As chairman of THE PLAYERS Championship 2018, Damon Olinto oversees the operations of thousands of volunteers whose efforts enable the tournament to donate millions of dollars to Northeast Florida charities each year.
Can you please tell us about your background with THE PLAYERS Championship?
I started about 11 years ago. The first committee that I was involved with is what is now called Tournament Support, which is kind of a catch-all committee. You can be placed one day in the parking lot. Another day, you can be a marshal. It let me see a lot of different committees that were out here. I moved on and was the chairman of the Patriots’ Outpost for a couple years, which was very rewarding to see. Then, I ran VIP Parking, which is a very high-energy, stressful position because they always sell more parking spots than there are spaces. After that, I was fortunate enough to become the rookie vice chair. I’ve been moving through those chairs ever since.
What are your primary roles and responsibilities as chairman?
The first vice chairman, Adam Campbell, actually runs the tournament. That’s what I did last year. You are in the weeds; you’re preparing all of the committees; you’re recruiting; and you’re putting all the leadership in place. That was the hard year; that’s the challenging year for anybody who is a vice chairman.
This year, my role is more public speaking, as I say, “shaking hands and kissing babies.” Really, it’s to be available to see our volunteers during the tournament on a daily basis and thank them for volunteering. We have 2,000 volunteers and the Tour could not put on the best tournament in the world without those dedicated volunteers. We have volunteers that come from Malaysia, Spain, Canada, etc. They spend money to get here, and then they rent a condo, apartment or hotel for a week. It’s a financial commitment so that they can help us raise money to give back to our local community.
What should fans look forward to most with this year’s tournament?
We’ve made some changes to the golf course, but not as much as we did last year. The Tour listens to the players. They redesigned the green at No. 12, which will make it more attractive to try to go for that green. With the amenities, we have a new bier garden by Hoptinger that is behind the 16 green. I think the Tour is catering to the millennial fan base, which is a neat thing. With Hurricane Irma, one of the silver linings is that we lost a lot of trees, which opened up a lot of the viewing areas on the golf course. You’ll see behind No. 12, that hole area is now opened up. You can be standing on the 12th green, but you can now see the 13th tee, where before you couldn’t see it because of all of the trees. Between the 9 tee and 8 green, that was cleared out. There’s going to be a nicer concession area.
What is something that people don’t know about THE PLAYERS volunteers?
There are over 42 different committees. We have 2,000 volunteers that we have to transport in. We have to make sure that they’re fed daily, that they’re comfortable and hydrated. We have a committee called the Commissary that brings water to all of the volunteers. There are a lot of things behind the scenes that people don’t see. Our goal is that people never see a piece of trash on the premise and that they don’t see a golf cart, so that they’re really focused on the golf tournament and its participants.
The tournament really is a showcase for Northeast Florida. What we are really involved in now is fan behavior. We are a reflection of our community, and if we have somebody doing something stupid during the tournament, the broadcast goes to a million households in 32 different languages.
What is your favorite PLAYERS Championship moment?
My favorite moment every year is when we announce the charitable giveback, because that’s what we all are out here to do. Last year, we raised $8.7 million. There’s a gentleman who calculates it to the penny when they make the announcement to what that equates to per volunteer. It’s about $4,500 per volunteer. There are not a lot of charitable organizations who can specifically say that each one of its volunteers raised $4,500.
Edited by Jon Blauvelt