The First Call Inbox

Marshal tales: The good, bad and humorous

The First Call readers share their personal experiences dealing with golf course marshals

150th Open Championship
A marshal on the second tee at St. Andrews' Old Course during a practice round of the 150th British Open in 2022.

Question of the week [February 5-11]: Share your favorite story involving a golf course marshal, whether it's funny, infuriating or frustrating. 

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Years ago on a municipal course in Baltimore, we were standing in the fairway waiting on the group in front to putt out and move on. We had been waiting on every hole. A course marshal rolled up in his cart, said nothing to the group on the green, and told us we needed to pick up the pace. You couldn’t print my response.

Jim Kavanagh 
St. Augustine, Florida

I knew I was going to need a bathroom break, but when? 

It is the third round of the 2019 Masters. I am sitting near the top row of the grandstands to the left of the 15th green and the right of the 16th tee. It is mid-afternoon, warm and I am waiting — like a pedestrian peering for an overdue bus — to see Tiger Woods. His group was maybe an hour from playing the hole. Should I continue to wait, or should I saunter to the restrooms? 

I decided to amble from the top of the bleachers to the bottom row and continue to walk unimpeded to the restrooms — until a marshal stopped me just as I stepped onto the bottom row. I thought it would be OK at that moment to walk along the bottom row as players were leaving the green and the group in the fairway had yet to play their shots.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” I said.

The marshal told me to stay still and sit. Incredibly, there was room on the bottom row for me to sit, offering a great view of the green — but that was secondary.

“I have to go,” I said. 

The panjandrum pointed at the open spot, ordering me to sit — and wait. The 15th-green grandstand was his lotusland. With his badge, this marshal was a first-class myrmidon. Without his badge, this pilgarlic was a first-class popinjay. His idée fixe was crowd control and somehow he viewed me as a threat.

The surreptitious leader of an insurrection, I would raise my clenched right hand and caterwaul, “All ye who want to pee, follow me.” Wearing my white 2019 Masters cap made me minatory, I guess. So I waited. Had to wait until the group approaching the 15th green played their shots, putted out and stepped toward the 16th tee.

It was then that the marshal relented and let me exit the grandstands. A few feet from the grandstands, I glanced over my right shoulder toward where he was standing — and he was staring at me. His expression was like that of child who knew he had done something wrong.

Michael Paul
Supply, North Carolina

A few years ago, we were playing The King and the Bear at the World Golf Village in the middle of the summer. And it was hot. About halfway through our back nine a ranger pulled up, and of course we wondered why.

He had a cooler of ice, cups and water, but the caviat was cold, wet hand towels that were folded in their own cooler of ice.

He just said, "I thought you guys would like some of these." And we did. A very nice course ranger experience. 

Barry Duckworth
Knoxville, Tennessee

As a marshal at a 36-hole golf course, we serve in three primary roles: 1) first tee, trying to get the golfers out on time; 2) rover, trying to keep the golfers on time and off the greens — new GPS geofenced golf carts solved 98% of that problem; and 3) tournaments.

My favorite part of tournament duty is not pulling golf carts out of the barn, nor lining them up in lines, nor putting scorecards and players names/starting hole cards out, but ... serving as Mother Duck.

Similar to herding cats, the Mother Duck game is played by a golf marshal leading about 20-30 carts out onto the golf course with the intent of dropping the golfers off in groups of four or eight on various tee boxes for their shotgun start.

Experienced golfers? No problems. Golfers who play in corporate tournaments twice a year? Mostly OK. Topgolfer or never golfed? Gonna be interesting.

We might have a line that starts with Lakes 5 at the front and ends with Lakes 9 at the back. The marshal leads the line to the green of Lakes 9 (being near the clubhouse), back up the fairway and hopes the people who are starting on Lakes 9 — the group at end of line — stop on the Lakes 9 tee box. All the way backwards to Lakes 5.

I do try to have a short friendly conversation with the drivers of the carts. Some lower-handicap people get their nose out of whack, but most understand, and I can generally tell if they golf. But those who have never or only played a round of golf generally are confused that they are starting on Lakes 7 and ending on Lakes 6.

Mark Chatfield
Houston, Texas

I was on a seven-day golf trip to Scotland some 20-plus years ago. There were 16 of us on the organized tour and we had tee times for four foursomes. Back then there was not a driving range so all of us were standing around the first tee waiting to tee it up. 

A gentleman in the foursome or two ahead of us stepped up and dribbled his drive no more than 30 yards off the tee. Then the man pulled a ball out of his pocket and proceeded to tee it up and address it. 

The starter in a heavy Scottish accent interrupted and said, "Sir, what are you doing?" The man replied, "It's OK, in the States we call this a mulligan."

The starter didn't miss a beat and shot back with, "Well here, sir, we call it three." Our group didn't laugh at the man for his poor drive, but by the time this short exchange ended, we were all in stitches.

Max Martin Jr.
Montgomery, Texas

Marshal story No. 1. When playing in a mixed group with men and women, there have been many times the marshals will assume we women are slow players and tell them us need to speed up. We don't like that.

Marshal story No. 2. Years ago when I competed in several local events, course marshals befriended me and would bring cold towels, lemonade, and other treats. They would also check to see if I needed anything. They rocked ... and I did share with my playing partners.

Marshal story No. 3. We were a female twosome playing on a too-crowded course (eight-minute tee times) and sandwiched in between all foursomes. An off-duty course marshal came up and said "They told me there was a twosome out here I could join, but it was supposed to be two men, but can I join you?"

He didn't know we were both seasoned competitors and club champions, but was absolutely delighted he found us. We were too and helped him with his game. It is rare that a man will ask to join a group of women playing golf. We don't bite.

Marshal story No. 4. When rating courses, I always prefer to walk and carry, if possible. While at a popular course in Hawaii, the director of golf said to go ahead and do that, though normally they require carts. I can't recall how many marshals stopped to check on me: "Did your cart die?", "Are you OK?", "We don't allow walking out here", etc. They were astounded when I told them I preferred to walk and the director of golf gave his permission to do so. I did appreciate their concern.

Janina Parrott Jacobs
Detroit, Michigan

Having been a marshal / ranger/starter for several years, I can give you one reason why they don't seem to be doing their job. The first time you confront a foursome about slow play, you usually get nothing but abuse and flack. Then you report the slow play to the pro shop and they are reluctant to do anything that might upset the golfers and cost them subsequent business. And, the groups causing slow play are very frequently the very same ones that complain about slow play.

Bob Norris
Cincinnati, Ohio

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