2023 US Women's Open - Volunteer Experience

2023 US Women's Open - Volunteer Experience

2023 US Women's Open - Volunteer Experience

Hello Members! My name is Natalie Russell, and I am one of the 2nd Assistant Superintendents here at Country Hills. You may have seen me out and about in a loud green cart on either course early in the morning. I couldn’t be more excited to be sharing my experiences at the 2023 U.S. Women’s Open with you. On Sunday, July 2nd, I will be travelling to Monterey, California to spend the week volunteering with the Pebble Beach Golf Links grounds crew in preparation for the USWO. I’m honoured to be a part of this historic event; it is the first time that Pebble Beach has ever hosted the U.S. Women’s Open. They are becoming a destination spot for hosting the event as well, as they will be hosting again in 2035, 2040, and 2048.

This is not only my first-time volunteering for an event, but working at a golf course that is not Country Hills. I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to expand my turf horizons. I was originally chosen to join the USWO volunteer pool in 2021 when the event was at the Olympic Club in San Fransisco. But, due to Covid, I was unable to make the trip there, or Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in 2022. This experience has been years in the making for me.

The USWO is a very unique event in that the volunteer turf maintenance team is about half women. This is thanks to a program sponsored by Syngenta, and Rain Bird, called the “Women in Turf Team”. This amazing group have worked on a number of events, including the past 2 USWO’s, and the 2022 Little League Softball World Series. The representatives of the group work hard to promote and sponsor volunteers.

The lead-up to the tournament has been incredible to experience, even from afar. The volunteer coordinator is a Territory Manager from Syngenta who could not be more on top of things. She’s been in near-constant contact with the team about boarding, meals, packing, events throughout the week, and more. The crew at Pebble Beach has also been amazing to work with, making sure we are all up to speed on uniforms, schedules, and crew assignments. For me, this trip could not be happening without the support of Kimberly Gaard from Syngenta, Bob Yeo, the Superintendent of Spyglass Hill, Rain Bird Canada, or our very own Senior Assistant Superintendent, Stu Leachman, who helped me secure my spot on this year’s crew.

Looking ahead, the schedule for the week could not be more packed. I will be up at 3:00 am every day to catch a shuttle to maintenance, where our day begins with a morning set-up shift, followed by a meal, plenty of education and networking opportunities for volunteers, another meal, and an evening shift before rinsing and repeating for the next day. Hopefully, there will be some spare time to take the 17 Mile Drive, or even sneak in some golf of my own nearby! Although it will be long hours in the July California sun, I’m prepared for it to be the most rewarding experience of my career.

I’ll be eager to continue to update as my trip takes place. Also, please check out my Twitter account @turfgirls to follow along with more behind-the-scenes content.

Natalie Russell
2nd Assistant Superintendent


Hello again, Members! I am officially coming to you LIVE from Pebble Beach Golf Links today. I could not be more excited to be here and to be sharing this experience with you. I decided to combine Sunday, July 2 and today, Monday July 3 together, since yesterday was my travel day. 

Luckily, it was relatively uneventful. I was happy to meet up with the other two Canadian women attending the tournament, and we all flew into Monterey together. After picking up our bags and rental car, we hit 17 Mile Drive and were Pebble bound. I really feel like the whole day was a blur. I couldn’t believe it, even as I drove onto the property in the afternoon. 

I attended volunteer orientation, where the 60(ish) volunteers met the 40(ish) Pebble Beach employees. Yes, that makes our grounds crew for the week about 100 people! It was immediately evident just how much preparation has gone into this event long before we got here. Pebble Beach Superintendent Bubba Wright said after the men’s Open in 2019, they immediately started planning to host the women this year. Also cool to hear was that the Women in Turf Team were invited to Pebble for this event immediately after volunteering for the 2021 USWO at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. During orientation, we were given our gear for the week (some people are checking an extra bag home because of the sheer volume of gear we were gifted), our assignments for the week, as well as a thorough overview of the scope of the tournament. Also very exciting is the location of our maintenance tent. Directly overlooking the 10th fairway. The ocean view is truly stunning. After all of that wrapped up, we headed back to the dorms for some settling-in and ice breakers with the WITT. 

This morning was the earliest start to a day I may have ever had. Alarms started ringing in the dorms around 2:30 AM. We packed up for the day and hit the shuttles to maintenance for the 4:00 am meeting. We were out on the course by 4:30 at the latest. I don’t know how I lucked into my assignment for the week, but I am mowing back 9 fairways with two other members of the WITT, as well as two members of the Pebble crew. After a quick rundown on the machine, we went mowing in the dark. The gravity of this week finally hit me when the light started to break about an hour into the shift, and my mowing teammate, Pam, turned around from looking at the ocean directly off the course, grin at me, and yell “We’re really here!”. We are, and it’s incredible. 

Throughout the entire on-course shift, we were extremely supported the Pebble Beach grounds crew. They have a truly wonderful staff, and they are so passionate about us being here to share this week with them. They’ve made us feel extremely welcome, and we owe a lot to them this week.

After the morning shift, the WITT headed to the driving range to host a GCSAA First Green event with the First Tee of Monterey County. The idea behind First Green is to inspire young people passionate about golf to join the turf industry in some capacity. I spent the afternoon educating young women (ages 7-17) about irrigation, and teaching them how to build, then deconstruct a sprinkler head for repairs. They asked so many wonderful questions, and it could not have been more fun. We returned to the course with practice rounds ongoing. 

The remainder of today will be our late meal, as well as an evening shift and hopefully at least six hours of sleep tonight! 

Natalie Russell
2nd Assistant Superintendent



Happy 4th of July, unless I’m very mistaken, (and my Mom way correct me), I’m very sure this is my first 4th of July in America. We’d hoped to see some fireworks, but with having to be awake and ready for the day around 3:00 am, staying up late enough to see them proved pretty much impossible. 

Day two out on the course was a steep learning curve for our crew. We are mowing fairways twice a day, and halfway through the afternoon, we restructured the way we were mowing. Everything Pam, Jocelyn and I had learned so far shifted. But our crew completed our fastest mow so far, and I think we’ll be cruising for the rest of the week. 

Taking things in during the morning shift is incredible. Preparing for a tournament on this stage is a Herculean effort, and I can’t even begin to wrap my head around the efforts that went into this week before we arrived. On one hole on the golf course at any given time, there could be up to 30 people working. That includes the team of greens mowers, rollers, bunker crew, fairway mowers, dew whippers, hand waterers, rough fluffers, tee mowers, tee and pin setting, media, and more. That number doesn’t even touch supervisory staff, USGA staff, or other odd jobs that have to be taken care of. 

After the morning shift, we had an amazing education seminar featuring Pebble Beach superintendent Bubba Watson, his second assistant, Cole, as well as three WITT members. The theme of the day was environmental considerations on not only the Pebble Beach Company property but also our own courses. The day was extremely insightful, and the efforts that Pebble Beach Company takes to be as environmentally conscious as possible are inspiring. It definitely gave us a lot to think about before our nap!

USGA volunteers are starting to arrive this evening, and during our afternoon mow, there was much more of an audience out on the golf course. Everyone has been incredibly friendly so far, very welcoming and truly a pleasure to work with. 

As we ramp up for tomorrow, the eve of tournament play starting, things are starting to get dialled in. I’m expecting crews to start finishing their tasks more efficiently, and for our days to continuously run smoother. Pro golfers are enjoying their practice rounds, and I couldn't be more excited to continue this week preparing for their tournament. 

Natalie Russell
2nd Assistant Superintendent


Happy USWO Eve! Things around Pebble are getting increasingly busy. I don’t have an exact number for how many USGA volunteers are here, but I can tell you it is a LOT more than the 100 we have. Standard bearers are undergoing training, the media presence is increasing, and big-name golfers are teeing it up for their last practice rounds today. 

As I expected, we continue to shave time from our mows every time we go out. For reference in some way: my fairways group mowed 9 and 10 the first morning we were here, and the sun came up when we were on 10. Today, we mowed 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, and started on 14 before we turned the headlights off. That’s HUGE progress in only 3 days together. Our Pebble Beach staff, Dominic and especially Martin, are very patient with us, and the feedback and tips we’ve received from the rest of the supervisory staff have been kind and helpful. 

After the morning shift, I took the opportunity with a few of the friends I’ve made here to see a bit of the coast. I don’t travel extremely often and have never been to this part of California before. We took a short road trip to Big Sur, walked on the beach, and took some time away from the course to refresh and recharge. 

We are, of course, here primarily to prepare the course for the tournament. However, these are the longest days I’ve worked in my life. The shuttles from the dorms leave at 3:30 am, and we are typically wrapping up our evening shift around 8:45 pm. That’s over an 18-hour day at work! By the time we are back at the dorms and in bed, we have about 5 hours of sleep a night (sometimes less). 

Despite the lack of sleep, the energy is buzzing at the course! The WITT have never wavered in their enthusiasm. The positive energy has also been flowing from Pebble Beach assistant superintendent Michael Knoll, and it’s contagious! As just a teeny tiny snapshot of what we’ve been up to this week, the USGA put together a video that really does capture the energy here this week. You can watch it here.

Dumping her buckets at the beginning is my mowing teammate, Pam, Michael Knoll is the one greeting us in the morning meeting, the fairway mowers all featured in the video are my mowing team for the week, and I can be seen specifically at 0:28 leading the fairway mowing crew out of the shop in the morning (look for the teal backpack!)

And finally, I’d just like to say thank you to you, for keeping up with me this week. Jessica passed along yesterday that she’s been fielding questions and well wishes for me around the clubhouse this week. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it. This experience has been incredible. 

As always, I look forward to updating you tomorrow, please reach out if you’d like, and wish us luck on tournament day 1 tomorrow!! 

Natalie Russell
2nd Assistant Superintendent


Happy USWO opening day! Play of the 78th Annual US Women’s Open tees off today! This is one of the biggest stages in golf, and I found it pretty nerve-wracking. Even though our team has gelled together unbelievably well in the last few days, there is no room for error today. 

If I had to pick a theme for today, it would be “Trust”. We are trusting in our Pebble Beach staff members as they lead us around the course. They are trusting us to do our greatest. And they have begun trusting us with important tasks like mowing the cleanup laps, or leading the group down the correct line on the fairway. I had a chance to catch up with Bubba Wright, Pebble Beach Superintendent, and he told me our teammate, Martin, is probably the best fairway mower they’ve had in his time. Martin has been with the Pebble Beach Company for 29 years! 

After our morning shift, we had a short education day with the opportunity to take part in a teaching workshop, led by PhD Carson Letot from Penn State. Carson is a fantastic person to talk to. He’s been around all week because he is currently doing a research study on the effects of participating in a major tournament like this, specifically as a member of the WITT. He has been interviewing our team members and performing data collection all week. The study will eventually be published and will hopefully be a fact-based guide for employee retention. What we are experiencing this week that makes us want to be here will be quantified to be shared. So interesting! 

On the first two days of the tournament, we are unable to run shuttles back to our dorms, which means we are here until our second shift. Some of us took the opportunity to hit up the merch stores (I’ll be coming home with a lighter wallet and heavier suitcase) and cheer on the last group of golf. That group is Rose Zhang, Lydia Ko, and fellow Canadian, Brooke Henderson. Watching them tee off on a course we have been maintaining was an indescribable feeling. The support of the crowd was inspiring. The group of people following their favourite golfers is already massive and will continue to grow as the championship inches closer. 

Our night shift was postponed until golf was far enough through the course that we were able to work behind them. We started mowing again around 7:15 pm, much different than our usual 4:00 pm! We wrapped up around 10:45, which easily made this our shortest sleep yet. 

Tomorrow will be a sort of rinse and repeat as we prepare for the second day of play here. This will change up after the cut tomorrow night. Fingers crossed for an opportunity to nap tomorrow! 

Natalie Russell
2nd Assistant Superintendent


Happy Friday! Today is a much shorter blog post than the rest. The demand here really picked up as the tournament went off. We’ve had about 4 hours of sleep a night, and tonight will be even less with players striving to make the cut. 

Despite the severe sleep deprivation, spirits are pretty high! Everyone is taking naps wherever they can around the shop. My personal favorite spot is the fertilizer bay in cold storage that’s been outfitted with cots and is quiet and dark. But the front lawn of the maintenance tent and the deck in front of the 10th fairway have also been very popular spots. 

We took the opportunity of a relatively short morning to visit some new areas of the course and the complex around the first tee, full of shops and photo ops. It was the first time all week I’ve seen the iconic par 3 number 7, and the first tee and practice area. 

I treated myself and my family to a few more souvenirs before we made our way back for the evening shift. Much like last night, we were in a holding pattern for golf. But once we were out on the course, we got the sight of the week to behold. For the first time all week, the sun came out during our shift. The course really is different in the sun. It was stunning. The group chat was immediately flooded with photos. We also had a clear night, meaning we could see the stars over Spyglass Hill. 

Tomorrow will be a shorter day since it’s moving day. With the field cut, the hope is to be able to have quick shifts, and really savor our last day at this amazing property. 

I also hope you’ve had the chance to watch some of the action! The players are really showing out this week, it’s very special to see. 

Natalie Russell
2nd Assistant Superintendent


Happy moving day! These 20-hour days on the course are no joke. We had a half hour later start in the morning, but with how late our evenings have gone, it offered very little relief. We are unable to run shuttles back to the dorms because the access road to maintenance crosses 11 tees. We can’t risk being seen on camera, so we camp out at the course all day. It is fun in its own way. Not many people can say they’ve napped in the rough on 10 fairway at Pebble Beach Golf Links. But I can! 

All the tiredness was forgotten anyways when the sun stayed out for the day. The course was dry and hot, and the wind was gusting. It definitely showed its teeth and the leaderboard changed multiple times throughout the day. The USGA could not have been happier with our efforts this week. The course played exactly as they were hoping. 

After a morning nap, I took advantage of the beautiful day. The walk into the town of Carmel was only about 20 minutes from the course, so I went down to the beach and up into town for the majority of my down time. The town was adorable, full of cute shops, restaurants, and inns. And the beach was gorgeous. It gave a different perspective of the golf course, as we were looking up at it vs looking down at the beach. 

After walking back from town, I took in some golf. I chatted with two lovely ladies from British Colombia who were there to cheer on Brooke Henderson (Hi Lisa and Marnie!) and got to watch as Brooke eagled hole #10 in front of us. How unforgettable! 

After golf and a very early night shift full of taking photos and really savoring our last evening on the course, packing for tomorrow began. It’s hard to believe tomorrow will be our last day here. It does really feel like we just got here. We are just starting to memorize our way around the course, just learning some ins and outs, just starting to open up to each other as a team, and now we have to leave. I guess that’s the most bittersweet thing about working events like this. The most amazing week of your life has to end because it’s only a week. 

It’s also hard to believe I’ll be writing to you for the last time tomorrow. Thank you again to those who have followed along with my journey this week. I’ll be looking forward to catching up with everyone in person once I’m home. 

Natalie Russell
2nd Assistant Superintendent


Well Dear Reader, this is it. The last time I’ll be checking in with you from Pebble Beach has come.  If you had told me a week ago about the experience I’ve had here this week, I’m not sure I would have believed you. This event was truly historic, and almost every part of it was incredible to be part of. During our morning meeting this morning, assistant superintendent Michael Knoll asked us to recall the best day of our lives. We all reflected for a moment on that feeling. Then he said “That feeling you had, is what we are creating for someone else today. We are a part of the best day of someone’s life”. And how incredible that that’s true! 

The team staying tonight for the championship ceremony will be walking the 18th fairway following the final group and taking part in the ceremony. It would be unbelievable to stay, but unfortunately duty at home calls. We had a final morning shift, packed up at the dorms, and I am currently sitting in the Monterey airport as I write to you. 

Before signing off for the last time, I want to say my final thank yous. To Bubba Wright, Michael Knoll, Sean Sherbert, Cole Petrick, and the entire crew at Pebble Beach Golf Links, THANK YOU for being so accommodating of us, being so enthusiastic about our presence on your golf course, working with us, promoting us, and especially to Mechanic Mike for not being mad at me when I mowed over my LuluLemon crossbody bag with my fairway mower last night. 

To Kimberly Gard, Kelly Lynch, Jill Seymour, Shelia Finney, and the entire Women in Turf Team, THANK YOU for all your hard work this week and leading up to this event, your sage advice, and your constant enthusiasm, and especially to my mowing teammates Jocelyn Kent and Pam Brown, and Kassidy Powell and Julian Lutz. You four inspire me to be great. Thank you for everything this week. I love you dearly. 

To our sponsors: Toro, Rainbird, Syngenta, Simplot, Nutrien, Barenburg, GCSAA, USGA, and more, THANK YOU for getting us down there, keeping us clothed and fed, and walking with us on our journey this week. 

To my team back at home: Scott, Stu, Thomas, Jess, Pat, Stacy, Wes, Mike, Matt, Vince, THANK YOU for covering for me this week, supporting me on this trip, and helping get me there. 

To my family, and my partner Alex, THANK YOU for your support, your love, your encouragement through the week and my career thus far. I wouldn’t be here this week without you. I love you all. 

And finally, to the Country Hills Golf Club Members, THANK YOU, for your support, your kind words, your questions, and for following along as I documented my trip. I can’t tell you how rewarding this experience was. I feel so lucky to be supported by such a great group of people.

I will be back at the course on Tuesday. If you have any questions, would like more information, or would like to catch up after my trip, I would be happy to do so. Otherwise, Happy Golfing, and I’m sure I’ll see you on the course! 

Natalie Russell
2nd Assistant Superintendent


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