Considering it was the cocktail hour in Champagne, France, I had no problem justifying sipping a bit of the bubbly a continent away at 8:00 a.m. as I stood adjacent a prestigious first tee box that would send chills up any golfer’s spine, no matter what time of day. Typically, not my normal wake-up beverage but, after all, this was not just any golf course and I was only fulfilling my obligation along with a large gathering toasting the start of a four-day gourmet orgy.
After juicing my chops and nibbling my way through the breakfast spread, it was tee time for an 18-course multidimensional feast and the kickoff to an overindulging, belt-loosening weekend of culinary activities at the 6th annual Pebble Beach Food & Wine extravaganza.
Over the past 25 years, I’ve strolled Monterey Peninsula fairways during professional tournaments watching many of the greatest names in golf. But that pales in comparison to being with clubs in hand playing in the Celebrity Chef & Winemaker Golf Tournament, stopping at the Driscoll’s fruit stand erected next to the 18th hole cart-park to pick up a bowl of fresh berries and then prancing over to the sea wall-bearing tee box to belt my first drive of the day at what many consider the most famous home hole in golf.
Had I the honor of starting my round with a far less gentile tee shot at, say, golf’s most famous 7th hole, a downhill, cliffhanger par 3, I would have been granted the choice of spiked coffee drinks provided at the ocean-viewing tent hosted by The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. An opening round tee shot at the 5th tee box would have earned me a tummy full of mouth-watering oysters or fresh tuna jetted overnight from Asia. Of course, I can still taste the mini pulled pork sandwiches being served along the 9th fairway. Eventually, I did take advantage of all the nutritious pit stops but, seriously, is eating, drinking and being merry any way to play golf at Pebble Beach? Well, this was a weekend culinary celebration and not the U.S. Open so, can you spell a-b-s-o-l-u-t-e-l-y?
It’s no secret he synergies between food, libations and golf are embedded into the game’s culture and as inseparable as tailgating and football but when these ingredients are incorporated into one stellar event with legendary food and wine talent cooking and pouring non-stop throughout the weekend at a world-class resort, it is the Super Bowl of 19th holes!
Food and wine events at chic locales are nothing new. The Scottsdale Culinary Festival has been going strong since 1978. The Food and Wine Classic in Aspen is 32 years running. South Beach has been hosting theirs for 13 years, plus other popular foodie towns such as Las Vegas, Austin and New Orleans that have jumped on the epicurean festival bandwagon. The list goes on.
Recognizing the breed of clientele attracted to these extravaganzas, Pebble Beach Resorts is not the only luxury property to exploit their golf asset to lure hedonistic golfers. Now 32 years old, the Kapalua Wine & Food Festival on Maui, in partnership with the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, introduced a golf tournament to their schedule on the Bay Course a dozen years ago and three years ago south of the border, St. Regis Punta Mita Resort’s General Manager, Carl Emberson, initiated the Gourmet & Golf Classic by taking advantage of two Jack Nicklaus-designed courses and inviting home-country golf heroine, Lorena Ochoa, to conduct a golf clinic.
But guess what? Even some of the culinary wizards and grape Einsteins love to pack golf clubs along with their pots and corkscrew and many of these gourmet bigwigs are highly coveted commodities used to strengthen the event’s notoriety. As a result, they receive multiple invites throughout the year but with their own business to operate, there are only so many they can attend and the added bonus of a grade-A golf course can be the determining tipping point.
Known to millions as the star of “Iron Chef,” Chef Masaharu Morimoto participates at six or seven Food & Wine events per year and, although his confidence level on the fairways may not be comparable to the kitchen, he is just as passionate about what he can to do with the irons in his golf bag.
“I love golf more than any other sport,” says Morimoto. “Traveling for events is sometimes a bit stressful because I have to prepare for a demo outside my restaurant kitchen and also attend other events at night. If I can play golf, I can get rid of a lot of that stress.”
Entrepreneur David Bernahl II who, along with his partner, Robert Weakley, at Monterey-based Costal Luxury Management, founded the Pebble Beach Food & Wine (they also run the Los Angeles Food & Wine), contend that golf is an important component to the event but when more than 8,000 people attend the four-day feast in the Del Monte Forest with the opportunity for only 144 golfers to compete and pick up cooking tips while playing alongside some of the brand names of the culinary universe like Morimoto, Thomas Keller or Daniel Boulud, one doesn’t need to be a scratch golfer to guess how quickly that tee sheet fills up.
The Pebble Beach Food & Wine gets down to business with an opening evening reception at The Inn at Spanish Bay by filling every available inch of space (except in the guest rooms) where attendees have access to over 200 wine tasting stations, including many of the industry’s heavy hitters along with a fine selection of lesser known choices, and 23 of the weekend’s top chefs offering bite-size samples showcasing their culinary skills.
That was just the first night. The sardine-clustered affair was merely an appetizer for the weekend-long menu of cooking demonstrations, wine seminars and dining experiences, any of which would be a welcome break from my poor-man meals at home. Especially the “interactive dinner” with telegenic food personality Guy Fieri cooking dishes like lobster ravioli, bucatini carbonara and cilantro wrapped prawns, each paired with premier wines. That was a meal I’d prepare about as often as receiving an invite to play Augusta National!
With a far more intimate crowd (maximum 350) attending the Gourmet & Golf Classic, The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort and next-door neighbor, Four Seasons Punta Mita Resort, made grand use of their seductive beach setting for the opening night soirée, allowing for many guests to stroll barefoot in the sand sampling local cuisine prepared by acclaimed domestic and international chefs. Of course, “when in Rome,” a few swigs of the indigenous tequila helped cleanse the palate.
“This is an unprecedented extravaganza of culinary talent and sensational golf, all taking place in one of the most alluring settings in the world and it has become a proud tradition we’re honored to host for years to come,” says Emberson.
Now that I’ve experienced being holed up for a few days at posh golf resorts at exotic venues swinging around the fairways of life and indulging incessantly in epicurean heaven, I’ll know next time to begin my diet and sobriety regimen well in advance. And pack a few doggie bags.
Call it the spring swing for well-heeled foodies, or perhaps, the Golden Triangle of Gourmet Golf. If you view the world;s best chefs in the same league as Tiger and Phil and love to spice your next great meal with some of the best golf the Western Hemisphere has to offer, these festivals are right up your fairway.
After six years, the Pebble Beach Food & Wine has evolved into the West Coast’s premier epicurean lifestyle event attracting 250 wineries, 75 celebrity chefs along with 8,000 guests attending a variety of wine seminars, cooking demonstrations, dining experiences and Grand Tasting events at venues throughout Pebble Beach Resorts. The Celebrity Chef & Winemakers Golf Tournament is contested the first day at Pebble Beach Golf Links. Ticket prices per person range from $100 for a single event to $4,750 for a VIP four-day pass, which provides access to all events and private after-hour parties with the chefs and winemakers. The next servings take place April 10-13, 2014.
This three-year old extravaganza takes place at The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort, the crown jewel of Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit, just north of Puerto Vallarta. The event includes an impressive roster of international chefs, wine specialists, and tequila masters showcasing their talents for 350 guests throughout four days. For golf-minded attendees, a two-day tournament is contested on Jack Nicklaus’ two signature courses, Bahia and Pacifico, with acclaimed Mexican golfer, Lorena Ochoa, participating in the weekend festivities. Packages starting at $1,515 per person include: three nights accommodations; golf tournament or two massages; invite to all event activities (lunches, dinners, wine and tequila tastings; farewell brunch and airport transfers. The 4th annual edition takes place April 3-6, 2014.
On June 12-15, 2014, the 33rd annual Kapalua Wine & Food Festival will continue its streak as the longest running food and wine event in the USA. Up to 2,000-3,000 oenophiles, gourmands and enthusiasts of the good life will convene on the island’s western shores and, with Kapalua Resort as a backdrop and The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua as the host hotel, will feast on the talents of celebrity chefs, including a strong Maui contingent, and renowned winemakers. Throughout the weekend, a variety of gourmet demonstrations, wine tastings, interactive seminars and The Grand Tasting – Kapalua Style provide an impressive schedule of experiences at this high-caliber connoisseur’s event. Not to be missed are perennial favorites such as the Festival Golf Tournament, played on Kapalua’s Bay Course, Festival Winemaker’s Dinner and the Kapalua Seafood Festival featuring 15 of Maui’s finest restaurants.
(story first published in the January/February 2014 issue of Golf Getaways)