On the First Tee: Hospitality students contribute skills to PGA Championship

Major event provides hands-on experiences managing hospitality service logistics

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A. Sue Weisler

Fourth-year hospitality major Elizabeth Prater was among the hundreds of employees and volunteers at this year’s PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club

RIT hospitality students Elizabeth Prater, Lauren Harmon and Kelly Palmer “teed off” with the pros this past week.

When the 2013 PGA Championship began at Oak Hill Country Club in Pittsford, N.Y. Aug. 5-11, the three students were part of the extensive hospitality and catering teams on site. They worked alongside event organizers from the Professional Golfers Association and the country club as hosts, servers and guides to the more than 25,000 people who attended the event daily to see golf pros Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and eventual winner, Jason Dufner. It was a chance to experience firsthand what it takes to coordinate and manage the multifaceted logistics of a major international sporting event.

“They built a whole city from the ground up on this golf course,” says Harmon (no relation to the Oak Hill golf pro Craig Harmon.) The Webster, N.Y., resident worked as part of the PGA team, specifically in its corporate hospitality area, providing support to the numerous local and national corporate sponsors, as well as at its hotline/Call Center.

All three are students in the School of International Hospitality and Service Leadership, part of RIT’s College of Applied Science and Technology. They had been involved in hospitality and service prior to working at Oak Hill, but nothing as big as the PGA event.

For Palmer, working with the management team at Oak Hill provided a chance to experience a whole different side of the resort industry. The Mendon, N.Y., resident graduated from the hospitality program this past May and her work with the Oak Hill catering and management team served as her graduate capstone project. In September, Palmer begins full time work at the country club.

“RIT really invests in its students,” says Palmer. “You can learn anything in a text book, but to put it into a real life experience at a PGA international event? This is an experience you can’t get anywhere else.”

Prater agreed. “I’m learning from my managers how to organize chaos,” she says with a laugh. Employed by Levy Restaurants, the catering company that supplies the majority of PGA events around the country, Prater worked primarily at the Wanamaker VIP tent. But as the crowds grew, she “floated” among different food and beverage venues as needed. “You have to be flexible, and you have to go with the flow.”

The three are among a long line of hospitality students, faculty and staff who have participated as service personnel at some of the biggest golfing events held in Rochester starting with the 1995 Ryder Cup. Over the years, several alumni have led many of the area’s largest country clubs, including Dan Farrell ’81, the general manager of Oak Hill for this year’s event.

Prater has aspirations to one day manage a course like Oak Hill, and this year’s PGA Championship event provided a big league opportunity to meet that goal. One of her first jobs was at a golf course, not too far from where she grew up in Fairport, N.Y. “My general manager just inspired me, and I love being a part of these events. This was pretty cool! I have no other words for this! Hey, I worked at the PGA!”

Note: Along with the students from RIT’s hospitality school, many other faculty, staff and students from the university worked or volunteered at this year’s PGA Championship event.