Hamilton Farm is an amazing golf course. Nestled in the New Jersey piedmont and originally a robber baron’s country estate, Lucent developed the layout in 1999, at the height of the technology boom. Designed by Dr. Michael Hurzden and Dana Fry, Hamilton Farm echoes courses designed in the Roaring 20s. In addition to the championship course, the property also boasts the only rated par 3 course in the country. The past decade has been kinder to the golf course than to Lucent. Every hole at Hamilton Farm is different, but the common denominators are elevation changes, amazing views, and a real challenge both for the golfer’s game and for her stamina. This is not golf for the faint of heart.
HSBC sponsored match play here in 2005 and 2006. The first year saw Marisa Baena rise to the top. 2006 marked Brittany Lincicome’s first professional win, over an obviously fatigued Juli Inkster. In the consolation round, Lorena Ochoa was more evenly matched against Paula Creamer but eventually prevailed. I was lucky enough to watch those matches. It hooked me on live golf and convinced me that the next time I attended a tournament, I wanted to be inside the ropes.
When the Sybase Classic came to Upper Montclair in 2007, I had my chance. I volunteered as a standard bearer, figuring it was the best of both worlds—I could follow a group of players for 18 holes, watching everything from their preshot routines to their course management to their approach shots and putting. At the same time, the standard bearer isn’t responsible for much—the walking scorer is responsible for dictating the scores on the standard. That way I could focus on the golf and the golfers. In reality, the standard bearer and walking scorer act as a team, backing each other up. I wasn’t interested in the marshall’s job. The marshalls are assigned to one spot (though the group of marshalls on a single hole often rotate amongst themselves). They get to see everyone come through, famous or not, but they pretty much see the same shot or shots, over and over. I didn’t want that—I wanted to see a golfer’s entire round.
For the most part, I’ve never walked with people who (at the time) were big names. Still, everyone was better than I could ever hope to be. Walking with a group allowed me to see the differences in skill level. Time and again, the journeyman pros were unable to convert for birdie. That, and some inability to control emotions, seemed to be the key. My own game has improved immeasurably from watching the professionals. I can never hope to replicate their game, but I have honed my preshot routine and worked hard to put bad shots behind me.
After two years as a standard bearer, I opted to become a walking scorer. That title is a bit misleading, because the players keep their own scores. The only score the walking scorer really keeps is the one that appears on the leaderboards while the players are on the course. Mostly, the walking scorer collects statistics—fairways hit, driving distance, greens in regulation, sand saves, and putts. On the LPGA, the walking scorer has a clipboard with pressure paper and tear strips. Each player’s stats are collected on every hole. At the hole’s conclusion, the walking scorer tears off that hole’s top strip of paper and hands it to the greenside reporter, who radios it to the scorer’s tent. At the conclusion of the round, the players reconcile in the scorer’s tent and the walking scorer reconciles with a different official. It’s really not complicated—so long as it doesn’t rain—and keeping those statistics made certain aspects of players’ games jump out at me, particularly the importance of greens in regulation.
As I mentioned above, I’ve generally not walked with players when they had recognizable names. The notable exception was Christina Kim, who really is that funny and who can get out of anything—it’s just too bad she gets into it. That day, her playing partners were Yani Tseng and Na Yeon Choi, both just beginning their rookie years. Few Americans had heard of either of them that early, but both were just bombing unbelievable drives. Even before she won, and in the pouring rain, Ai Miyazato was surrounded by cameras; she is just as adorable in person as you think she is. I walked with both Leta Lindley and M.J. Hur before their victories; Leta Lindley has a photo of her son on the bottom of her bag; you would see it whenever her husband-caddy carried. Reilley Rankin thanks every volunteer at every green. Karine Icher has the most beautiful staff bag I’ve ever seen—it’s Lacoste leather.
Standard bearers and walking scorers have a few perks most other volunteers don’t get. The players and their caddies introduce themselves before each round, and we get autographed golf balls at the end. Some of the caddies are great company, and I have quite the collection of autographed balls. I can’t wait for the match play!