Students take event management skills to U.S. Open

SF State students had a unique opportunity when the U.S. Open -- one of golf’s premier competitions -- came to San Francisco’s famed Olympic Club golf course earlier this month.

A group of 15 students in a class offered by the Recreation, Parks and Tourism Department managed hospitality tents that U.S. Open organizers provided to corporate sponsors. For students considering a career in event management, the specially designed summer course allowed them to experience the inner-workings of the tourism industry at a high-profile event.

A photo of Patrick Tierney, chair of the Recreation, Parks and Tourism department

Patrick Tierney is chair of the Recreation, Parks and Tourism Department.

The U.S. Open was held at the Olympic Club, which neighbors the SF State campus, in mid-June. The tourist attraction drew as many as 33,000 golf fans each day as well as an international TV audience.

“I see the class as a unique opportunity for students to be involved with a major U.S.-level event,” said Patrick Tierney, who created the class and is chair of the Recreation, Parks and Tourism Department.

Tierney helped create the class after he realized the event was a perfect chance for students in his department to apply the planning concepts they had been learning in class. He enlisted the help of Rich Larson, a lecturer who has prepared San José State University students for similar roles at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am tournament for the past seven years.

“It was an absolute success,” said Larson about the class. “The thing that really came through was the students’ enthusiasm. They were fresh, willing to learn, had good attitudes and it really showed.”

Students were responsible for directly supervising between three and 12 employees each within the tents, including caterers, servers, chefs or bartenders. Some students oversaw bartenders and servers in lavish corporate tents used to woo clients and executives. Others worked at food and beverage stations within the larger tents open to the public, making sure supplies were fully stocked before each meal rush. As many as 12,000 people were served in the tents each day.

A photo of Rich Larson, lecturer in the Recreation, Parks and Tourism Department, teaching students in the classroom

Rich Larson, lecturer in the Recreation, Parks and Tourism Department, teaches students prior to the U.S. Open.

Prior to the tournament, students spent one week in four-hour classroom sessions learning about event planning, industry standards for food safety, sanitation and serving etiquette. Students made presentations to the class as part of four different “committees” focused on transportation, human resources, communications and uniforms. Ridgewells Catering, a Washington D.C. company that hired local employees who students supervised, also sent representatives to the class to help teach students.

Many in the class are planning or considering careers in tourism or event management.

“This class will give them a really clear idea if they want to do this or not in their career,” said Jasmine Ferguson, the graduate assistant for the course.

“It’s resume-worthy,” said Larson. “Other classes like this may not be something you would put on a resume, but this one is.”

Zoe Nguyen, a junior Hospitality and Tourism Management major, said she decided to take the class after she worked at an event planning company last summer and enjoyed the experience. She jumped at the opportunity to work at an occasion as popular and well known as the U.S. Open.

“This chance doesn’t come along often,” she said.

-- Philip Riley