Pine to Palm: Sundby earns Rutledge Award for years of service
For a few of past and current players in the Pine to Palm Golf Tournament, their start in the annual classic didn't start by swinging a club, but instead watching for balls.
And if that was the case, more than likely they worked underneath Ball Spotting Flaging Coordinator Steve Sundby, who has been carting young ball spotters for the Pine to Palm Tournament for the past 33 years.
"It was just natural for me to do this job, because I have been the golf coach (and teacher) at the Detroit Lakes Middle School since 1976 and have been a member of the Detroit Country Club for a long time," Sundby said.
It wasn't only a feeling of responsibility which has motivated Sundby to hold down the position of running the ball spotting duties, but his love of golf and the Pine to Palm Golf Tournament.
For those reasons, along with Sundby's dedication to the tournament, it was the driving force for him being named the 2008 John Rutledge Memorial Award winner, which is presented annually to a longtime contributor to the Pine to Palm Golf Tournament.
"It's just really an honor to receive the Rutledge Award," Sundby said. "I feel I'm a part of the Pine to Palm, but just a small part, compared to everyone else who works on the committee.
"I just think I have the fun part."
Sundby has missed just two years of his ball-spotting duties, one of them to play in the tournament itself.
Dave Woodward had the privilege of filling in for Sundby that year, and he appreciates what the now-retired Middle School teacher has done for 33 years.
"It's the toughest job of the week," Woodward said. "It was physically demanding. My body hurt so bad after that week, I had to go to the chiropractor after. It's a very demanding job riding on those carts all over the course."
As the ball-spotter manager, Sundby's responsibilities include recruiting youths for the seven-day tournament.
A ball-spotter sits in the rough of certain holes to help golfers find their balls and help determine if tee shots go out of bounds.
"It really helps the flow of play, since most of the golfers in the tournament are visitors to our course and are not familiar with it," Sundby said. "The rough is also deeper during the tournament, so the ball-spotters do help find the balls."
Sundby carts all the workers to their posts, along with their equipment consisting of a flag and some ball deflectors to safeguard the spotters.
Before the tournament, Sundby beats the bushes for potential workers. Working in the middle school, along with Pine to Palm Committee chairman Bob Gorden helps with that task.
"That really helps, because I get to know the kids and if they are reliable," Sundby added.
There are several reasons ball-spotters give up a week of their summer to work the tournament.
A paycheck is usually the number one reason, with the love of watching golf close behind.
And working for Sundby is an added benefit for the youths working.
"He's the best to work for," said Ian Fritz, who is working his third year as a ball spotter. "He's fun to be around and when I get older, that's the job I want to do."
"Hey, I get paid to watch golf! That's the best."
Sundby works as transporter, as well as motivator.
Workers at the age of junior high usually come with a short attention span, so it's a challenge for Sundby to keep his ball spotters interested.
"It's a challenge keeping them all motivated during the week," Sundby said. "I will usually be watching them from a few fairways away to see how they are behaving and if I see they are losing interest, I'll go over there and help them out."
Sundby has never had to dismiss a worker, who along with his ball-spotters, enjoy watching some good golfers during the tournament.
"I get to see a lot of golf and watch it from some great vantage points," Sundby included.
A second-generation Pine to Palm ball-spotter is Ben Mallow, who is undergoing his first year. His mother, Linda, was a ball-spotter for Sundby.
"It's been just a lot of fun," Ben said. "(Sundby) helps us stay interested and keeps talking to us."
The golf cart has been Sundby's biggest tool through the 33 years -- for good or bad.
"There has been some years when we had electric carts here, that quit going up the 18th fairway and we had to get out and push it," Sundby said. "Other times, I've run out of gas and this year, we don't have a roof on our cart and Monday we got just drenched."
This year's ball-spotting crew includes: Fritz, Christian Hedstrom, Jake Hoganson, Colton Friesen, Mallow, Brett Nephew, Brady Crawford, Kelvin Nodsle, Nate Bausman, Tanner Schnauthorst, Tyler Fode, Summer Vogel (gate) and Samuel Priem.
Sundby has also been helped by Vern Schnathorst, Rhonda Fode and Teri Hutchinson during the busy and long week of the Pine to Palm.
Sundby's influence hasn't been limited to helping ball-spotters, but to players who are succeeding in the game as young adults.
Ben Bergquist ball spotted in 3rd & 4th grade before caddying for Todd Hillier - both in the sweet sixteen today, but he learned the game of golf from Sundby during his junior high playing days. Bergquist helped the Lakers to the Class 2A state championship this past spring and played to the final eight in match play last year in the Pine to Palm.
"Mr. Sundby always taught us the fundamentals and rules of golf," Bergquist stated. "He did a good job getting kids ready for meets."
Thursday night was a highlight for Sundby after being named the Rutledge Award winner, something he wasn't expecting at all.
"My wife, Nancy, knew I was receiving it and she said she had a tough time keeping it secret," Sundby said. "It's just an honor."
Much like the honor hundreds of former and present ball-spotters have had working for Sundby over the course of the last 33 years.