NEWS The Country Club with US Open trophy Photo credit: USGA

UMass Connections Aplenty at This Summer’s U.S. Open in Brookline

NEWS US Open Flags Photo credit: Gerry Daly, TCC Special Projects Manager and Procurement
U.S. Open flags. Photo credit: Gerry Daly, TCC culinary professional

At the most recent U.S. Open Championship, one of four major golf championships, University of Massachusetts Amherst alumni, students and employees helped make sure that the event was a huge success, according to officials at The Country Club (TCC) in Brookline, where the tournament was held. TCC is the oldest and one of the most historic clubs in the U.S., and one of the founding clubs of the U.S. Golf Association.

UMass Amherst is connected to the prestigious TCC on multiple fronts from the turfgrass science and management program of the Plant, Soil and Insect Sciences Department in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture maintaining the grounds and golf courses to the club management program of the Hospitality and Tourism Management Department in the Isenberg School of Management providing professional and student staff in operating the clubhouse and members’ facilities. Over the years, UMass students have completed internships, externships, volunteer roles, seasonal positions and secured entry level positions. UMass graduates have also risen to leadership roles at the club in either hospitality, golf operations or turfgrass management. This year the involvement extended to other departments from the UMass campus, including current and alumni from UMass’ well-known UMass Dining Services and UMass Facilities/Residence Life.

“UMass has played a really influential role in the development of so many people who have come to work at The Country Club, many of whom were important in making this summer's U.S. Open so successful,” said Kristen LaCount, TCC general manager and chief operating officer. “We feel fortunate to have an institution like that is so close to our backyard.”

NEWS Eighteenth green and clubhouse Photo credit: NEWS US Open Flags Photo credit: Gerry Daly, TCC Special Projects Manager and Procurement
18th hole and TCC clubhouse. Photo credit: Gerry Daly, TCC culinary professional

The relationship between UMass and TCC began before the 1988 US Open and the 1999 Ryder Cup with students, alumni, faculty and staff participating in various aspect of this major event planning from the turfgrass management program in the 1970s and later in that decade the Hospitality and Tourism Management Department (formerly Hotel, Restaurant and Travel Administration) becoming involved.

To hold an event such as the USGA’s national championship of golf in a suburban neighborhood takes a tremendous amount of time and logistics to pull it off and do it well. TCC has held 17 major championships over the course of its history, and it takes a broad cross section of individuals, organizations, and departments, both local and statewide to execute an event like the US Open. LaCount has long been a supporter of involvement of students in club management engaging students and alumni in great learning experiences from a number of New England’s colleges and universities, including UMass Amherst, UMass Boston, Johnson and Wales, Endicott and Boston University. 

The UMass Amherst connection was evident this year in many areas throughout the event and the role further expanded. Like the 1999 Ryder Cup when an estimated 35 individuals with UMass connections worked the event, this year nearly 30 UMass individuals were among those helping to deliver a top-notch tournament experience. Alumni, current students, and faculty and staff contributed to the event in dining, turf, guest/fan services, merchandising, corporate relations, tournament day operations and facilities operations.

LaCount affectionately calls professional members of the team at TCC, “The Squirrel Squad,” who work together to provide the best possible member, player and fan experience. Getting started at TCC is part of the involvement process; however, TCC also has a number of UMass graduates move in leadership roles, too. Recent graduate Chris Metz (’16 sport management and hospitality and tourism management) is the current clubhouse manager and three current students have worked with him including manager-in-training, Anastasiya Sakharava (’22 hospitality and tourism management) and interns Anastasiya Ziaziulia, (’25 hospitality and tourism management) Mia Tabor (’25 hospitality and tourism management) and Leah Howard (’23 marketing) while Sean McSwiney (’89 UMass Boston) continued in his long-standing role as dining room manager. Additionally, Miguel Santana (UMass Dartmouth ’21 business management) works full-time seasonally in golf outside operations.

“Working at The Country Club has been an amazing experience, only amplified by the opportunity to work at an event like the U.S. Open,” Metz said. “Working in the hospitality industry often feels like my old mascot at UMass -- a lot of preparation, while ready for service in a moment’s notice. And the university’s sports management program really helped prepare me, and so many others at TCC, for what was to come.”

NEWS Early morning grounds crew at work NEWS US Open Flags Photo credit: Gerry Daly, TCC Special Projects Manager and Procurement
U.S. Open grounds crew at work. Photo credit: Matt Warnick, former TCC assistant project manager

Gerry Daly (’83 hospitality and tourism management), culinary administrator, worked to help execute the Lee Elder Internship Program with the USGA that attracted 25 minority youths from across the U.S. with an opportunity to learn the “business of golf and create connections.” The Lee Elder scholars were exposed to a wide spectrum of opportunities in club and golf management both on the TCC campus and throughout the region during the U.S. Open event week. Current student Nia Hart (’23 sociology) was one of the 25 interns.

Others had responsibilities in the players’ locker room, including Kirk Reese (hospitality and tourism management), who is a UMass contract instructor and former clubhouse manager; Chris Coulter (UMass hospitality and tourism management) a contract instructor and former clubhouse manager; Kevin Shea (’11 hospitality and tourism management), former assistant clubhouse manager; and Jeff Isbell (’01 hotel and tourism management), current general manager of North Andover Country Club. David Chag, former TCC general manager/chief operating officer and a UMass contract instructor, continued in a consulting role to the club in the lead-up to the event and Rod Warnick, professor of hospitality and tourism management, provided assistance in members services and student intern recruitment in the clubhouse. Sean Bleyl, UMass technology guest speaker and consultant, provided volunteer services at the satellite merchandising tent to members and the public.

NEWS The Country Club with US Open trophy Photo credit: USGA
U.S. Open trophy and TCC clubhouse. Photo credit: USGA

UMass turfgrass science and management alumni and students were also highly involved in the U.S. Open production. Dave Johnson ‘97 is the current director of grounds at TCC and received the EJ Marshall Award from the USGA, the 90th member to do so. The award recognizes excellence in USGA partnership for the work at the U.S. Open and was the first to be officially awarded during U.S. Open. The award recognizes the importance of agronomy and course preparation and pays homage to the determination of its namesake to present a well-maintained course to the world’s best players that creates a challenging course layout and condition. Johnson and his team have built on the legacy of former Director of Grounds Bill Spence (’73 turfgrass science and management), who was TCC’s superintendent for 33 years prior to Johnson’s arrival in 2018.

“The importance of teamwork cannot be understated, especially in preparing for such a high-profile event like the U.S. Open” Johnson said. “UMass has been such a great training ground for so many in the turfgrass industry, and I was thrilled to have a number of them on my team.”

Johnson’s 2022 U.S. Open team was made up of several UMass alumni and current students who assisted in meeting the demanding standards of the USGA and playability of the U.S. Open. Assisting him in the grounds department were Anthony Howard (’97, turfgrass science and management), golf course superintendent and assistants and staff including Toby Christoun (’01 turfgrass science and management) and Winter Turf School graduates Aidan O’Sullivan, Shaughn Mitchell ‘15 and Fernando Garcia and current UMass student Ryan Vieria (’24 turfgrass science and management).

NEWS Early morning at TCC's 18th hole. Photo credit: Gerry Daly, TCC special projects manager and procurement
Early morning at TCC's 18th hole. Photo credit: Matt Warnick, former TCC assistant project manager

In addition to the hospitality and turfgrass operations at TCC for the U.S. Open, four other areas -- sport management, UMass Dining, UMass Residence Life/Facilities and event management –represented connections to UMass in serving the USGA U.S. Open’s operation. Bob Wolpe (’83 Isenberg), who manages all of TCC’s finances was involved with USGA contract negotiations and the finances of the event. He’s been at TCC since 2014. The USGA was represented by current student, Andrew Grant (’25 sport management), who was interning with the game day operations crew. Jack Staples (’19 sport management) completed a long-term internship in the Championship Office of the USGA with the main focus on the USGA volunteer program at the U.S. Open. Kyle Harris (’04 sport management) is the director of First Tee of Massachusetts of Massachusetts Golf that introduces youth to golf and brought groups of young golfers to their first U.S. Open. ). Also assisting was Nick Casapulla (’21 Isenberg), who is the racquet sports manager for TCC, but worked in the Championship Office for two months while the racquets operations was closed.

UMass Dining assisted Ridgewell Catering, the corporate tent vendor, to manage and deliver food services to many of the corporate dining events stationed throughout the course. Six members of UMass Dining were involved including two managers, Paul MacGregor (’00 sport management) who is an assistant manager for UMass Dining, and Tim Lane, another assistant manager, who served as corporate tent supervisor for food and beverage service at multi-level suites. Max Melendez, Austin Cunningham, and Jeff Kellogg of UMass Dining served as chefs and sous chefs at various catered venues. Finance major Nick Mihopolous ‘25 served as a food server and kitchen assistant in catered suites and also works as a caddie at TCC during the regular member season. While this provided an excellent opportunity to showcase the skills of UMass Dining, the staff and student interns were able to utilize the UMass Mount Ida campus for housing and meals. UMass Residence Life and Facilities had former assistant project manager Matt Warnick (2011-18) and former assistant project manager for TCC Facilities (2018-21) returning to provide facility support services.

HelmsBriscoe, an event management firm, with UMass graduate Julie Nack Locke (’94 hospitality and tourism management) procured an extensive amount of lodging and logistics for fans, staff, USGA members/players.

NEWS US Open backdrop Photo credit: Gerry Daly, TCC special projects manager and procurement
U.S. Open backdrop. Photo credit: Gerry Daly, TCC culinary professional

“HelmsBriscoe was proud to be a key partner with the USGA to make this a successful Championship by supporting the many areas that require housing such as staff, invited guests, media, players, interns, as well as a host of vendors needed to provide all the aspects of the U.S. Open,” Locke said. She worked closely with managers at the Boston Park Plaza Linda Pond Rindos (’86 hospitality and tourism management) and Chris Allen (’86 hospitality and tourism management) at the Boston Marriott Newton.

According to Jacqueline Singleton, executive director of the 2022 U.S. Open for TCC, the event handled over 185,000 fans at the Brookline course for the seven-day event. Specifically, 139 professional volunteers were involved, 39 “Squirrel Squad Alumni” or former employees returned, 97 different clubs from the region were represented and 21 industry partners were present. In total, more than 30 individuals from UMass played roles in the 2022 U.S. Open, and countless others throughout the Boston Metro Area in hotels, restaurants, transportation, and logistics.

“The opportunity to participate in a major event and to continue to place students and then see them succeed as young professionals at the club annually is significant and a great learning experience for all,” said Professor Rod Warnick, hospitality and tourism management. “Our experience was so positive in 1999 at the Ryder Cup, we were all excited to have another big event here in the U.S. Open 2022. TCC has been and continues to be the best club for students starting their careers whether it be in hospitality, turfgrass management or golf/sport operations. Countless former and current students have built their resumes and experience base at TCC.”

The UMass connections were evident throughout the event in a broad range of services and activities. It is likely there were many more missed who volunteered and assisted in other roles in and around TCC in Brookline and the greater Boston metro area. Like the 1999 Ryder Cup in 1999, the UMass connections helped to deliver a top-notch event.