Local eatery JJ’s Red Hots, one of Levy’s highest-grossing locations for the 2016 Wells Fargo Championship, returned for the 2018 edition last weekend. (Don Muret)
Tiger Woods’ putting game fell below par last weekend at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, N.C., but for sports concessionaire Levy, his presence alone was a winning formula.
When Woods competes in a PGA event where Levy runs the food, sales increase by up to 50 percent, said Dustin Atty, Levy’s on-site director of operations.
At this year’s Wells Fargo Championship May 3-6, Levy posted a double-digit increase in sales compared with 2016, the last time Quail Hollow Golf Club had the event, company officials said. They did not disclose a specific number. (The 2017 Wells Fargo Championship was held in Wilmington, N.C., while the Charlotte course prepared for the PGA Championship).
It’s been a while since Levy’s golf division, which runs the food at 38 PGA Tour events, could track the Tiger trend in Charlotte. This year marked Woods’ first appearance in six years at Quail Hollow. Woods was among the final touring pros to make the cut and he finished in a tie for 55th place overall.
Woods announced he would play at the Wells Fargo a few days before the event started. That gave Levy time to set up 40 more points of sale around the golf course. All told, Levy had 180 points of sale for the tournament, Atty said.
“We know he’s definitely going to drive business and crowds,” he said.
The thing is, those 90 points of sale situated on the front nine doesn’t help much if Woods is playing the back nine, said George Scott, Levy’s division president. Working with E15, Levy’s data analytics group, the vendor has designed more concession stands in golf as grab-and-go operations for greater efficiency after taking a closer look at transactions per hour, Scott said. The quicker PGA patrons can get their food, the quicker they can find Tiger and their other favorite golfers.
“It’s almost like a gas station/convenience store,” he said. “For the coolers, we backload them from the rear. We have the hot food set up on another side, which keeps the production going seamlessly and keeps the lines flowing.”
At Quail Hollow, JJ’s Red Hots, a Charlotte hot dog eatery, set up a grab-and-go location on Event Hill, nestled between the 18th green and the 10th tee. Walking inside a tent, customers passed by warming racks where they could pick up one of four hot dog options with various toppings before passing a cooler filled with beer, soda and bottled water.
JJ’s Red Hots is in its second year with the Wells Fargo Championship. It was one of Levy’s highest-grossing locations for the 2016 event and drew tremendous fan feedback, Atty said. Chick-fil-A, meanwhile, was a new addition this year, replacing Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ’n Biscuits.
Food trucks were also new this year. Five trucks stationed along the Green Mile Village, situated between the 16th and 18th fairways, offered tacos, barbecue, sliders, ice cream and hibachi grilled items. Pro Links Sports, the tournament’s new operator, is a big advocate of food trucks, and Levy tested them in Charlotte before potentially increasing the number of trucks in 2019, Scott said.
“A lot of times when you approach some of these local restaurateurs, they don’t have the resources to come out here, because when you take all this away, it’s just grass and trees,” Scott said. “The food trucks are a natural fit to come into this environment and there’s not a lot of upfront cost for those operators.”
Digging deeper into data, Levy has identified two distinct groups of PGA spectators. There are those whose average age is 55 and have been golf enthusiasts for many years. They tend to “dwell” in one spot for most of the day as the players come around the course, Scott said. Conversely, many younger golf fans, average age 35, fall in the “transient” category. They gravitate to various destinations on the course to sample craft beers and visit the wine bars, he said.
“One of the things that intrigues us about golf is the fans are changing,” he said. “It’s a blend to create those different experiences for both those segments. The food trucks resonate with the younger crowd, along with the craft beers. The 55 crowd that has been into golf for some time enjoy our premium areas with air-conditioned spaces.”
In both cases, the demographics are similar to those fans attending NBA games at Spectrum Center, home of the Charlotte Hornets and a Levy account, Scott said.
Recently, though, Levy has found a third trend, PGA patrons who want to experience the entire course. They may be casual fans without a favorite player to follow. They’re wandering the property with no specific plan, Scott said.
“That’s the beauty of operating food at 38 tournaments across the country, to be able to collect that data and be proactive on the planning side,” he said. “Our clients do in-house surveys and we rely on point-of-sale data. We’ll know if the taco food truck is a hit based on how it compares to the rest of the course and (whether we should) bring it back next year.”