This story originally appeared in the 2019 Travel Guide Edition of PGA Magazine.
When Doug Kreis, PGA Head Professional at Battle Creek (Michigan) Country Club, reminisces over the dozens of member trips he’s organized throughout his tenure, he acknowledges the meals experienced on the road haven’t always been a high point.
“Looking back on my first overseas trips 20 years ago,” reflects Kreis, “We ate some pretty mediocre food. I didn’t put much effort into planning for dining — it was all about the golf.”
Today, however, Kreis makes sure that the meals his members eat on golf getaways match the caliber of the fairways they roam. While golf remains the centerpiece of road trips, well thought-out food and dining experiences play an increasingly important role in elevating excursions from good to great — creating memories that members talk about for years.
“Special meals, even casual ones, are a great bonding experience that have long-term benefits for the club,” Kreis says. “Today, there is clearly more emphasis on making the entire trip a memorable experience, not just the golf. And food plays a big part of that.”
Bucket-list golf destinations often involve remote locations, both domestically and abroad. Long bus trips, early tee times and multiple days away from home test even the most intrepid groups, making dining choices challenging and planning a must.
Ian Dalzell, PGA Head Professional at Huntingdon Valley (Pennsylvania) Country Club, pays special attention to the group’s daily agenda when meal planning.
“Meals have to fit in with the flow of the day,” says Dalzell, who queries member for snack preferences and special dietary needs, and has protein bars, fruit and treats available on the bus.
“Often these days can be quite long, especially in the more remote parts of Ireland or Scotland.”
On one such trip to the fabled Carnoustie, Dalzell’s members faced a two-hour drive back to their hotel after an exhausting, albeit exhilarating, late-afternoon round.
To best accommodate the trip flow and still provide a special meal, Dalzell arranged for the bus driver to get fish & chips wrapped in traditional newsprint. They set up a spread in the back of the bus, complete with cold beers, and welcomed the group after their round with a lowkey, yet distinctive meal.
“The guys absolutely loved it,” says Dalzell, who likes to book-end casual meals on weeklong trips with more elaborate first- and last-night fine dining experiences. “It was super casual, but fresh, hot and tasty – and allowed us to get back on the road avoiding a late-night arrival. Two-years later, the guys still talk about the fish & chips at Carnoustie.”
Creating the right mix of casual and convenient, along with fine dining options, calls for understanding member interests, budgets, and seizing opportunities to build relationships and create memorable experiences.
Kreis looks to his members for fine dining recommendations when planning for his club’s annual two-day, 20-man multi-club Ryder Cup-style trip.
“I booked a private room five months in advance at the famed St. Elmo Steak House in Indianapolis, based upon a member recommendation and we had a fabulous meal there,” says Kreis. “There are years-long club members who have never hung out with each other before the trip, and that makes an elevated dining experience a great opportunity to build camaraderie. These dinners help strengthen the club as a result, because now there are more connections made.”
Casual convenience rules on Kreis-led "Mystery Trips,” ladies-only day-excursions to nearby courses where the destination is unveiled only once in route. He posts a date weeks in advance, attracting 12 to 16 women members who meet in the morning for group breakfast, then take a bus ride to the course.
“We’ll have a continental breakfast and cocktails — Mimosas and Bloody Marys — on the bus ride over,” says Kreis, who arranges with the host club for a quick, yet hearty lunch on course at the turn. “More cocktails on the way back, then the husbands join us at for dinner at the club. It’s really a fun day.”
PGA Professionals also do right by their members when exposing them to local culinary specialties when on the road.
“I like to guide groups to experience our local Wisconsin flavor,” says Ed Elsner, PGA Professional and Manager of Tournaments & Corporate Events at Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wisconsin.
Groups enjoy true Midwestern flair at Destination Kohler with area-crafted cheese, sausage and beers, along with the beloved Wisconsin Fish Fry or Fish Boil, a traditional stew with fish, potatoes, corn, carrots, and spices cooked outdoors over an open flame.
“We often bring in Sheboygan-based 3 Sheeps Brewery for special beer tastings and pairings with different types of locally-made sausages, and of course, our famous cheese curds,” says Elsner, who works with groups to learn of any special dietary requirements, such as gluten-free, to provide accommodating alternatives.
Pre-round Bloody Mary bars and grab-and-go breakfast sandwiches on the range are fun options at Kohler, as are make-your-own deli sandwich stations — and locally-made Johnsonville brats at the turn — to keep groups moving at lunchtime.
Lowcountry Boils and Oyster Roasts at sunset supply local southern charm and hospitality for groups on member-sponsored excursions to Champions Retreat in Evans, Georgia, just down the road from Augusta National.
“We work hard to tempt our guests to indulge a bit when they’re here,” says PGA General Manager Cameron Wiebe. “Guests return to their rooms to find Red Velvet cookies and milk, which is our way of helping their day end a little sweeter.”
As golf travel continues to evolve, so do destination offerings and host-club options. It’s the savvy PGA Professional who works closely with club members to engineer a delicious golf trip that is bountiful both on and off the course.
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