Golf's top clubs, resorts are upping their menu games

Members, guests are seeking more from their experiences and food goes a long way toward that goal

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Pumpkin swordfish with strawberry and mango vinaigrette and wilted arugula by Christopher Park of Wycliffe Golf and Country Club.

It’s a brave new world of dining out there as the nation’s top golf resorts invest in new, diverse dining options — and smaller clubs should take heed, a culinary expert says.

Resorts like Pinehurst, Bandon Dunes, The Greenbrier and Sand Valley have recently plowed millions of dollars into new restaurants and new menu concepts, often with an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients.

And it’s not just fine dining. Fast-casual and grab-and-go are in the mix as resorts strive to offer guests multiple options over the course of a stay.

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Diana DeLucia

Diana DeLucia, founder and editor of Golf Kitchen magazine, a quarterly publication devoted to the practice of the culinary arts at the world’s top golf clubs, said the golf world was caught flat-footed coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic and is racing to catch up with demand for better food.

Gen-Xers and Millennials who took up the game during the pandemic and joined golf clubs as it ended, they brought with them a desire for more varied, often healthier menus. “The younger people are going to have more demands of better food than the older people,” DeLucia says.

“They [golf clubs] were starting to wake up, and they knew, ‘Okay, we have to start building new kitchens and we have to start getting better culinary teams. It's not just about the game of golf anymore, it's got to be the full package.”

The generational shift has also meant that younger golf tourists are demanding more from the kitchens of top-line golf resorts.

Ed Doyle, the top food and beverage executive of Troon Golf, which operates more than 800 golf facilities around the world, agrees. Diversity in food and beverage offerings is increasingly important.

“The modern consumer is consistently seeking value, but not always from the perspective of price point,” says Doyle, who is president of RealFood, Hospitality, Strategy and Design, a Troon company. “They are relying on us, their favorite clubs and resorts, to offer food and beverage experiences that mirror their lifestyles, which are busy, scheduled, and multi-faceted.”

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Thierry Debailleul

Pinehurst Resort, host of the 2024 U.S. Open, is adding its eighth sit-down dining venue and executive chef Thierry Debailleul, who oversees 220 food-and-beverage employees, said when he joined the resort 15 years ago, his department’s budget was $25 million. Now, it’s $50 million. Even adjusted for inflation, that represents a 40% increase.

“Increasingly, guests want choices,” Debailleul says.

Doyle, who describes his company’s approach to dining as “ease, consistency and multi-dimensional,” paraphrased a hospitality adage: One bad meal can ruin an otherwise exceptional stay. “In the end, the hospitality experiences we deliver determine whether people will come or go in the future,” he said.

The most dramatic example of a change in a property’s approach to dining to meet consumer demand can be seen at Oregon’s Bandon Dunes Resort, which just opened its ninth restaurant, The Ghost Tree Grill in October. When it debuted as a walking-only golf resort in 1999, its non-golf amenities were spartan, even ascetic.

“Golf here is what is so well known and world renowned, and such a spectacular experience,” says Rory Butts, Bandon Dunes’s executive chef. “My goal is to have the food and beverage be on the same plane as that.

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Bandon Dunes Resort Executive Chef Rory Butts.

 “There are those guests that we just feed to give them nourishment and good healthy meals to give them fuel to play golf. and then there are those who are looking for the real experience within the food and beverage.”

One resort that emphasized diverse and quality cuisine decades ago is Destination Kohler in Wisconsin, which enjoys a reputation as a “foodie” destination on par with its reputation for championship golf.

In late October, Kohler, which has seven restaurants, held the 22nd Kohler Food & Wine Festival. Headliner Martha Stewart joined a lineup of seven other celebrity chefs for a four-day weekend of cooking demonstrations. The event sold out within days when tickets went on sale in July.

In fact, diversity in dining options is practically essential these days. Pinehurst boasts 12 dining options, ranging from the simplistic Market to restaurants like the Pinehurst Brewing Company and the recently acquired Villaggio Ristorante in The Magnolia Inn to the more formal Carolina Dining Room.