Don't let the neatly pinned polos and tapered pants fool you. This current era of golfers is the fittest and most athletic the game of golf has ever seen. From CrossFit training to traveling with personal chefs, reflexologists and mobile gyms, the game hasn't changed much, but the players teeing off now have evolved.
The PGA Tour season begins this week with The Players Championship. It is the sport's flagship event, bringing together the strongest field at one of the Tour's most iconic venues, the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Pete Vedra Beach, FL. With $25 million in prize money, the $4.5 million for the winner is the biggest payout on the tour.
With all the attention turning to the green, a new dining concept for players will also be introduced that focuses on nutrition. Leading this change are nutritionist Ryan Harmon and executive chef Mohamed Azhar. The tour worked with Harmon to gather feedback from players' last summer and rethink how they're being driven.
Azhar previously served as Executive and Corporate Chef for TPC Sawgrass and was recently named the first National Culinary Director for the entire TPC network, which consists of nine PGA Tour events, including the Players.
M&F spoke to the couple about their role in making sure players are doing their best with healthy options, without sacrificing good taste.
t your father's style of golf
Ryan Harmon began speaking to players on tour last summer to get an insight into what the various tournaments had to offer during the season and what they wanted to see. Since every athlete has different needs and goals, there was a lot of information to process. What was consistent in each of these conversations was the desire for quality food. And the list of players was long, from grass-fed and grass-raised beef and bison to homemade whole foods, nutrient-dense snacks, organic non-GMO sourdough baked fresh from a local bakery, to organic and seasonal local produce. and even homemade dressings - the tour pros' theme was about putting the best ingredients in their bodies.
"w more than ever, gamers understand that the foods they choose to train and compete have an impact on how well they train, recover and compete, and that good nutrition gives them a competitive edge," Harmon said . “The modern golfer travels with a performance chef who prepares and prepares most of their meals. They travel with a full performance team and it's a very complex operation. They also use food and nutrition to prevent injury and prolong their careers.”
Harmon previously worked for the Tampa Bay Rays, where she built and led her first-ever performance and nutrition program from 2017-2021. This program spanned Ray's minor league teams and her baseball academy in the Dominican Republic. It took her about a year to fully build and fully implement the program, but once it caught on, it seemed to pay off overall. The Rays were on the bottom of the AL East before she boarded. In their past three years, the team has finished first in the division twice and finished second once in three consecutive postseason appearances, including a World Series berth in 2020.
She cited being able to attend full-time as a reason the program worked. Had she only been in an advisory role and someone who would have been in and out of the clubhouse from time to time, the players probably would not have been able to build the confidence necessary to engage in what she was implementing. There's also no way a team that doesn't have the luxury of a large market budget would justify paying a premium for higher-quality food.
Harmon has been a part of all the ups and downs during her time with the Rays. Speaking at an intermediate level in Spanish, she was able to speak to many players in their native language, further cementing the trust factor within the ball club. She's also not new to the golf scene, having served as senior golf nutritionist for IMG Academy from 2012-2014. She has worked with athletes from almost every sport and looks forward to seeing the results of this new concept on the Tour.
"My goal is to ensure that the nutritional needs of every single player in this clubhouse are met," she said. "Whether it's new opportunities, diet preferences, help navigating a new diet, or energy level issues... I want to make sure all players feel their needs are being met 100 percent. This nutritional program is designed to do that, and it doesn't get any better than what we've been working on for the past nine months.”
Bring the dining experience up to date
Azhar joined the PGA Tour in 2017 as Senior Executive Chef at TPC Sawgrass. Given the high standing of the nine PGA Tour events on the TPC network, the food and beverage program had to be revised to achieve the same level of recognition. Azhar's aim was to offer a menu that is both modern and trendy, rivaling some of the best restaurants in the local markets of the Courses.
With the Players Championship being the tour's flagship event, its offerings will take center stage alongside the action.
"One of the most important things I started working on was making sure the Players Championship was one of the best dining experiences around," Azhar said. "In recent years we have also been working on renewing the player's dining concept."
During Players Week, Azhar will have his hands full overseeing the offerings for the 144 participating players, their families and guests visiting TPC Sawgrass in search of a unique Players Club experience. Azhar says those who eat there can expect to enjoy a nutritious meal that doesn't compromise on the great taste. This task is accomplished by obtaining the ingredients.
“Our meat, fish, eggs and produce are all locally sourced,” he says. "If I'm not able to source locally, then everything is grass-fed or organic. All fish are wild-caught because they have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which is important for anti-inflammatory properties in athletes. Our eggs come from grass-fed chickens because it increases nutrient density, and all of our fruit and veg is organic and locally grown.”
What's on the menu?
Born and raised in India, Azhar has also worked in different regions of the world and menus across the TPC network are directly inspired by his culinary journey. Some of his favorites on the menu include the TPC pretzel with roommate queso, the butter chicken with papaya chutney yogurt raita, the tinga nachos, and the superfood bowl, which includes a poached egg, crispy brown rice, kale pesto, and the option to add includes the protein of choice.
The menu changes seasonally to use the freshest local ingredients. Approximately 30 percent of the offerings remain as they are the best sellers and prompt guests to dine at the clubhouses. Given the effort and attention put into improving the food for the Players Championship, Azhar knows this will only be an added bonus for this weekend. But he's not shy about what he wants from whoever dines at TPC Sawgrass this weekend.
"I want them to say that this is one of the best meals I've ever had and I want to come back to eat that meal again," he says. "You want to hear that a lot, and I want to make sure players and their families say that."