Volunteers: Knowing the Full Burden Expense

   As seen in Golf Business May/June 2021   

By Ronnie Miles, NGCOA Director of Advocacy

Golf industry employment has been a coveted field for many retirees. The vision of working a few hours a week in an environment that enables one to interact with friends and enjoy free green fees, or carts in some cases, makes the view of retirement very enticing.


The practice of using volunteers has been part of the business culture for many years. However, today this practice has come under scrutiny by many State Labor Department’s Wage and Hours Divisions. In 2012, Florida began an investigation into this practice and found numerous clubs were in violation of a labor law that prohibits the use of volunteers in support of for-profit businesses. One club had to pay back wages of more than $73,000. In this case, the DOL chose not to make them pay a fine because they accepted their findings and promptly provided back pay to all affected employees, including payroll taxes.

In a recent Golf Business WEEKLY article, Rob Harris, editor of Golf Dispute Resolution, reported on a case where three volunteers filed a lawsuit for unpaid wages, claiming they were performing the duties of a paid employee.

Today, it is well known that the DOL's Wage and Hour Division traditionally targets low-wage industries. They will review up to three years' worth of your wage-and-hour records and investigate your wage-and-hour practices to determine whether you have paid your employees the proper amount. This will include a review of your pay records, so you must make sure the records are accurate and organized.

Most courses have discontinued the practice of “trading” golf course employee services for rounds of golf instead of hourly wages. Marshalls and starters were the predominant positions where volunteers were being used, but some were found to be working in positions related to golf cart fleet management, such as cleaning, stocking, and staging carts for customers.  Many owners have come to the realization this is not just a payroll issue, but also a liability issue. As a working volunteer, neither the person nor the business is covered under workman compensation rules. They realized the risk to their business should someone working at the golf course in a “volunteer status” become injured.

By doing a simple Google search, I found many golf courses are not only using volunteers but openly soliciting for their services. The use of volunteers in support of these traditional golf positions is only permitted for non-profit organizations.

While the use of volunteers in support of a non-profit organization is authorized, some states may have limitations on the type of work volunteers are permitted to perform. Municipal golf courses which operate under an Enterprise Fund, should, if they have not already, check with their State Department of Labor’s Division of Wage and Hour office to ensure they meet the required threshold of non-profit.

The NGCOA fully supports and encourages the use of volunteers in the golf industry. They are still permitted to work in support of hosted fundraising events taking place on your course. Permitted uses include small beautification projects, support of golf tournaments, and other temporary services in support of charitable activities and events. We also encourage you to also recognize and reward your volunteers as they provide a vital service to our industry.

However, the use of volunteers to perform employee-related services directly related to the operation of the golf course and for the benefit of its paying customers is discouraged for the aforementioned reasons.

For more information related to this matter, please visit ngcoa.org, or contact rmiles@ngcoa.org.