Embedded as a “utility worker” on Merion Golf Club’s expanded kitchen staff to help feed all those who descended on Ardmore, Pa., for the 113th U.S. Open Championship, Club & Resort Business Editor Joe Barks filed daily postings about his experience during each day of the tournament week. Here are his final thoughts after the last three days of the competition. A Q&A with Merion Golf Club’s Executive Chef (and C&RB Contributing Editor) Jerry Schreck about the entire tournament experience will be presented as the “Chef to Chef” feature in the July issue of C&RB.
• No Playoff Needed: Merion’s F&B staff openly expressed hope that Sunday’s competition would not end in a tie that would extend the Championship into an 18-hole playoff on Monday. This was largely because many of the part-time workers and volunteers (including me) who were added to the regular staff to help make it through the week would not be available to help out for one more day.
But while Justin Rose’s two-shot win avoided the need for a playoff, I still don’t think there’s any doubt, based on how the Merion team handled every challenge thrown their way throughout the week (many of which came up without any warning) that they would have found a way to make a Monday playoff day be another winner, too, even if short-staffed.
• Curious: Another concern about handling the Monday playoff came from the fact that an additional order to Merion’s foodservice distributor (and many things would be needed, with much of what had been ordered, and replenished, during the week, having been depleted) would have to be made by 3 PM on Sunday—a time when those leading the tournament had yet to tee off for the final round.
While the club would be able to return and get credit for anything else it ordered for Monday and didn’t use, it was surprising—at least to me—to hear that the supplier apparently wasn’t making any effort to build in any flexibility to its schedule or provide extra service around the situation, especially for such a prominent customer and cause.
• Also Curious: While Merion is getting universal acclaim for hosting a great tournament, speculation about whether it will ever get another one is divided, largely because profitability (or even a break-even performance) was limited by smaller crowds and reduced hospitality space. Those are understandable concerns—but the USGA might also want to revisit how its own merchandising operation was run. On the final day, all the talk I heard among disappointed spectators centered around how the souvenir shelves were depleted and virtually nothing remained available for sale.
• Coolest Sight of the Tournament: The daily “shock and awe” caravan of golf course maintenance equipment as it rolled through Merion each morning, like Patton’s tanks heading to Belgium.
• Also Cool: Being called “Chef”—always very respectfully—by people who saw me walking through the grounds or riding the train to and from the club while wearing my white jacket and black pants. At first I thought I should correct them, but then I decided to just go ahead and bask in it for the week.
• Not Cool: Vendors and suppliers—and in many cases, not very major ones— who frequently sent texts (interfering with a critical communication tool between the kitchens and other spots on the property) to Merion F&B staff members throughout the tournament, wondering if there was “any way” they could get some passes and tickets.
• Affirmation: After the first couple days of trying to help cope with how we were being slammed in the members’ tent kitchen, I decided that my contribution to maximum efficiency and productivity for the operation could come through maintaining a steady “assembly line” of buns in their packaging and then constantly moving them into place as the “chassis” for the various sandwiches that had to be “built” with hot dogs, bratwurst, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, crab cakes, pulled pork and grilled chicken from the hotbox.
I was proud to have the value of this was recognized when, in the heat of one prolonged period when members were grabbing new sandwiches as fast as we could get them out on the steam table, one chef noted how my “assembly line” was helping us keep up and exclaimed, “Joe, you’re like Gerald Ford!”
But of course, I then also had to correct him to say, “Thanks…but I think you mean Henry Ford. If I was like Gerald Ford, everything would be on the floor.”
• Last word: Merion put on a great Championship, and I was proud to be part of its great team.
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