From one of 500 Volunteers to leading 500 Volunteers

As part of our National Volunteer Week coverage, we caught up with the New Zealand Open Volunteer Manager, Benn Ashford, to chat about his love for volunteering, his role at the tournament and some of the benefits on offer for those who jump in and give it a go.

Benn started his journey with the New Zealand Open back in 2017 as a volunteer himself. He is a self-confessed golf tragic (we can also vouch for this!) and loved the whole experience of being part of the tournament. When registrations opened for 2018, there was a vacancy for the Head Marshal role, and he was put forward and offered the role.

Benn Ashford (top left) and Richard Hoskin (top middle) alongside volunteers and Tournament Organising team members at the 100th New Zealand Open in 2019. © Copyright Photo: Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.nz

“I must have done something right in that first year,” says Benn. “It was such a great experience, seeing the behind-the-scenes side of the tournament and meeting the team that makes sure every detail is right so the experience for everyone involved is a positive one, I couldn’t sign up quickly enough for 2018.”

Benn was the tournament’s Head Marshall for both the 2018 and 2019 events, and when the tournament’s then Volunteer Manager, Richard Hoskin stepped down from his role, he was the obvious choice for the role.

“I was fortunate enough to be offered the Volunteer Manager role in 2020 but I must share my gratitude to Richard for all his support in not only the handover but all the calls and messages we had in the run into that event, he was really generous with his time.”

“That first year as the Volunteer Manager was a real eye opener and I saw how volunteers are immersed in every facet of the tournament.”

“It always sounds so cliche, but the tournament simply cannot function without the Volunteers. With around 500 Volunteers each year, they cover such a wide range of roles, with some starting almost a week out from the first tee shot. 

“On top of that, they embrace the experience and create such a great atmosphere not only for themselves and their fellow Volunteers but also the players, amateurs, spectators and sponsors that they encounter along the way.”

Volunteers during Round 1 at the 103rd New Zealand Open presented by SKY Sport.  ©Copyright Photo: Chris Symes / www.photosport.nz

Benn is particularly proud of the high retention rates of the programme with almost 75% of Volunteers in 2024 returning from the 2023 tournament.

“The retention numbers for this year were incredible. I put that down to several reasons but mostly I think that the volunteers enjoy the experience and being involved in something truly global.

“The effort they put in, on the back of the time and personal expense to commit to the tournament, never ceases to amaze me. And all this with a smile on their face and a willingness to carry out their roles to such a high level.”

Benn is quick to make sure we know that it’s not just his work that makes the tournament’s Volunteer programme so successful, there is a whole team that helps him organise and schedule the army of volunteers.

“We have an incredible team that runs the tournament and from the very top, everyone is heavily involved and so supportive of the programme. This includes an amazing Volunteer leadership team that works so hard, not just at the tournament but also for the months leading up to it – I simply couldn’t do it without them. Chrissy (Transport), Lynda (Volunteer HQ), Sarah (Scoring) and Kelly (Marshalling) were a delight to work with and made my life much easier!

Proud supporters of the New Zealand Open Volunteer Programme, SBS Bank. ©Copyright Photo: Chris Symes / www.photosport.nz

“And on top of that, we have an amazing Volunteer Sponsor, SBS Bank who embraces and loves the Volunteer community that surrounds the tournament. Without their support and involvement, our Volunteer programme would not be what it is”.

For anyone thinking about putting their hand up and giving it a go, Benn encourages you to jump in the be part of the team. He says that it’s an “unforgettable experience that is great for everyone, not just people who love golf”.

“With such a wide variety of roles, we do try and find the best match possible for each volunteer. So when they sign up, we get our volunteers to tell us a bit about themselves in the comments section to help us give them a role that will interest them. And we just ask the team to get stuck in and enjoy the experience.”

All volunteers at the New Zealand Open receive a tournament shirt, and a voucher (or two, depending on the amount of days they volunteer) for a round of golf at the beautiful Millbrook Resort. Volunteers also receive lunch daily and an invite to the SBS Bank Volunteer BBQ held on the eve of the tournament where they can hear from the Tournament Directors and meet some of the tournament ambassadors.

But the prize that is the most talked about every year is that all volunteers have the opportunity to go into the draw where one of them will win a place in the following year’s Pro-Am field to play alongside a Professional at the New Zealand Open.

Thinking about Volunteering at the New Zealand Open and want to find out more? Head over to nzopen.com and check out the volunteer information and registration details.

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