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Lakeland makes its mark at Ryder Cup

Lakeland makes its mark at Ryder Cup

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Lakeland makes its mark at Ryder Cup

As the sports world focuses this week on the Ryder Cup at nearby Whistling Straits Golf Course, this massive international event includes plenty of presence from Lakeland University.

Four members of the 14-person Ryder Cup staff are Lakeland graduates who work full time for the PGA of America. They are part of the team that’s been planning for years to deliver one of the biggest sporting events in the world.

That group includes:

  • Tess (Myklebust) Anschutz ’14, volunteer operations manager, who previously worked on the 2015 and 2017 PGA Championships.
  • Austin Hansen ’18, corporate services coordinator.
  • RonniJo (Nigro) Rigney ’19, volunteer operations coordinator.
  • Ashlee Wierzbach ’20, corporate merchandise on-site and financial coordinator.

In addition, Sydney Wickman, a 2021 LU graduate, was a member of the summer operations crew that built much of the infrastructure on the course, and she is part of the Ryder Cup staff working the event this week.

Service with a Lakeland smile

There are approximately 30 current Lakeland students and recent Lakeland graduates working this week with PGA staff to manage the many hospitality venues and provide front-line corporate services.

“These students are going to being part of an event that is on a global stage,” said Britanni Meinnert, the leader of Lakeland’s hospitality management program who worked over a decade for Kohler’s The American Club before joining Lakeland’s faculty. “They will have an opportunity to interact with people and serve them in a capacity that is in line with the Kohler brand. It’s something impressive to put on their resumes.”

Ryder Cup Director Jason Mengel said the students will offer a wide range of concierge services, everything from meeting client needs, to helping companies and guests check in, making sure guests have a great experience, being a first point of reference for questions and helping prepare their area for the day.

The students started their roles last week with training at the golf course, then spent this past weekend helping companies find their locations on the course and prepare for their guests.

The students are working in teams serving the various hospitality packages, such as the 1927 Club, a premium venue for individuals; the Captains Club, a group of 10-guest reserved tables for entertaining small groups in an exclusive facility; the 30-guest semi-private suites; and 50- or 100-guest private chalets.

“This is a great chance to play a key role in one of the biggest sporting events in the world,” Mengel said. “It’s an opportunity to experience client relations training in real time and learn how to anticipate and solve issues that might arise while delivering a high-quality experience.”

Mengel said students will have plenty of opportunity to network directly with C-level executives who make strategic decisions for companies as well as other dignitaries.

“It is an opportunity to impress them with their skills and how they carry themselves, positioning themselves for possible employment,” said Mengel, noting that career paths in sales, marketing, sports, hospitality and operations are all possibilities.

The students will work long days, often arriving at 6 a.m. and working until well after guests have left. The students are provided a uniform and, when they are not working, they can stay and watch the event, a nice perk to get an up-close view.

The students are a mix of business administration, sport management and leadership and hospitality management majors.

Sophomore Anthony Lueck, a sports management and leadership major, hopes to one day work for the PGA of America or any major golf company in a role similar to Hansen. His job this week ranges from transporting patrons to scanning tickets for company villages to building relationships with patrons.

“Not only will I benefit by seeing what goes into running a successful golf tournament, but I also get a foot into the door of an organization that I want to become a part of,” Lueck said. “I also get to meet a ton of great people who I can bond with as I work throughout the week.”

Lueck is a member of the Lakeland men’s golf team, giving him an extra appreciation for the event and his role.

“There is no better feeling than walking around the course and seeing the view off Lake Michigan,” Lueck said. “There is a certain buzz at Whistling Straits, and it can only be described as the building anticipation of the thunderous roars that will be heard this week. I am very grateful for this opportunity.”

Hansen led recruitment of the team and about half of the spots are filled by Lakeland students/recent grads.

“From a logistical standpoint, it’s nice to have one point of contact for all the students,” Mengel said. “And with Britanni you have someone teaching hospitality, which is another benefit. Since Austin graduated from Lakeland, he knows who to go to and he is intimately familiar with the skill set being fostered in Lakeland students.”

Several of the students got a taste of the tournament during a special Ryder Cup course that Meinnert taught in the spring of 2020 and again in 2021. It was an in-depth look at the event including the unique format, its history, a look at the players participating and other interesting tidbits. Guest speakers included Anschutz, Hansen and Rigney and an event planner from Kohler Co.

Meinnert said having access to those successful alumni and a partner like the PGA positions Lakeland to open doors for its students to amazing professional opportunities.

“These partnerships help us open their eyes to all the possibilities open to them after their Lakeland journey,” Meinnert said. “In addition to class work, which is foundational in nature, we also give them a safe space to examine those opportunities and put their toe in the water. It opens up so much more not only career wise, but personally as well.

“I think the nurturing we do at Lakeland gives them confidence to try something new. They know we would never send them into a bad or awkward situation. We’ve aligned with trustworthy partnerships. Many of our students end up with jobs they never thought they would when they come to us on day one.”

Several Lakeland athletic teams also have students working during the event serving a variety of roles, mainly working concessions.

Ryder Cup
Lakeland University alumni who were on the Ryder Cup planning team