A front-row seat for 60 years

Times Staff Writer

Phyllis Wade gave up playing golf about 20 years ago, but still she's been one of the most sought-after interview subjects at the Northern Trust Open this week at Riviera Country Club.

And she's greeted each reporter with the same puzzled look.

"I don't know what all the fuss is about," Wade has told each one.

Humble and soft-spoken, Wade, a tournament volunteer, would rather go about her business quietly -- much the same way she has for the last 60 years.

That's right, 60.

Which should explain what all the fuss is about.

Every year since 1948, the year Ben Hogan won his second of consecutive Los Angeles Open titles, Wade, 79, has volunteered her time at the tournament and this week she was honored with a Waterford Crystal bowl and a chocolate cake to celebrate the anniversary.

"I never intended to be doing it for this long," Wade said. "I just kept coming back and the years started to pile up and before I knew it, I was at 60."

She's worked as a walking scorer, shuttle driver, gallery rope hanger and just about every job there is for a volunteer at a golf tournament.

She's followed the tournament from Riviera to Fox Hills to Rancho Park and back to Riviera. She's seen the King, the Bear and Tiger roll through. She's watched Lloyd Mangrum, Tom Watson and Fred Couples all win multiple titles in different decades.

The Northern Trust Open isn't the only tournament at which Wade works. She estimates that in her peak years she would do two dozen or more tournaments a year, sometimes traveling across the country.

She's curtailed her schedule to about six or eight local tournaments in recent years because of her duties as a grandmother, but still can be found at any PGA Tour, LPGA Tour or Champions Tour event within a three-hour drive -- and yes, she drives herself.

But the Los Angeles PGA Tour stop is the only one where her string has reached 60, and it's also the only one that has never paid a dime for her services.

In fact, Wade, who now works in the media room putting together packets of newspaper and magazine clippings, says she sometimes spends $50 a week of her own money buying those newspapers and magazines so she can cut them to shreds.

"I've always loved coming here," said Wade, who lives in Santa Monica. "I love the course and the tournament and everything about it and I wanted it to be the only one where I volunteer."

Her tenure started in 1948 when a friend volunteered her for volunteer duty.

"He asked if I'd like to volunteer," Wade said. "I said yes, and he said, 'Good, because I already signed you up.' "

Wade didn't mind. She'd been a golfer since age 8 and looked forward to the chance at being around the game. A one-time four handicap, she once made a hole-in-one at Riviera's sixth hole.

Her knees began to betray her and she had to give up playing, but she never gave up coming to Riviera.

"She's an institution," said Brian Robin, a representative of the public relations firm that organizes the media for the tournament. "She's about as dedicated to her work as any volunteer I've ever come across."

Each year, approximately 1,500 unpaid workers help put on the tournament, saving hundreds of thousand of dollars in labor costs, which allows the tournament to donate millions to charity.

And she has no plans to quit any time soon.

"The thing I miss most is being able to walk the course," she said, adding that it has been about four years since she was able to walk 18 holes. "But I still love coming here. Just because this is my 60th doesn't mean I'm thinking about stopping."



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