Mary Byrd has witnessed plenty of champions and worked alongside countless fellow volunteers during her 22 years at the LPGA’s Phoenix-area tournament.
So it should come as no surprise that Byrd has been nominated as the top volunteer from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup for the 2019 AXA LPGA Volunteer Service Award, which recognizes exemplary volunteers at each LPGA tournament.
“The role of tournament volunteer is vital to the success of every tournament and we have been fortunate to have Mary’s leadership and positive attitude continually influence our success throughout the years,” said Scott Wood, tournament director at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.
“She greets everyone with a smile, makes them feel welcome and is willing to go above and beyond what is needed at a moment’s notice,” added Wood. “We are excited to recognize her as this year’s AXA LPGA Volunteer Service Award nominee for her contributions.”
And while Byrd admits she is “honored” to be nominated for the LPGA’s top volunteer award, she adds that the reason she returns each year is to work alongside others who also want to contribute their time, skills and to be a part of a high-visibility event in their community.
“Getting back together with the volunteers on our committee is so much fun,” said Byrd, a native of Baltimore who now lives in Peoria, Arizona. “It’s a fantastic team and they come back year after year. It’s really about the people.”
For 18 of her 22 years volunteering at the Phoenix-based LPGA tournament, Byrd has served as transportation committee chair. Her team of 20 or more volunteers typically helps transport players during tournament week and distributes courtesy cars to top-ranked players and tournament staff.
Byrd worked as a certified public accountant for an accounting firm in Baltimore for 18 years and then moved to Arizona in 1997 to work as a corporate controller. She was new to golf, but active in Baltimore’s former Executive Women’s Golf Association (EWGA) – now called the LPGA Women’s Amateur Association.
After she moved west, Byrd attended an EWGA event in Phoenix to meet other amateur women golfers. That evening, she won tickets in a drawing to the LPGA’s Phoenix tournament.
The local LPGA tournament was called the Standard Register Ping at the time and it was held at Moon Valley Country Club. It was Byrd’s first LPGA tournament exposure and attending the event would ultimately lead to her current role.
“While I was there, somebody said something about being a tournament volunteer, so I signed up and began my volunteer duties at Moon Valley,” she said.
Moon Valley played host to the LPGA for many years before the event moved to nearby Superstition Mountain across town and became the Safeway International.
The tournament rotated to other courses before becoming the RR Donnelly Founders Cup at Wildfire Golf Club at JW Marriott Desert Ridge. It will return this season for the ninth year at Wildfire Golf Club and will be played as the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.
“This tournament has moved around and has been known as different things, but I have wonderful memories as a volunteer wherever we went,” Byrd said.
There also have been plenty of highlights, she added.
“I was there at Moon Valley [in 2001] when Annika Sorenstam shot a [record-score of] 59, which was certainly something to see,” she said. “And a few years ago at Desert Ridge, I attended a dinner where they were honoring some of the LPGA’s pioneers and I got to sit at the table with [LPGA Hall of Fame member] Nancy Lopez, which was another highlight for me.”
One memorable week for Byrd came during the 2006 Safeway International when a snow delay at Superstition Mountain kept volunteers scrambling all day and working deep into the evening.
“Juli Inkster was the winner that year and one of my volunteers had to wait for her to finish after the snow delay,” said Byrd. “She came running in after the award ceremony and he rushed her to the airport at 8 p.m. So now, whenever I see Juli at our event, I say, ‘Maybe it will snow this year.’”
But while Byrd has always volunteered in transportation, her area of responsibility has also undergone changes during the LPGA’s years of playing in Phoenix.
“When I started, we had Dodge as the car sponsor, then we had Toyota, Mercedes-Benz and it’s been Kia for the last 10 or more years,” she noted. “And when I first started volunteering, our committee got 85 cars, so we would go get the cars from the different dealerships and bring them out to the course and I would assign them to the players as they checked in.”
In recent years, fewer players are assigned courtesy cars for the week, but Byrd and her transportation staff still make sure players have a way to make their tee times. Volunteers pick up the players from the airport when they arrive and if they are staying off site, the volunteers will pick them up at their hotels or at their housing and transport them back and forth to the golf course each day.
“We have great volunteers on our committee who enjoy getting the players where they need to be in a timely fashion,” said Byrd. “If players have a 7 a.m. tee time, they usually want to be at the course by 5:30 a.m., and if they have afternoon tee times, we’re not leaving the course until 6, 7 or 8 p.m. It’s a long week and there are some long days during the tournament, but it’s only one week each year and I really enjoy it.”
Byrd has assembled a quality transportation team over the years with many of her long-term volunteers having served since the days when the event was staged at Moon Valley. Of course, there are also many new faces.
“We have some police officers, firefighters and retired military helping as volunteers and they are all very organized,” Byrd added. “Some of them don’t mind getting up at 3 a.m. to go pick people up and some will stay until midnight to make sure players catch their flights.”
Byrd’s own organizational skills have also led her to serve as president and section director for the former EWGA Phoenix chapter. In addition, she served on the board of directors for eight years and was treasurer for six of those years with the Arizona Women’s Golf Association, which has around 25,000 members.
“Most CPAs are very organized, so maybe those skills help when I volunteer for this tournament,” she said. “But again, if it weren’t for our volunteers, I’d be lost. I can’t say enough about them.”
Byrd has played golf for 10 years in a league called the Arizona Lawmen, which has between 72-86 players who show up to play at different courses in the Phoenix area each week. Her late husband was a Baltimore firefighter.
She also regularly plays in a women’s league called the Ladies Executive Golf Society (LEGS) and they compete on an executive course.
Golf has become a central part of Byrd’s social life, dating back to the 1990s when about 30 women in her Baltimore EWGA regularly got together to play. Now, Byrd and 20 of those longtime pals make an annual trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C., to play golf during early May. They will make their 23rd annual trip this year.
“You meet so many nice people in golf,” she said. “We’re all fast friends because of this game.”
Golf also prompted Byrd to set an ambitious bucket-list goal after she retired. She wanted to play golf in all 50 states – a goal she completed in 2014 in Oregon, the final state on her list.
“There are many beautiful golf courses, but my favorite place that I played in all of the United States was in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho,” she said. “It’s so beautiful there.”
Now an avid LPGA fan, Byrd also attended the 2015 Solheim Cup in Germany to cheer for the U.S. Solheim Cup Team and spent 19 days there, touring the German town where her grandparents were born.
Looking ahead to this year’s Bank of Hope Founders Cup, Byrd is eager to reconnect with her many returning volunteers and to greet the new ones.
And if her name is selected in the random drawing among all nominated volunteers at the end of the 2019 season, she is excited that the $10,000 prize could be used to benefit the tournament’s local charity, the Phoenix chapter of the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program.
“I think that would be fantastic,” she said. “It’s great to see little girls out playing golf.”
“And it’s also great honor to be picked for this award from all the people who work at our tournament,” she added. “We all work hard.”
The AXA LPGA Volunteer Award program will designate a top volunteer nominee at each of the LPGA’s tournaments. At the conclusion of the 2019 season, the name of one volunteer will be drawn in a random selection. That winning volunteer’s tournament charity will be awarded $10,000 on behalf of AXA.
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