She has never played the course, but Latesha Lee Walker knows the 10th hole at Caves Valley Golf Club like her own backyard.
A volunteer at the Constellation Senior Players Championship, which started Thursday and runs through Sunday, Walker is hole captain at No. 10 — which means that, from tee to cup on the 453-yard hole, it's her job to make sure play goes smoothly. She and her 12 marshals must keep the crowds at bay, shush loudmouths and watch for any terror threats.
"We're the eyes and ears for everyone," said Walker, 48, of Ellicott City. "We protect the players, manage the fans and stay alert. On every drive, we try to be first on the spot to protect the ball and maintain the integrity of the shot."
Walker is one of more than 750 local volunteers working the tournament, without whom "it doesn't go on," said Mike Hudak, volunteer chairperson. "They'll make it a success.There's not one aspect of this championship that's not affected by volunteers, from transportation to hospitality, from caddying to credential checks. They're involved in everything, from soup to nuts."
Hole captains like Walker are "critically important to make sure the fans and players are safe," Hudak said. "That ball comes off the club at a high rate of speed, and if you're not aware of the traffic around that hole, you're putting people in danger."
The demanding job has its rewards, Walker said. A golfer herself, she gets to see the pros up close as they tee off, watching their every move, weighing every word.
"I'll be standing within touching distance, protecting their tee box, their 'office,' " she said. "It's like being a fly on the wall. You hear them talking about which club to use, and the wind, and how they're assessing the hole. You have a front seat. You're the kid in the candy store."
More important, she'll be scanning the crowd, checking for problems.
"You never know what you'll encounter," said Walker, who was also hole captain at No. 10 for the 2014 LPGA International Crown at Caves Valley in Owings Mills. "I've heard stories of 'groupies' who try to get close to their favorites, and of people who fell over the ropes, trying to take 'selfies' [photos] with a player behind them. We ask fans not to take pictures while players are swinging. And we're always on the lookout for unoccupied bags being left on the course."
Walker has also undergone evacuation training should thunderstorms strike.
"We're all given vehicles to move players, caddies and their family members in case of lightning," she said.
Never mind this week's wilting heat, said Walker, a registered nurse.
"We'll keep everyone healthy and hydrated," she said. "The heat doesn't bother me. I love the game and the people, and when you operate in your passion, some things don't matter."
Next week, she'll return to her job as outreach and education provider for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. But golf remains a big part of Walker's life. Twice a week, she works with youngsters at the Cross Creek Golf Club in Beltsville, teaching them life skills — integrity, courtesy, honesty and leadership — to help them deal with the values of the game.
"I help them to grow their knowledge of golf, outside of the instruction — like respecting others and taking ownership of your own game," she said of the program, sponsored by the Southern Maryland Junior Golf Association.
Walker also hopes to coax more women to embrace the sport.
"We're facing an obesity epidemic, along with hypertension and diabetes," she said. "For one's overall wellness, anything to get people moving is good for their health.
"To me, golf is relaxing and aesthetically pleasing to the eye, from the beautiful greenery and water fountains to the birds singing and butterflies flitting. And don't forget one's self-esteem. There's a sense of accomplishment when you can hit the ball long and straight and watch your game improve. I started in the 120s; now I'm shooting in the high 90s.
"Yes, golf can be a humbling game, but like I tell the kids, if you hit a lousy tee shot, you don't give up and you can't look back. Always persevere to make something positive out of something that didn't go well. Golf is like life."