Professional golfers know it takes a team to win tournaments with the player and caddie working together to navigate every shot.
Tournament organizers also attempt to build their own large team each year when they assemble volunteers to help make their event run smoothly. Sometimes teams within the larger group even add their own unique stamp on a tournament, thanks to extra attention to special details.
That is the case with one of the Cambia Portland Classic’s volunteer teams, who happen to be a pair of former local caddies who have known each other for 40 years. The duo vowed to focus their attention on the needs of the LPGA Tour’s professional caddies during their event and have worked to make it their calling card for several decades.
Portland native Stan Kawamoto of Renton, Wash., and Lee Hoffman of Salem, Ore., know how it feels to carry the bag for pros. And they also remember how it felt at some golf courses to not have access to the clubhouse or the ability to get food after tournament rounds.
“Not so long ago, no one wanted to take care of the caddies at professional tournaments,” said Kawamoto, who ran a Seattle construction business and spent some summers caddying at professional tournaments in the Pacific Northwest in the mid-1970s. “I didn’t think that was fair.”
So, Kawamoto, who retired in 2012, began volunteering for the Tournament Golf Foundation (TGF) in the mid-1980s and took over as caddie master at the LPGA’s Portland tournament.
Hoffman, then a scratch golfer and a local caddie, was in Portland watching the LPGA tournament in 1978, when he was asked to caddie for a player that week.
That was the beginning of a long relationship, with Kawamoto serving as the event’s caddie master and Hoffman looping for LPGA touring pros at the Portland tournament. After about 10 years, Kawamoto asked Hoffman to join him as co-caddie master at the Portland event. The two have worked together ever since.
In recognition for their service as the 2020 winning co-volunteers at the Cambia Portland Classic, the two will join other nominated volunteers from each LPGA tournament now in the running for the overall AXA LPGA Volunteer Service Award. The award will be presented at the end of this season.
If the names of Portland’s co-top volunteers are randomly selected at the conclusion of 2020, the tournament’s charity, Tournament Golf Foundation, would benefit from a $10,000 charitable donation from AXA.
“In my 26 years of overseeing TGF and the Portland Classic, I have been amazed every year at how smooth and problem-free we have been with their execution of caddie-master responsibilities,” said Tom Maletis, TGF Chairman.
“They handle the complete planning for caddies every year and they know all of the professional caddies, and the caddies know them,” Maletis added. “This is a long relationship that caddies both appreciate and value during their annual visit to Portland. Stan and Lee are the best in the business and I’m proud to have them on our team.”
Based on his own experience of caddying at Portland PGA and LPGA tour events, Kawamoto began making a mental note of caddie needs at professional tournaments. When he was asked to take over as TGF’s caddie master for the LPGA’s Portland tournament, he went to the tournament organizer and asked if he could offer a few things for the tour’s visiting caddies.
“We got a caddie tent and I got sponsors to provide food for them,” he said. “We helped the caddies find places to stay and things to do away from the course. We also held barbecues and putting contests for them with good prizes.”
Hoffman took note of the changes that Kawamoto made and was ready to help when he was asked to serve as caddie master co-chair. Hoffman had used personal leave while he worked for the U.S. Postal Service to take time off and caddie on the professional tournament “loop” from Las Vegas to Arizona’s Tucson and Phoenix, and then to California’s Palm Springs and San Diego events. He also had experienced a lack of courtesy to caddies.
“Stan was the first to do these extra things for caddies at an LPGA event and he did a great job,” Hoffman said. “He asked for what he thought we needed to do and TGF gave him a budget to make the caddie experience better. Because of that, caddies have told us for more than 30 years how much they look forward to our event.”
Hoffman also believes Kawamoto’s efforts ultimately have extended far beyond just the LPGA’s Portland tournament.
“I would say that Stan changed the way things are run for caddies now, not just in Portland, but as a model of how caddies should be treated at tournaments throughout the whole LPGA Tour,” he added.
Two years ago, Hoffman and Kawamoto were asked by tournament organizers to also take over caddie-master duties at the LPGA’s first major championship of the year, the ANA Inspiration in California. They headed to that event and ramped up the caddie amenities there, providing a designated caddie tent with food for breakfast and lunch and afternoon snacks.
“For many years, they only had a little caddie shack and there was no special treatment for them at a major championship,” said Kawamoto. “We made sure to take care of them.”
Normally, the ANA Inspiration is held in April and the Cambia Portland Classic is staged in September. Because of the LPGA’s coronavirus-delayed start this year, the two events are being held in back-to-back weeks, which meant that Hoffman traveled alone to the ANA last week and Kawamoto stayed home to get things ready for this week’s tournament in Portland.
The duo will be reunited this week and both say they look forward to seeing caddies they have known on the LPGA Tour for years.
“It’s a long week and we each put in 100 hours, but it’s all about the players and caddies,” said Hoffman, who retired from the postal service and now runs a sporting goods store. “Some of them are friends we’ve had out here for 25 years.”
Both men also volunteer outside of the Cambia Portland Classic. Hoffman helps with junior clinics at his home course, Creekside Golf Club in Salem, Ore. Kawamoto volunteers at Renton Technical College, teaching classes to help students learn how to run businesses, and teaching computer education classes for emerging and small businesses.
And while both men say the highlight of their tournament week each year is reconnecting with LPGA Tour players and caddies, they also enjoy seeing each other and working together with their shared goal of making the caddie experience in Portland the best on tour.
“We just try to give the caddies the best week they’ve had all year,” said Hoffman. “We get the food trucks in here and put on a pretty good show.”
Kawamoto says all of their efforts stem from seeing what could be done and working for change over the years to make his tournament’s caddie amenities better.
“I’ve just always thought of the tournament as being for both the player and caddie because they worked together as a team,” said Kawamoto. “And I felt like if we could keep the caddies happy, it also helped keep the players happy.”
The AXA LPGA Volunteer Award program will designate a top volunteer nominee at each of the LPGA’s tournaments. At the conclusion of the 2020 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.
AXA XL, the property & casualty and specialty risk division of AXA, provides insurance and risk management products and services for mid-sized companies through to large multinationals, and reinsurance solutions to insurance companies globally. AXA XL proudly serves as the Official Property/Casualty, Reinsurance, Auto and Professional Liability Insurance Sponsor of the LPGA. Additionally AXA XL has partnered with the LPGA on a season-long AXA LPGA Volunteer Service Award which recognizes tournament volunteers who have exemplified the spirit of volunteerism and gone above and beyond expectations. For more information, please visit www.axaxl.com