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The starters at the Kingsmill Championship hold a special place among the 1,400 volunteers helping with this year’s tournament.
For the LPGA Tour professionals playing in the tournament, the starters are the first voices they hear when they begin a round and the last voices they hear when they step off the 18th hole.
There are four starters at this year’s Kingsmill Championship, each with a different personality and presentation style.
Gary Ripple, a 72-year-old Williamsburg native, is in his second year as a starter after volunteering at the Kingsmill Championship for the past 15 years.
Ripple’s subdued voice in casual conversation gives off a relaxed vibe, but when he steps in the first tee box, his modest voice transforms into a booming one that reverberates through the gallery surrounding the first tee.
For Ripple, golf tournaments are show business and the tee box is his stage.
“I’ve been gifted with a pretty good voice for this kind of thing,” he said. “I take a deep breath, I want to add a little timbre with my voice. I want to be heard and I want to be deeper than I normally am. I’m sort of like, ‘Let’s get ready to rumble!'”
In essence, Ripple considers himself the Bruce Buffer — the popular ring announcer for UFC — of the Kingsmill Championship.
Perhaps the biggest responsibility of a starter is pronouncing the names of the players correctly to the crowds, which can be a tall task when it comes to international players.
This year’s field includes names like Pornanong Phatlum, which is pronounced Porn-a-nong Pat-lum, and Thidapa Suwannapura, which is pronounced Tee-da-pa Sue-whan-a-pur-a. Both names are Taiwanese, which Ripple said are usually the hardest names to announce.
Getting the pronunciations correct is not a task Ripple takes lightly. Before the tournament, Ripple takes time to practice saying every name in the tournament field until he feels comfortable with it. As a safety measure, each starter is given a card with a players name, pronunciation and country of origin in case there is any confusion.
And while Ripple said he has never completely botched a name during a tournament, he admitted to cringing after hearing other starters mispronounce names when he worked as a standard bearer many years ago. It’s a mistake he says is far less common now among Kingsmill Championship volunteers.
While Ripple enjoys the showmanship that comes with announcing players, other starters enjoy the relationships that can develop from the position.
Marcie Moreau, the chairwoman of the starters committee for the Kingsmill Championship, makes a point to announce players with whom she has previously worked.
During Saturday’s third round, Moreau took over for Ripple so she could announce the pairing of Angela Stanford and Paula Creamer. Moreau, who used to volunteer as a walking scorer for the Kingsmill Championship, walked the course with Stanford three times prior and has developed a keenness for announcing her name.
For Moreau, spending time with the players creates somewhat of a working bond. Working side-by-side with the players yields a deeper appreciation for the individuals, one that goes beyond their personalities as golfers.
Ripple also falls into this camp. As a longtime player host — people who offer up a room in their homes to LPGA golfers — for the Kingsmill Championship, he gets great joy in announcing players he has previously hosted.
On Saturday, Ripple announced the name of Jacqui Concolino, whom Ripple hosted for three years prior to this year’s tournament. Meeting for the first time since last year’s tournament, the two embraced each other with a hug at the first tee box.
Similarly, Ripple had the privilege of announcing the name of the player he is currently hosting, China’s Jing Yan, with whom he engaged in playful banter before she began her round.
It is moments like these that Ripple and the other starters relish during otherwise long, and often stressful, tournament days. At the end of the day, all the time and effort the starters put into making the tournament run smoothly is made worth it, knowing they are helping create a memorable experience for the players and fans.
“These are the greatest women players in the world. We treat them with respect and with reverence,” Ripple said. “We want to give them the best sendoff we possibly can. I think it’s a privilege and I try to do as much as I can for this tournament.”