SJSU students stay busy at week-long Pebble Beach tournament

During an unseasonably warm week in Carmel, 35 San José State University students were working hard to keep up with long lines at concession stands and meeting the needs of corporate clients at the 2015 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. The hand-selected students undergo an intense training process, with managers from the beach-side resort in preparation of their week-long program as part of the Special Event Management Team course. But most of the students agreed that nothing quite prepared them for what it would be like to work the tournament.

As part of the Special Event Management Team, the students receive course credit for the time they spend in training and working at Pebble Beach. The SJSU program allows students in hospitality management and kinesiology programs in the College of Applied Sciences and Arts as well as some business majors from the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business to work as interns for a week during the prestigious golf tournament, which will be finish up on Feb. 15. The university has maintained the partnership with Pebble Beach Company for 10 years. Hospitality Management Professor Rich Larson helped to oversee the program, coordinating training, accommodations and serving as an on-site mentor during the tournament.

“Until today, I had no idea what it would really be like,” said Kelsey Castellano, a hospitality management student.

With blue skies along the coastal golf course and temperatures into the high 70s, many of the SJSU students kept on their bright blue Pebble Beach jackets that helped identify them as managers. The students donned white, long-sleeve shirts, ties and black pants. They were required to wear black shoes and most opted for a comfortable pair as they needed to be on their feet for 10-12 hours each day of the event. At least one student had resorted to using bandages on her heels to keep a new pair of shoes from rubbing on a blister.

Most of the students agreed the long hours and the tiredness at the end of the day was worth the experience.

Castellano’s first client had arrived for the Feb. 11 3M Celebrity Challenge, which drew crowds to watch a dozen celebrities play five holes for charity. Some of the well-known faces included actors Ray Romano, Josh Duhamel and Bob Murray; director Clint Eastwood; singers Clay Walker and Jake Owen; among others.

Castellano said she arrived at the Pebble Beach resort at 6 a.m. and she expected to work until 6 or 7 p.m. that night.

“I can take a break, but I’ll probably just eat what’s nearby,” she said, of a behind-the-scenes area where food is set up for a runner to bring up to the skyboxes for client consumption. A few shelves in the staging tent were set up with snacks for employees.

She said the best part for her so far had been the responsibility of overseeing a skybox for her corporate client.

“I’m in control of my staff,” she said. “They are asking me all the questions. Until today, I had no idea (what it would be like.)”

At mid-morning Castellano had managed a breakfast guaranteed for 60 guests and was preparing for a lunch for as many as 100 guests.

Marissa Giacomo, another hospitality management student, was busy managing a concession stand during the celebrity tournament as the five-hole play neared the 18th green. Her staff consisted of volunteers from the Carmel Youth Center that will receive 10 percent of the proceeds.

“Yesterday we were open, but today is our first full day,” she said, of the tent selling hot dogs, pulled pork sandwiches, snacks, soda, beer and a couple mixed drinks. “It feels good to know everyone has a job. I’m surprised at how open they are to doing things.”

She said she had learned quickly to delegate to her staff so she could focus on overall operations.

Alejandra Salceda, a hospitality management major, said she was still working with a client to make sure their skybox was set up to their liking before their guests arrived the following day for the official start of the tournament.

“It’s been really fun so far,” she said. “I’m just cleaning tables and counters – getting ready.”

She said she would be overseeing eight employees in two skyboxes.

While she had interned at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose and had worked as a lead before, she said the Pebble Beach Special Event Management Team was unique.

“This is completely different,” Salceda said. “I am the manager.”

The experience is so positive that many students who have completed the internship come back to work as temporary managers again, including some who have graduated and are working full-time in the hospitality industry. Several SJSU graduates said they coordinated to take a week of vacation from their regular jobs to serve as temporary managers at the tournament.

Erin Paxton, a December 2014 hospitality management graduate, said she had taken some vacation time to work for a few days at the tournament. She was overseeing a hospitality suite in the Pebble Beach Lodge.

“It was my first big gig, my first big girl job,” she said, of the internship last year. “It was the best for learning to deal with clients and to see the event side with food, beverages, golf. It was a very well-rounded experience.”

In a tent below the skyboxes, several students worked to prepare their set up for the following morning. Jaclyn Kyllo pointed out the layout of the room, where tables and coolers were set up for each client skybox on the 18th hole.

“We send a runner down to pick up the food,” she said, noting that utensils and plates were also organized in the tent. “This is also a good place to debrief, if you are feeling stressed or need an answer.”

She said she didn’t realize some of the smaller tasks she would be involved in, such as polish silverware or building racks to hold supplies in the temporary tents.

“It’s more than I imagined,” she said. “But I want to see the sunset on Pebble Beach every night. We are all in it together – the (35) of us so it’s nice that they believe in us to handle it.”