Play anytime, anywhere. Even the earliest golf simulators made this promise. Now, as technology rapidly advances and accessibility allows players to bring the game inside their clubs and home garages, golfers can experience a full round of golf without ever leaving a room.
With the ability to play true-to-life courses around the world in any season and in record time, simulators are embraced as a legitimate, immersive way to play and practice golf today. In this way, the sport has evolved, from its earliest days of pebble-knocking in sand dunes to today’s LED-lighted, high-tech golf entertainment venues.
The same can be said for club dining: Things change over time, but the essence remains the same. Time-honored dinner dances and everyday social activities have evolved into physically distanced gatherings and online meetups. Delivery services and curbside pickup offer convenience, and new technology saves time and effort. As the familiar dining experiences at clubs and resorts evolve, food and beverage prevail as a reliable medium for human connection and experience.
“The evolution of dining at clubs is underway,” said Ed Doyle, president of RealFood, a hospitality strategy and design firm and division of Troon. “Clubs are stretching the notions of what’s possible in this unique moment in our industry, and we are uncovering hidden potential. Clubs are embracing the necessary COVID-19 pivot as more than a challenge but as an opportunity to recast and redefine the future of club dining.”
At Reunion Golf and Country Club in Madison, Miss., members embrace the idea of loving where you live. Rich with pristine details and natural beauty, this exclusive Madison County residential development was master-planned to include parks, recreation, open spaces, nature trails, and more than 400 acres of lakes. Led by General Manager Jim Creighton, the staff at Reunion has been conjuring up meaningful ways to deliver magical and transportive social and dining experiences for its members.
“The club has to go beyond what the club is … or has been,” Creighton said about Reunion’s efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. “As we have been planning and executing experiences for our members in the current environment, we know we have to be the place our members want to go, where they feel safe, but also where they can have fun and connect with other members.”
Introduced in June 2020, the Reunion Retreat program was designed to offer members social opportunities to gather close to home, in a safe, population controlled setting, all while transporting them to different places around the world through thoughtfully curated food and drink, ambiance, and entertainment. For each event a member participates in, he or she receives a stamp for an issued Reunion Retreat passport, and once a certain number of stamps are collected, the member is entered for an as-yet-to-be-revealed grand prize.
The Reunion Retreat program features four passport events each month. The New Orleans-themed “Let the Good Times Roll” event promises sake and beer pairings while learning steps to do-it yourself sushi. Members are introduced to new wines from distinctive geographic areas during wine-focused events, including “Sips of Spain” and “Night in Napa,” as well as a “Date Down Under” wine event featuring Australian and New Zealand wine pairings. Other member favorite Retreat events include mixology classes, drive-in movie nights, bingo, and tailgate barbecues.
The summer and fall Reunion Retreat events are planned under local health and safety guidelines, with the majority being held outdoors. Yet despite reduced contact and enhanced health precautions, the events have earned a positive response from the membership, many selling out in less than a day from opening reservations.
Near Southport, North Carolina, club members are enjoying a different kind of transportive fare. A top private residential golf community in the coastal Carolinas, The Clubs at St. James recently introduced a new dining experience — a roaming neighborhood food truck. Affectionately (and appropriately) named Slider Provider, the motorized kitchen serves up tiny burgers and sandwiches in a big way. The menu hits on all the right taste buds, with a selection of sliders to please just about anyone: a classic cheeseburger slider, blackened tuna slider, quinoa black bean burger, buffalo chicken slider, and mini Nathan’s hotdogs in suitably sized buns.
Incorporated as its own town in 1999, St. James is home to almost 7,000 residents. The gated community offers members a variety of social and recreation amenities, including 81 holes of golf, tennis and pickleball courts, fitness centers, swimming pools, parks, a full-service marina, and five restaurants. The Slider Provider launched as the newest amenity this summer with a spectacular 11-day, eight-stop neighborhood tour around the town of St. James. The “drive thru tour” was posted to member communications, and members were invited to meet the food truck in their vehicles for a complimentary slider.
“The member response has been extremely positive,” said Lindsey Krause, food and beverage director at The Clubs at St. James. “Troon and the staff at The Clubs really wanted to do something special to thank the members for their support during the time we have not been able to operate normally. This tour was a perfect way to spread the sentiment and share the newest dining outlet with our members.”
For the convenience of members, the Slider Provider will regularly visit the community pools that do not have food and beverage service. In the future, members will also be able to schedule the food truck for catered private weddings and events at their homes or at function facilities on property.
As new trends and behaviors emerge in clubs around the world, the true essence of club dining remains the same: connection, community, and happiness. With a picture-perfect setting, culinary brilliance, and a bit of imagination, the possibilities are (r)evolutionary.