BRIGANTINE — Bill McGarrigel climbed into the driver’s seat of a golf cart with “RANGER” written across the bottom of the plexiglass windshield and headed out to the course of Brigantine Golf Links.
More than two dozen golfers were participating in the course’s weekly Tuesday women’s league, and they all greeted the 80-year-old McGarrigel with smiles and waves.
“Glad to see you, Bill,” one woman shouted. “Try not to drive into the lake this time.”
McGarrigel chuckled and kept driving along the front nine of the course, pausing every so often to make sure there were no backups on any holes.
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He rolled to a stop between the second tee and first green and pointed to a row of houses that kept the clubhouse hidden from view.
“I always drive the course backwards so I can really see what’s going on,” McGarrigel said. “One of our biggest problems is when some guys try to get out of paying to play. You’ll have two guys pay for two carts, play the first hole over there, then their friends who are parked out of sight here (on Hagen Drive) will grab their clubs and hop into the carts.”
McGarrigel and rangers on other courses have a tough job.
They are golf’s version of traffic cops. They are responsible for maintaining a proper pace of play while also making sure the course is kept in good condition and the players are having an enjoyable experience.
“It’s mostly a thankless job,” said Ted Wenner, director of golf at Avalon Golf Club in Middle Township. “You don’t get tips, you earn minimum wage and you deal with all types of people. When I find a good ranger, I make sure I hang onto him or her.”
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Maintaining the pace of play is a big challenge for rangers/marshals at local public courses.
Golf clubs such as Brigantine and Avalon often draw a mix of golfers that can range from single-digit handicaps to those who play once or twice a year.
“You have to have a lot of tolerance because of the types of players that are on the course,” said Jim Granato, 75, who’s been a ranger at Avalon for 12 years. “We’re in a vacation area. It’s not (a golf destination like) Pebble Beach. The wife and kids are at the beach, and the husband/father comes here and he wants to take his time.”
Most courses want rounds completed between 4 and 4½ hours, but that can be difficult in the summer.
It’s not unusual for Brigantine to have 200 players on a Saturday. Avalon is even busier, with an average of 280 rounds per day in June, July and August.
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“When it comes to being a ranger, there’s a fine line between speeding things up and (ticking) people off,” Wenner said. “You have to be diplomatic, especially in this age of social media where everything gets out there.
“We try to keep up the pace of play as much as possible, but every once in a while you get the golfer who says, ‘I’m on vacation, I paid $94 to be out here and I don’t want to be rushed.’ We try to be as nice as possible, but sometimes we have no choice but to ask them to leave. I once had a group of nine guys who were playing too slow, and I went out to them. One guy sees me and says, ‘It’s my birthday.’ I said, ‘Happy birthday, now all nine of you come with me.’”
Brigantine’s proximity to Atlantic City casinos, especially those in the Marina District, means it will also draw some interesting clientele on occasion.
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“Back in 2008 or 2009, there were 16 guys here for a bachelor party,” Brigantine Head PGA Professional Gabe DeLiberty said. “Two of the guys drove toward each other in golf carts, and neither one chickened out. They rammed into each other head-on and caused $2,500 in damages to the carts.”
The problems are rare, however.
On most days, things flow smoothly, which allows rangers such as Granato and McGarrigel to interact with the players and try to make sure their experience is enjoyable.
During the women’s league, McGarrigel stopped to chat with a foursome and wound up getting some advice about a local fitness facility that was offering discounts to senior citizens.
“I enjoy it,” McGarrigel said. “I try to get to know the people, find out where they’re from and try to make sure they have a good time.”