uring these long, warm summer days, Nick Kaufman often finds himself longing to be on the golf course. Somewhere between dreaming of a perfectly struck approach shot or draining a clutch birdie putt, the Maple Grove senior-to-be is shaken back to reality by the sudden CRACK of a golf ball hitting his vehicle.

"When it hits that thing," he said of the driving range picker cart he operates as part of his duties at Rush Creek Golf Club, "it sounds like a shotgun going off behind you."

Kaufman is among the many metro-area teenagers, including high school golfers like himself, who work seasonal jobs at area golf courses. In addition to being a target for stray, and sometimes deliberate, shots on the driving range, the work involves pre-dawn wake-up calls, late-evening lockups and little relief from scorching temperatures.

And, it seems, nary a complaint.

"I just enjoy being around the game I love [and] being outside at a place where people are always happy," said Ryan Hoese, who works at Valleywood Golf Course in Apple Valley. "You work at a food shop and you get ticked-off customers if their food isn't right or something. At a golf course, everybody is happy. Everybody wants to be there. Everybody is in a good mood."

Hoese, who completed his senior season for Apple Valley in June, started at Valleywood when the course opened for play in March.

"I always thought it would be the best job in the world to work at a golf course," he said.

Among his duties is to navigate around the course's 18 holes as a ranger. He enforces pace of play, checks that players are replacing their divots and repairing ball marks, and keeps groups in foursomes.

"In high school golf, they're all about etiquette and pace of play," said Hoese, whose boss at Valleywood is Apple Valley boys' golf coach Matt Bilek. "Matt was big on that. Be respectful. No swearing. Stay even keel. That's the kind of experience they were looking for [at Valleywood], and that gave me an edge going into it."

Hooked by a classic

Though his first love was baseball, Justin Bunkers found it hard to avoid golf. His family lives on the course at Fox Hollow Golf Club in St. Michael, so the game was always literally right on his doorstep. Then a trip to the sport's birthplace changed his mindset.

After his freshman year at Rogers High School, Bunkers took a student ambassador trip to Scotland and the United Kingdom. A visit to historic St. Andrews was on the itinerary.

"I'd always thought, 'I live on a golf course, I should play more,'" he recalled last week. "Then I won this chipping and putting contest they put on at St. Andrews. It wasn't the British Open or anything, but I'll take it."

Bunkers was hooked. He joined the golf team as a sophomore, and last year took a job at -- appropriately -- Bunker Hills Golf Club in Coon Rapids.

"It's tough to go out there and work when you want to play, and I want to play all the time," he said. "Going to work each day gives me a revival of my love for golf. I'm not playing all the time, but I'm sharing my passion of golf with other people."

Kaufman echoes that statement, but with a twist. One of those he shares golf with day in and day out is older brother Andrew, who is one of his supervisors.

"We get along pretty well, so it's not too bad," Nick Kaufman said. "He's kind of known as the supervisor that doesn't go around telling people what to do. A lot of guys say they don't look at him as a supervisor. He does his work, makes sure others do their work but doesn't boss people around."

Kaufman paused.

"But he has no trouble telling me what to do."

Being a target for others' practice

A few tweaks aside, Bunkers, Hoese and Kaufman essentially have the same job description. And all three light up at the mention of the one aspect of the craft everyone wants to know about:

Being a human target.

"It's fair game out there," Hoese said. "I always did."

Ask any golfer and they'll tell you aiming at the driving range picker cart is the game within the game. Anyone who says different has probably been known to curiously shave a stroke or two off his final score.

"Especially when you hear cheering," Bunkers said, "you know people take aim."

Last week Bunkers made one final sweep not far from the deck of the Bunker Hills range.

"First I heard it, 'Boom,'" he said. "Then I see this 9-year-old girl jumping up and down and high-fiving her brother."

Bunkers flashed back to his younger days lurking around Fox Hollow.

"I guess it's karma," he said.

Though he doesn't pick the range as much as he used to, Kaufman has endured more than his share of adventures in the picker cart at Rush Creek. His first day on the job, Kaufman got the machine stuck in the mud while riding with head boss Jay Meyerhoff.

"He's got golf slacks, a shirt and a tie on, and we're out there pushing," Kaufman said.

By his count, Kaufman has been dinged more than 50 times at Rush Creek, thankfully all while in enclosed protection. Every so often he'll look up and see a familiar face as the culprit.

"One of my friends and his dad have a game where if they hit the flag stick or the picker, they have to give the other a dollar," he said.

Spending cash is certainly one of the draws to a summer job at a golf course. The discounted greens fees aren't bad, either.

At the end of a long shift, there's usually enough daylight for a few swings.

When the sun finally sets on summer, priorities will shift back to the classroom. The first year of college awaits for Bunkers and Hoese. Kaufman has one year left at Maple Grove.

The dawn of a new golf season, however, is never too far away.

"A lot of applications move through," Kaufman said. "We know we're the lucky ones."

BRIAN STENSAAS • 612-673-4127