PGA Tour equipment haulers handle precious cargo that holds touring families together

04/16/2013 9:04 PM

04/16/2013 10:45 PM

If you think of the PGA Tour as a circus moving from town to town, Steve and Mary Hulka qualify as ringmasters.

They haul a 28-foot trailer full of the personal belongings of PGA Tour players and their families from one tournament to the next.

It's diapers, fishing gear, cribs and, of course, golf clubs.

It's the glue that holds together families that can spend 40 or more weeks a year on the road -- making a "home" one week at a time.

It enables the players to step on a plane with a carry-on bag, and trust their precious cargo to a couple they've known for many years.

Steve Hulka first came to Hilton Head Island as a caddy in the 1973 edition of what is today the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing. And he still caddies on a freelance basis, now carrying the bag for rookie Eric Meierdierks.

But it is the hauling business that gets more attention.

It sprouted from the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001. Suddenly, it became much harder for golfers and caddies to maneuver through airports.

Steve Hulka went to the PGA Tour with his idea, and he's been loading up the players' stuff on Sunday afternoons and driving through the night -- 45,000 miles a year -- since 2003. The business, called H.O.P.E. for Hulka's Overland Players Express, now has 51 clients.

"The Golf Boys," who created a big stir with their online rap videos, tell what the service means to them in personal notes inside the trailer.

"Thanks. All love to ya'll. Bubba Watson."

"You guys make life so much easier. Hunter Mahan."

"Couldn't do it without you guys!! God bless!! Rickie Flower. Phil. 4:13"

"Love you guys. Thank you isn't enough! Ben Crane. Matt. 6:33-34."

The Hulkas try to deliver other touches of normalcy to the nomadic life.

Steve Hulka organizes a softball game between the golfers' equipment representatives and the caddies. It's the Reptiles vs. the Cadeaux. Several players get involved: Billy Horschel and Josh Teater like to play, and William McGirt likes to umpire.

They were to play Monday night at Chaplin Community Park, but the field was too wet.

Players pick their stuff up on Monday and Tuesday. Teater had luggage that had been on the trailer since Houston.

"I forgot I left a piece, but Mary knew it," he said. It's all recorded in her spiral notebook.

The Hulkas live on the road, but their home is Phoenix, which he calls "the largest suburb southwest of Chicago."

Mary Hulka came out on the road six years ago, when the last of their three children left home. She drives the graveyard shift Sunday night, pulling the trailer in their silver 1-ton Chevrolet Silverado pickup.

Their son, Ben, had H.O.P.E. on his resume when he got a full scholarship as a football equipment manager at the University of Arizona. He recently got a job as an equipment manager with the Seattle Seahawks. The Hulkas are expecting their first grandchild in October.

The Hulkas, like so many others, say Hilton Head is their favorite stop on a tour that never ends. They love to eat at Amigos Cafè Y Cantino in Circle Center.

For the ringmasters, it's a taste of home.

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