Tinley Park man feeds on Ryder Cup challenge
BY STEVE METSCH firstname.lastname@example.org September 24, 2012 11:34PM
Rod Buckner, Director of Planning for Medinah Country Club, walks near his office at the club in Medinah, IL on Friday September 21, 2012. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 26, 2012 6:12AM
The colorful posters of food on the walls more than hint at what Rod Buckner has on his plate this week.
But the tiny size of the Tinley Park man’s office at Medinah Country Club is not an indicator of the size of his task.
The prestigious Ryder Cup golf tournament is being hosted by Medinah through Sunday, and Buckner is in charge of making sure 24 pro golfers, their families, corporate sponsors and PGA officials don’t go hungry. He’s in charge of ordering every single food and beverage item for the event.
It comes to about 20,000 meals, not counting snacks.
Buckner, 42, is director of purchasing at the northwest suburban country club, and has been since 1997.
Never before has he been this busy.
On his desk are large binders filled with page after page of menus, orders and other details. It’s his job to make sure Tiger Woods and other pro golfers who are well-known around the globe aren’t wanting when it comes to their culinary needs.
Buckner said he loves the pressure, and there’s plenty with the Ryder Cup. Held every two years, it pits some of the finest American golfers against the best from Europe.
Buckner has been through big tournaments before: Medinah hosted the PGA Championship in 1999 and 2006. But those are American golf events.
“This time the whole world is going to be watching,” Buckner said.
‘It’s a madhouse’
Judging by how busy Buckner was Friday, the pro golfers and their entourages and others will have plenty to eat.
In a 15-minute span, Buckner got three phone calls and three visits from employees poking their heads into his office. Each had an urgent question about a delivery or storage.
“I am beyond swamped. It’s a madhouse right now,” Buckner said.
When a delivery truck stops at the front gate, he gets a call about storage. Maybe the items will be stored in one of the four refrigerated trucks parked near the clubhouse, or in spacious coolers and freezers within the stately building.
“Today, we have trucks coming in from three different grocery houses, three meat and poultry companies, three seafood companies, three beer companies,” Buckner said as a Pepsi truck pulled up.
After settling on where to store bacon bits — “in the cooler down here” — Buckner sat smiling behind his desk.
“This is how it is all day. All day. I take it in stride. I thrive under the pressure,” he said. “I work my best under these circumstances. You can’t have a hot head. If something is going wrong, you can’t let problems get to you. Take a deep breath and work around them.”
Buckner has come a long way from being a busboy at Ravisloe Country Club in Homewood.
“I started there when I was 15. After two years, I moved to the storeroom. I worked there through my high school and college years,” he said.
He found his calling. He got a bachelor’s degree in hotel/restaurant management and graduated from Purdue University-Calumet in 1996. After college, he helped open a hotel in Alsip as food and beverage manager, worked as beverage manager at Hollywood Casino, and got a call from Medinah.
“They were looking for someone to spearhead the food service, to bring it up to standard,” he said.
Fifteen years later, he’s helping present the biggest golf event of the year.
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Once executive chef Bryan Panico selected the menus, it was up to Buckner to acquire the ingredients.
“It’s been many, many sleepless nights working on this. I do go home after work, but I wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning and remember, ‘This needs to be done’ or ‘That needs to be done,’ ” Buckner said.
Hundreds of truckloads are supplying what’s needed, and not just food and drink. There are cups and napkins, little bottles of maple syrup from Vermont, silverware, and tiny sugar packets, all emblazoned with the Medinah Ryder Cup logo.
Buckner also has been busy with special requests.
“The European team is the challenge, but thanks to Winston’s Market in Tinley Park, I bought some of the European items from there,” he said. “Their breads are different; anything from granary to pumpernickel to soda breads.
“Everyone is big on gluten-free items. They like muesli cereal. They have a brown sauce and baked beans with breakfast. And they prefer back bacon. I ordered 60 pounds.”
Breakfast items will include cinnamon-raisin French toast, apple- and blueberry-filled pancakes, cheese blintzes and buttermilk waffles. Lunch will feature carved turkey breast, sirloin of beef and pork, at least 3,500 Chicago-style hot dogs, “and our own Medinah burger, which is outstanding,” he said.
Snacks feature quesadillas, wings and potato skins.
“We try to make things that aren’t simple because we want to give them nice quality. But it has to be easy to cook,” he said.
Twelve different buffets will be set up for PGA officials and corporate sponsors. Buffet tables are kept cool with 4,000 pounds of ice every day.
It’s also up to Buckner, year-round, to buy paper supplies, major equipment, office, kitchen and bar supplies, rental equipment, liquor, cleaning goods, china and stem ware and more.
All in a day’s work
In prepping for the Ryder Cup, Buckner typically arrives at Medinah at 7:30 a.m. and works until 10 p.m. He might forget to eat if not reminded by employees.
“I didn’t eat until 3:30 the other day,” he said.
Gina Fabrizio, who manages the Oasis bar and grill at Medinah, is impressed by Buckner’s work ethic.
“He is responsible for everything that comes in. Everything,” she said.
Buckner laughed when asked if he’s been sleeping in his office.
“No, I go home every night,” he said.
He, wife Melodi, and children Brianna, 13, and Justin, 5, live in the Brookside Glen subdivision.
Buckner grew up in Chicago Heights and graduated from Bloom Trail High School, where he played football, ran track and wrestled.
He enjoys golfing if he has the time, which may not be for a few weeks.
And for those wondering, when it’s time to go grocery shopping for the family, Buckner can’t resist.
“Believe me, I do it,” he said with a smile. “My wife thinks I’m nuts because I may go to three different stores just to get the best prices.”