OAK CLUSTER: Oak Hill Country Club, a historic golf course dating to 1901, plays host to this week’s 2023 PGA Championship. Patina Restaurant Group holds the food service contract. (Getty Images)

Food service in golf is temporary thing

Eric Babcook has taken his talents from the frozen tundra at Lambeau Field to the lush fairways at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York, site of this week’s 2023 PGA Championship in men’s golf.

Babcook is general manager of PGA of America events for Patina Restaurant Group, which is part of Delaware North. He’s held that position since October 2020, after Patina signed a five-year deal with the PGA to run food service at multiple events. 

The firm replaced Levy as the food provider. In addition to the PGA Championship, the agreement covers the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship and the 2025 Ryder Cup, taking place at Bethpage Black in Long Island, New York.

Babcook came over from DNC Sportservice, where he spent about 10 years working at Lambeau, Miller Park, now American Family Field, and some Arizona spring training parks. For one year, prior to the pandemic, he filled the role of corporate director of brands and concepts before shifting to Patina.

“I’m familiar with golf and have been to many events, but never worked one,” Babcook said. “It was like drinking through a fire hose for learning the operation, but now almost three years in, I’m well versed in it.”

Eric Babcook

The logistics of providing food service and premium hospitality for major golf events is totally different than NFL and Major League Baseball games. The only similarity is feeding the fans, Babcook said.

At Oak Hill County Club, the tournament starts today after three days of practice rounds. The event is sold out with 225,000 people expected over the course of the week, with the biggest crowd expected on Saturday. Face value general admission pricing runs $55 a person for Monday’s practice round to $215 a person for Sunday’s championship round.

Oak Hill , a 36-hole course which opened in 1901, has a rich history in professional golf. Jack Nicklaus won his last PGA Championship at the course in 1980. The course last played host to the event in 2013. All told, Oak Hill has held seven majors on the PGA Tour, including this year’s tournament. Its execution of elite golf events is on par with Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters, Babcook said.

“From an infrastructure standpoint, Oak Hill is first class,” he said. “As we’re building our temporary food service environment, there has been a strong emphasis on taking care of the grounds and staying off the grass when necessary.”

It’s a fine line to follow. Patina Restaurant Group’s operation is 100% temporary and built from the ground up, extending from the seven concessions markets with walk-in coolers to the 27 double-decker suites, 34 corporate chalets and Club PGA, a new premium concept with 850-person capacity, situated on the sixth hole.

“Golf is truly a logistics event with seven days of play,” Babcook said. “We have to understand how we’re going to get water, power and propane to all locations. There’s no brick and mortar.”

CLUB WITHIN CLUB: Club PGA, a new concept with 850-person capacity, is part of Patina’s premium hospitality. (Courtesy vendor)

For the PGA Championship, Patina installed six production kitchens with grills and ovens to support the main kitchen at its compound, to ensure foods stay hot and cold, depending on the item.  

The suites accommodate 20 to 40 people. The chalets are bigger, holding 50 to 350 people, with customized branding for the firms buying them, whether it’s Cadillac or Rolex, Babcook said. 

The premium products, installed by a company called Arena, are all tented, conditioned structures set up around the vintage course. 

On its own, DNC bought a chalet to host clients across all lines of its business. The Green Bay Packers will be among their guests at the tournament.

Another difference compared with arena and stadium events is the event’s duration. Fans arrive early and stay for the better part of the day. As a result, they get pretty hungry. At the premium level, Patina Restaurant Group will prepare breakfast, lunch and a snack period for those purchasing all-inclusive ticket packages that cover the cost of food and drink, including alcohol.

One new ticket option for the PGA Championship, Champ Plus, is an upgraded general admission package that covers the cost of entrees, snacks and non-alcoholic beverages. Those ticket holders pay out of pocket for beer, wine and spirits. A check of the secondary market, administered by On Location, a PGA partner, listed tickets from $194 for Thursday to $209 for Sunday. Those prices are for the Champ Plus ticket package, according to On Location’s website.

Patina Restaurant Group has 750 people working the tournament, including 110 managers and multiple executive chefs across all DNC divisions. A dozen nonprofits from Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse have 150 volunteers on site handling the cashless transaction process. Sportservice has relationships with those groups that work Buffalo Bills and Sabres games, where the hometown vendor holds the contract at their venues.

After this week’s tournament, Babcook immediately turns his attention to next week’s Senior PGA championship, set for Fields Ranch East in Frisco, a north Dallas suburb, plus site visits to Bethpage Black in preparation for the Ryder Cup, and Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, where the 2024 PGA Championship is scheduled.

“Once in a great while, I get to play some golf,” he said.