SJSU students learning management skills at National Pro-Am

Posted by the Santa Cruz Sentinel Feb. 10, 2012.

By Andrew Matheson

PEBBLE BEACH — Many of the hospitality workers at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf event are actually young undergraduate students looking to get a start in the food-and-beverage world.

For them, Saturday is the equivalent to the final round of a major championship.

Hordes of spectators will be flocking to the Pebble Beach Golf Links starting Saturday, all wanting a glimpse of not only some of the biggest names in professional golf, but also the celebrities the Pro-Am draws.

It’s what the students in San Jose State‘s Hospitality, Recreation and Tourism Management program have been gearing up for all week. They are gleaning real-world experience from volunteering at the event, and the excess crowds will no doubt mean a spike in business at the luxury boxes and food tents where they are stationed.

“Saturday last year was definitely our busiest day,” said Kathryn Kirby, a 2006 graduate of Aptos High, who is overseeing nine workers and 10 corporate chalets — or hospitality tents — at Pebble Beach this week.

Oh, and there’s also the Tiger Woods factor. He even comes with his own term in the hospitality field — the “Tiger draw.” “This year we’re expecting to be even busier because of the Tiger draw,” Kirby added. “Even I’m excited to see him.” Kirby and fellow Santa Cruz County residents Alexandra Sherrell and Kristina Mueller are students in the SJSU program, and more specifically its Pebble Beach Special Event

Management Team. The 32 students located in the corporate chalets, food concessions or skyboxes are receiving invaluable experience in managing, planning and coordinating an event like the Pro-Am at one of the world’s most famous golf courses.

They do so while working for Pebble Beach management. And the selection process for the program is perhaps just as grueling as today’s round will be for the golfers.

“These are not volunteers. This is not an internship,” said Santa Cruz’s Rich Larson, a professor at SJSU who oversees the program. “They have to be selected first, selected to work in one of those three areas.” Larson said he had some 80 applicants for 28 positions in this year’s class. Four students, including Kirby, were brought back from last year’s program for additional guidance, while the remaining slots are selected based on essays and a panel interview process that involves former students, Larson and five Pebble Beach managers.

Kirby admits to breaking out in hives during her interview.

“It’s intimidating. But the experience you gain here is so much more than if you were in a classroom,” said Sherrell, a 2008 graduate of San Lorenzo Valley High, who is managing two skyboxes as well as a staff of six to eight people along the famous 18th green at Pebble Beach this week. “The work is hard, but it’s also very rewarding.”

Sherrell said her main task — in a nutshell — is to make sure each order going into the skyboxes is correct and that her client is happy. Although the Pebble Beach managers chose the position for her, she said she would have selected it anyway if given the chance.

About 30 students have gone through the program each year since its inception in 2006, and the Pebble Beach company has hired 17 of those students, Larson said. Others have gone on to work at Jet Blue, hotels and in catering.

One is even concessions manager through Aramark at the Oakland Coliseum.