which provides greater opportunity for young women. Being a part of that is something Riley says he truly enjoys.
“I just grew up being a volunteer,” he said. “I remember an old wise man once saying, ‘You always have to put something in the pot for the privilege of being here.’”
The AXA LPGA Volunteer Award program will designate a top volunteer nominee at each of the LPGA’s tournaments. At the conclusion of the 2020 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