CARLSBAD — Beginning March 19, golf fans will descend on the La Costa Resort and Spa to watch the Kia Classic. Dennis Baggett, the tournament director, has prepared for the moment when fans first step foot onto the golf course for more than a year. On his side: a team putting in long hours and a small army of volunteers.Many golf fans may not realize how much time and effort goes into organizing a professional golf tournament, especially a tournament as large as the Kia Classic, Baggett said.“It’s daunting when you first look at it,” said Baggett, who is in his second year as tournament director. “Anything you can imagine, from portable restrooms to catering for skyboxes, to power to run the lights and scoring tent — every piece has to be touched. Nothing happens on its own.”
Baggett and a small team of LPGA organizers still have work to do. Several weeks prior to (and during) the tournament, they live at the La Costa Resort and Spa and work 20-hour days to ensure the tournament runs smoothly for players and golf fans. Adrenaline and emotions often run high, but so does a sense of camaraderie.
“As an example, there are nights when our little group will be huddled together in a room at 2 a.m. putting together tee times for all the players for the next morning,” Baggett said. “We become like a family.”
Late nights and last-minute details are necessary leading up to the tournament. First on their plate, though, Baggett and his team take care of the most critical tasks — like acquiring permits, sponsorships and a number of other necessities — months before the tournament kicks off. Because Baggett and his team work for the LPGA, they must also carefully manage relationships with Kia, various vendors and La Costa Resort and Spa throughout the year.
“It’s taking all the individual pieces you have and making them fit together properly,” Baggett said.
The engine that keeps the Kia Classic running? It’s the 600 to 700 volunteers that sign up to help with transportation, hospitality and a variety of other jobs.
“I think most people get involved with (volunteering) for love of the sport,” said Pat Willin, the general chairman of volunteering for the tournament. “Of those volunteering, there’s a high percentage of retired folks who like staying active.”
The tournament recruits most new volunteers two or three months prior to the tournament. But Willin said most volunteers could be considered “long term” and carry over from previous golf tournaments in San Diego. Once volunteers enlist, they are separated into 42 committees and trained to accomplish tasks. Volunteers typically work three five-hour shifts. As a reward, they receive a free round of golf at La Costa.
Lindsay Allen, the tournament coordinator, said unpredictability is what keeps her job interesting.
“I do such different things every day,” Allen said. “You learn to be a jack-of-all-trades.”
With so many variables affecting a tournament, eleventh-hour difficulties are practically inevitable. Last year, rain temporarily held up the Kia Classic. Not to mention, a swarm of bees assailed a small group of spectators during tournament play.
“There are things that can throw you sideways,” Baggett said. “You have to know they’re coming and take them with grace.”
Baggett can count on at least one constant working for him. He said the design of the golf course makes his job easier. According to Baggett, La Costa’s golf course, which features four newly redesigned holes, is easy to access; is a breeze for spectators to walk and the layout of the facility is conducive to parking shuttles.
Due to renovations, last year’s Kia Classic took place in Los Angeles. This year marks the return of the tournament to La Costa, where the inaugural event was held in 2010.
With all the hustle and bustle, this is Baggett’s favorite time of the year.
“These couple of weeks before the tournament are the most exciting,” Baggett said. “You’re running on an emotional high. We prepare for this for a year and get to see everything we worked for come together.”
The Kia Classic runs March 19 through March 25. Visit kiaclassic.com for more information.