Warren Golf Course turned 20 this year. It was expected to be a banner year for the operation. With the national attention that came with hosting the U.S. Senior Open in 2019, it was anticipated that first-time visitors would travel from all over to see for themselves what makes Warren so challenging and beautiful.
The season was, indeed, a great success, in spite of the challenges associated with the coronavirus pandemic … and even because of them. Given how contagious the virus is, golf is one of safest activities people can do because players are outside and safely distanced from each other.
“June, July, August, September and November were record months for Warren in terms of the number of rounds that were played,” John Foster, general manager of the course, said. “It’s kind of ironic to experience the best business year of the course’s existence and do it with fewer resources than ever before.”
Due to the pandemic, University leaders enacted a staff hiring freeze in mid-March that is still in effect.
“We run our golf business like most do, primarily with seasonal on-call labor,” Foster said. “We normally have 15 to 20 people helping with the golf operations and the same number in maintenance. So we had quite a void to fill.”
Warren and Burke — the nine-hole course on the south end of campus — are part of the athletics department. Soon after the hiring freeze was announced, as was the case across the University, leaders in athletics quickly assessed how its different entities would be affected.
“The situation required us to think differently about how our staff can help and support our most critical needs operationally in a temporary, but strategic way,” said Julie Boser, associate director of operational effectiveness in the athletics business office.
It was the middle of the spring semester — during spring break — when the University abruptly switched to distance learning. Students didn’t come back to campus, faculty taught remotely and most staff worked from home. Athletics was immediately impacted by the absence of people on campus. With most athletics facilities not being used, facilities staff had the bandwidth to take on different work, as did some administrative assistants. Meanwhile, other areas of athletics faced double or triple their normal workloads.
A talent-sharing program was born: Operation Hustle. Boser leads the effort.
“The golf course was officially our first opportunity to ‘hustle,’” Boser said.
The work at Warren — which opened in June and closed Nov. 22 — included sanitizing golf carts, transporting cleaned golf carts from the clubhouse to the parking lot for guests to use, greeting guests and providing instructions regarding the on course COVID-19 protocols in place, operating a ball-picker cart on the driving range, keeping up the grounds, and other work as assigned.
“Our customer base could not see a difference in the quality of the grounds and operations this year versus last year,” Foster said. “It wasn’t easy, but we pulled it off.”
That’s thanks to friends in athletics who filled in, including staff from the Compton Family Ice Arena, athletics facilities, the athletics business office, athletic equipment and apparel, camps and community outreach, events management, crowd control, hockey, the Monogram Club, Eck Tennis Pavilion, the athletics administration staff, and the director of operations staff for men's lacrosse, track and field and rowing.
“Operation Hustle provided a huge opportunity for many of our staff to contribute at Warren and Burke,” said Michael McNeill, programming and instruction manager at Compton. “We had the capacity and we were excited to participate in the overall success.”
Burke was reserved for students, faculty and staff, and it was busy too.
“The amount of business we did with students over there was tremendous this year. It provided exactly what students wanted; it was a safe outdoor activity,” Foster said.
Lori Maurer, associate director of Human Resources Consulting, serves athletics, among other divisions, as an HRC (Human Resources Consultant). “It’s part of our mission to give students something to do that supports their academic success by providing some fun in difficult times.”
Maurer is also a golfer. “I’ve been playing golf at Warren for years and I just loved to see our staff in athletics pull together and keep Burke and Warren going all summer and fall,” she said.
Without the additional help provided by Operation Hustle, Warren may have been closed or had limited hours.
“That would have cost the University hundreds of thousands of dollars. Instead, we generated money for the University at a critical time,” Foster said.
"I could not be more proud of the resilience, creativity and collegiality that our staff has demonstrated during these extraordinarily challenging times.” ~Jack Swarbrick, vice president and the James E. Rohr Director of Athletics
Fighting Irish Media is another area of athletics that benefited from Operation Hustle.
“The program has been integral to Fighting Irish Media's success since April,” said Jaye Galloway, director of media operations programming and strategy. “This creative approach to provide support personnel during this ever-changing environment in collegiate athletics has allowed our department to continue to operate at a high level. We have utilized the Operation Hustle program to integrate people from every corner of our athletics department into such roles as asset management, graphic design, video editing, live camera broadcasting, credentialing, football press box support and many more activities.”
Operation Hustle duties elsewhere have included temperature checks, retrieving balls at games, swim timing, game day assistance like checking in ushers and players’ guests, working in the sports equipment room and at the student athletes’ remote fuel station.
“The fuel station is like a mini-mart for student athletes to come after their practices or games. They get refueled with drinks, snacks and food,” Boser said.
Boser has pitched in, too. She, Maurer and others distributed green pom-poms to Notre Dame students before the Clemson football game.
“Typically, temporary employees handle these types of game-day operations jobs, but it was essentially internal athletics staff backfilling those needs for the game,” Boser said.
Other athletics units that have stepped in, including ticket/marketing, compliance and legal, sports performance and some sports administration and coaches.
"I could not be more proud of the resilience, creativity and collegiality that our staff has demonstrated during these extraordinarily challenging times,” Jack Swarbrick, vice president and the James E. Rohr Director of Athletics, said. “We have individuals redeployed to numerous nontraditional roles in order to help us continue to meet our commitment to our student-athletes. And in the long run, I am certain that we will benefit from the cross-training and comaraderie Operation Hustle has helped athletics to build.”
Operation Hustle has even turned into a professional development opportunity for some, Boser said.
“By doing the work, they gain an appreciation for all that is done in different areas of athletics,” she said. “In order to have a volleyball game, a soccer game, a football game, there are things that need to happen. A lot goes on behind the scenes.”
Behind the scenes at Warren, there was a lot of hard work, but it was also memorable.
“Initially, we were there to help, but it turned into friendships being made with the golf course staff,” McNeill said.
And as Foster noted, “We’re not running a salt mine over here. You’re out in the sunshine and the work is kind of fun.”