UW-Stout: Students, professor and alumni part of staff during U.S. Open

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Menomonie, Wisconsin — As sunshine blanketed Erin Hills golf course Friday, June 16, during the second round of the men’s U.S. Open golf tournament, two University of Wisconsin-Stout students were in the shadows.

Savannah Stock and Rylee Vincent were on the grounds with about 35,000 other people, but they were hard at work in the clubhouse and in an adjoining hospitality tent on a hill overlooking the first tee. The summer hospitality interns tended to the food and beverage needs of special guests, including the club’s owner and staff from the United States Golf Association.

They kept beverage coolers filled on the nearly 90-degree day and helped with buffet lines, which featured a traditional Friday Wisconsin fish fry. Guests dined in the air-conditioned facilities as they watched the golf action on large TV screens.

“It’s pretty fast-paced. We’re working 10- to 12-hour days and walking about eight or nine miles a day,” Stock said. “It’s definitely awesome being here.”

UW-Stout, which has a golf enterprise management major along with a hospitality program, had multiple connections to the tournament, one of golf’s major championships. Stock, Vincent and four other UW-Stout students are working at Erin Hills this summer. Assistant Professor Kris Schoonover and two alumni are employed at Erin Hills.

Students at your service

Stock, of New Holstein, who will be a senior in the fall, is interning from mid-May to September, with an option to continue into November. The club management experience is ideal because she hopes to start her career in the food and beverage area.

“It’s definitely a great experience being here. I’ve learned a lot, and it was really exciting to be part of the U.S. Open,” Stock said.

Stock and Vincent are Erin Hills MITs — managers in training. They are majoring in hotel, restaurant and tourism management.

At Erin Hills, 35 miles northwest of Milwaukee, they have learned on the job about staffing coordination, service management, customer service, food safety, sanitation and more. They updated menus, changed buffet setups and tracked inventory during the Open. “Keeping the beverage coolers full was a full-time job,” Stock said.

Vincent, of Mukwonago, also will be a senior this fall. “The U.S Open was a week I will never forget. It challenged me to think on my feet, improve my communication and most importantly taught me the value of teamwork,” said Vincent, who added that the staff spent weeks preparing for the event.

“It also taught me that communication is key, not only physical communication but how to communicate. I found myself taking on leadership roles during the Open. Erin Hills pushes me, and I can see myself as a future manager,” Vincent added.

Four other UW-Stout students are golf operations interns at the course this summer, Mitchell Byrd, of Cable; Ryan Hoag, of Roseville, Minn.; Robert Luchsinger, of Evansville; and Nolan Pratt, of Rockford, Ill.

Hoag will be a junior this fall in golf enterprise management. He began in mid-May at Erin Hills as a manager in training for golf operations. During the Open, he assisted with turf grass volunteers and at the players’ practice facility.

“A lot of work went into preparing for the Open, and it all paid off with a successful tournament,” Hoag said. “When I arrived they were already at full speed to get ready, and I had to learn on the fly to fit seamlessly into the operation.”

He called the Open a “tremendous amount of fun” and hopes to work again at a major championship during his career. “Working with Dr. Kris Schoonover has given me the opportunity to apply classroom knowledge in a professional, world-class golf environment.”

Another UW-Stout student, Rachel Hernandez, of Madison, was a standard-bearer during the Open. She carried a scoring sign inside the gallery ropes for groupings of players. Hernandez is captain of the UW-Stout women’s golf team and is interning this summer with the Wisconsin State Golf Association.

Assistant professor has major role

Schoonover, who teaches in UW-Stout’s School of Hospitality Leadership, has worked summers at Erin Hills since 2007, a year after the course opened.

She is the course’s operations director, and she had a major role as assistant director of competition during the Open, working closely with the USGA. She attended the previous five U.S. Opens with other members of Erin Hills’ staff.

“The USGA puts on a great show inside and outside the ropes. It’s a seven-day event and all outdoors so it’s a huge undertaking, with evacuation and safety issues,” Schoonover said.

For the Open, she handled credentialing, background checks and access issues for the staff along with public safety per USGA standards. She typically works closely with staff orientation and training, customer service and aspects of lodging at the course’s cottages.

Schoonover has used her experience at Erin Hills to provide current knowledge of golf operations for students and connections at the course, considered one of the nation’s best. “As a professor, the applicable learning I can bring back in the classroom is extremely helpful for students who want large-scale operations experience,” Schoonover said.

Alumni on staff

Two UW-Stout alumni work full time at the course. Alex Cox has been the dining manager for three years, and Robert Leist has been the golf shop manager for four years. During the Open, Leist coordinated 150 volunteers for the Turf Department.