Get to Know: Chris Corl
(Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of stories featuring players, tournament officials, sponsors, volunteers and others involved with this year’s Winston-Salem Open.)
By John Delong
Chris Corl wears many different hats in his role as the Winston-Salem Open’s operations manager.
One minute, Corl can be found at center court making sure corporate logos and signage are positioned properly. The next, he might be taking water and energy drinks to the players’ lounge, or stocking up the cooler in the media room. Then it might be over to one of the sponsors’ booths to make sure everything is running smoothly, or talking to ATP officials and chair umpires to make sure all their needs are met. Or he might be arranging a security escort for players’ walking from the locker room to the practice courts.
When hurricane-force rains halted the first day of qualifying at last year’s inaugural tournament, guess who was out on the court with towels and Billy Goat vacuum dryers, getting the courts ready to resume play? Yes, it was Corl and his crew.
This is all a labor of love for Corl, and it meshes perfectly with his year-round job as Event Services Director for the Winston-Salem Entertainment and Sports Complex.
He enjoys seeing an event come together, after all the hours of preparation, and he takes a deep pride in customer service.
"I’d say the best part of the job is watching the fans coming in and out of the stadium and seeing the smiles on their faces," Corl said. "And I really enjoy working with all the different vendors and sponsors and contractors we have to bring everything together and help make it a great tournament."
Tournament director Bill Oakes says that Corl is an invaluable member of the tournament staff.
"Everything that people see when they get to the tournament is due to Chris," Oakes said. "He is responsible for the construction of the entire venue. When you see the stadium, people think it’s permanent but it’s actually temporary, and he works with that company to make sure it’s set up properly, to make sure we have the proper permits, everything.
"His job has more details to worry about than any other person. He has literally a million details to worry about – everything from where to place a cooler to do we meet ADA code on the number of seats, where should the flags be, ordering the multitude of signs and what goes on them, liasing with the city and the police, emergency medical, most of our sponsors. He is arguably the most important person that no one knows."
Corl was well-known in Winston-Salem tennis circles long before the Winston-Salem Open was born.
He played a key administrative role when Joel Coliseum hosted Davis Cup ties in 2007 (U.S. vs. Spain) and 2008 (U.S. vs. France), working with USTA and International Tennis Federation officials to put on hugely successful events. It was after those two events that Winston-Salem’s operations became a blueprint of sorts for other cities wishing to host Davis Cup and Fed Cup ties.
Corl was so valuable, in fact, that the USTA took him to Portland, Ore., to assist during the 2007 Davis Cup final, when the U.S. beat Russia. Corl has also been used as a consultant for four other Davis Cup and Fed Cup ties – two in Birmingham, Ala., one in San Diego, and one in Austin, Texas.
"I loved the perfection that the USTA expected at Davis Cups and Fed Cups," Corl said. "The perfection that comes with tennis events and the expectations of the fans and the sponsors and the players, and working through those expectations and making an event happen, kind of caught my eye. I have really enjoyed working with the USTA."
Corl admits there is some irony about his current role.
He had no background in tennis before coming to Winston-Salem. He played occasionally while a student at Penn State, but had never been to a professional tennis tournament and only watched casually on television.
He was just an intern at Joel Coliseum in April of 2007 when Winston-Salem landed the much-hyped Davis Cup quarterfinal between the U.S. and Spain -- an event that sold out in a manner of days. He was designated as the lead event coordinator largely because other staffers were devoting their time to the NCAA Basketball Tournament first and second-round games, which Joel Coliseum hosted that March.
"We had just had the NCAA first and second rounds, and our lead event coordinator had handled that, and they didn’t want to bog one person down with all that work, so Chuck (Vestal) was kind enough to let me be lead event coordinator," Corl said. "It was by far the biggest event I had ever done at that point. But turned out to be so much fun. Then in 2008, with France, it was really fun again. The second time was great knowing all the expectations the Davis Cup had and having gone through it all before. The second time was definitely easier."
That should be the case with the second Winston-Salem Open, too.
Everyone involved with the Winston-Salem Open has a year’s experience under their belts now, plus many of the dynamics that made last year hectic no longer exist.
"The biggest hurdle we had last year was the fact that the site was still being constructed up until the day I started our part of the load-in," Corl said. "And we didn’t get started til late May or early June on some things because we didn’t have contracts set. That won’t happen again this year. I’ve already started on the tournament and I’ll be able to spread some of that work out better this summer. Having seen it once makes everything easier on the operational end."