What’s the next course?

In the 1996 movie “Big Night,” Italian-born Chef Primo, played by Tony Shalhoub, profoundly uttered, “To eat good food is to be close to God.”

The line was served, to pardon the pun, as a statement of food’s importance. In the golf industry, it might be thought of as an epiphany because more clubs are emphasizing culinary upgrades or signature meals. 

According to a recent KPI Golf Management article, it’s common that many golf club food and beverage operations run in the red. Alcohol sales show the most consistent profit, but it can be an uphill battle when nearby restaurants, grills or sports bars compete for dollars. 

Of course, it would be naive to think patrons flock to a golf course for the spread. It would be like buying a car for its sound system. 

Over the last decade, though, golf clubs have raised their food and beverage games to provide impeccable dining experiences. Since then, annual galas such as the Golf Kitchen Culinary Excellence Awards have taken root. 

Take Sebonack Golf Club in Tuckahoe, New York, for example. Executive chef Anthony Giacoponello, no stranger to the Golf Kitchen Culinary Excellence Awards, concocted a mouth-watering roasted quail that stands as one of its signature dishes. 

In 2018 when asked about much-improved food preparation at golf clubs, Addison Reserve Country Club (Delray Beach, Florida) executive chef Zach Bell said, “A rising tide raises all boats, as the saying goes. But I always think a pit bull is on my tail.”

At Half Moon Bay Golf Course in Montego Bay, Jamaica, former executive chef Giorgio Rusconi said that as a golf destination, its two award-winning restaurants are crucial complementary aspects. 

“We have a lot of pride with the way the menu is developed when it comes to offering a top-notch experience,” says Rusconi, now the resort’s director of golf operations. “What makes the difference for us is the way we have developed the concepts.” 

That said, not every club seeks out a Michelin star. 

The mom-and-pop Caddyshack snack bars still exist to grab quick, low-fare food. There are also those clubs caught in food purgatory, where white-linen dining gets superseded by items that have reached mythical status.

Taking away nothing from the storied venue, Augusta National has its famous pimento cheese sandwich that is still sold at throwback prices in its concession areas. The sandwich — made up of sweet pimento peppers, mayonnaise and shredded cheese that combine for a creamy taste — first came to prominence in the 1940s thanks to a local Georgia couple who sold them for a quarter at the Masters. 

However, they didn’t become a menu regular until South Carolina caterer, Nick Rangos, began supplying the club with his recipe in the 1950s. It’s been a mainstay ever since, with patrons seeking it out the same way they crave merchandise. 

It might be fair to say sports bars own the henhouse when it comes to chicken wings, but at Bayonne Golf Club in Bayonne, New Jersey, the wings are exceptional.  

Bayonne Golf Club’s acclaimed chicken wings :: Photo: Bayonne Golf Club

According to food and beverage director Tim Ford, the club goes through about 50 cases a week, 60 wings to a case. What makes them remarkable can be bread-crumbed to the preparation.

“We buy them as drumsticks and then three times a week the guys in the kitchen are spending an hour or two a day where they are cutting them, where the meat slides down to the one end,” says Ford. “It’s a good amount of prep work in the kitchen, but it’s worth it. It is our most popular item.”

The kitchen adopted a technique commonplace in upscale restaurants called Frenched, where the bone’s end portion has been cleaned.  

Similar to Augusta National, San Francisco’s prestigious Olympic Club offers the distinct “Burgerdog,” a staple since 1950. As the story goes, owners Bill and Billie Parrish of Hot Dog Bills, would park their food trailer outside the gates and sell a quarter-pound burger with American cheese to hungry golf-goers. Except the burgers were cut into squares so they could maximize profits with the same-sized bun they used for hot dogs, more as a cost-saving exercise. 

Four years later, Hot Dog Bills moved inside the gates by the Lake Course. Two more locations were then added around the premises.

“The key is, we use good meat — not just ground hamburger,” Grahm Thrush, a Hot Dog Bills manager, told golf.com in 2019. “And toasted buns and fresh condiments. It all works together, and people just love them.” 

Ever think there would be a National Bratwurst Day at a golf club? That happened at — where else? — Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin, as it celebrated its acclaimed Sheboygan Bratwurst. Strangely, it’s a linchpin to the course ambiance, where golfers can find the spicy and juicy brats at the turn by the clubhouse’s backside.

For those with a hefty appetite, The Irish Pub in the clubhouse offers the Grilled Sheboygan Double Bratwurst, accentuated with spicy mustard, onions and sauerkraut on a hard roll. There is also a technique. 

Whistling Straits head chef Zeke Fitzgerald told golf.com last year that the secret lies in the grilling. He said they try to avoid flipping or rotating the brats so they don’t inhibit an addition of added flavor coming through. 

“You want to allow them to caramelize evenly without charring or burning them,” says Fitzgerald. 

The Mountain Lake (Lake Wales, Florida), a top-100 design tucked in a private community, just might win an eye-brow-raising award for one inconceivable menu choice. At least to the brain, it does not compute until the palette takes over.

At the 11th hole stands a halfway house. It is there a famished player can find its beloved grilled peanut butter and bacon sandwich. Rest assured, jelly is also an option. The item is also on the menu at its sister site, Fishers Island Club in Fishers Island, New York. And the creation works with how the bacon’s saltiness blends with the peanut butter’s sugar. 

As it stands, whether it’s an artful dish or an on-the-run meal, clubs acknowledge the more purposeful amenities equate to more reasons to return. 

“It makes a huge difference,” Ford says. “It’s why we come to work. We want to give [the golfers] the best all-around experience. To be able to do something different with our wings, it gives them something else to talk about.”

Perhaps Edgewood Country Club (River Vale, New Jersey) executive chef Anthony Villanueva put it best. He knows clubs continue to up the ante where food is concerned. 

“My favorite dish is the one I have yet to create,” he said several years ago. “I put pressure on myself to evolve.”