Wed Aug 18, 2021

'The folks here are selfless': Hundreds of volunteers help Bridgestone Senior Players Championship tee off

AKRON, Ohio — Professional golf returns to Firestone Country Club this weekend as the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship tees off at the historic south course.

It’s the third straight year that Firestone has hosted a PGA Tour Champions event, and one of the major championship events on the PGA Tour Champions schedule.

To make the tournament go off without a hitch, hundreds of volunteers spend thousands of hours getting the course and the amenities ready for the golfers.

This year, the event will have fans back after the COVID-19 pandemic restricted their attendance in 2020.

“The roar of the crowd, there’s nothing like it,” said Bambi Miller, the tournament volunteer chair. “It’s the 20-foot putt, and we were right there to see it. We got to clap and see everyone smile.”

As the tournament volunteer chair, Miller oversees a group of roughly 700 volunteers who take their own vacation time and purchase their own volunteer uniforms to be part of one of Akron’s signature events. Many have been lending a hand at professional golf tournaments at Firestone for more than 25 years.

“We have volunteers that come from all over the country,” Miller said. “Everyone looks forward to that personal touch again and doing something important for our neighbors. It’s the same folks coming back year after year. We invite new people into our family year after year.”

The volunteers are responsible for everything from food to security. More than $30 million has been given to area charities through professional golf tournaments at Firestone Country Club since 1984.

“To be able to be a part of something that gives $30 million back to charity, you can’t do that as an individual,” Miller said. “We’re a part of that. We all had a piece of that.”

Last year, despite the pandemic, the tournament was still able to raise more than $750,000 for charities in Northeast Ohio.

“The folks here are selfless,” Miller said. “We do it because we’re giving back to the community. We might have had a family member that needed some help or someone in our past or our friends.”

Firestone Country Club has been a home for professional golf for 68 years. The first tournament the course ever hosed was the Rubber City Open in 1954. Most recently, the site hosted the World Series of Golf and World Golf Championships as major tournaments.

“This tournament is a little different, our seniors are very personable,” Miller said. “They’re at a different phase of their life. You don’t have to be as quiet on the tee box. You can say ‘Hey, how are you? That was a great shot you had on five!’ And they will interact and say ‘Thanks I really appreciate it. That goes on all weekend.”

“I have made lifelong friends with people that I’d never would have met had it not been on this golf course,” Miller said.

The entire event has something for everyone at the course this weekend. The club will host several food trucks including from Slyman’s Tavern. There will be concerts after each round concludes beginning Friday with the Sunrise Jones, which was the house band at the NFL Draft in Cleveland in April.

On Saturday, Northeast Ohio’s country band, The Shootouts, will perform songs from their new album with the group receiving national accolades on Rollingstone.com. On Sunday, following the tournament trophy ceremony, the Akron Symphony Orchestra will showcase 30 musicians performing American Bandstand presented by Fleet Response, a program featuring family-friendly patriotic, summer concert music on the driving range.