Don’t let the neatly tucked polos and tapered slacks fool you. This current era of golfers are the fittest and most athletic the game of golf has 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 kicks into full gear this week with The Players Championship. It’s the sport’s flagship event that combines the strongest field at one of the tour’s most iconic venues in The Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. With a purse of $25 million, the $4.5 million for the winner is the biggest payout on the tour.
With all the attention being focused on the green, a new player dining concept focused on nutrition will also be unveiled. At the front of this change are performance dietitian Ryan Harmon and Chef Mohamed Azhar. The tour worked with Harmon to gather feedback from the player’s last summer to rethink how they are fueled.
Previously working as an executive and corporate chef for TPC Sawgrass, Azhar was recently named as the first National Culinary Director for the entire TPC Network, which consists of nine PGA Tour events, including the Players.
M&F spoke with the pair on their role in helping assure the players are at their best with healthy options without sacrificing great taste.
Not Your Father’s Way of Golf
Ryan Harmon began speaking with players on the tour last summer to gain their insight into the offerings at the different tournaments during the season and what they wanted to see. With each athlete having different needs and goals, there was a lot of information to take in. What was consistent in each of those conversations was the desire for high-quality foods. And the players’ list was long, from grass-fed and grass-finished beef and bison to house-made whole-foods, nutrient-dense snacks, organic non-GMO sourdough freshly baked from a local bakery to organic and seasonal local produce, and even house-made dressings—the tour pros’ theme centered around putting the best ingredients in their bodies.
“More than ever, players today understand the foods they choose for training and competition affect how well they can train, recover, compete, and good nutrition provides a competitive advantage for them,” Harmon said. “The modern golfer is traveling with a performance chef who is making and preparing most of their meals. They travel with a full performance team and it’s a very complex operation. They’re also using food and nutrition to help prevent injuries and extend their careers.”
Harmon had previously worked for the Tampa Bay Rays, where she built and headed their first-ever performance and nutrition program from 2017-2021. That program spanned across the Ray’s minor league teams and their baseball academy in the Dominican Republic. It took her about a year to fully build the program out and implement it fully but once it caught on, it seemed to pay dividends in the standings. The Rays were at the bottom of the AL East before she came aboard. In her last three years, the team finished first in the division twice and second once for three consecutive postseason appearances, including a World Series berth in 2020.
She credited the time being present full-time as the reason the program was able to work. Had she just been in a consultant role and been someone that popped in and out of the clubhouse from time to time, it’s unlikely the players would have been able to establish the trust needed to buy into what she was implementing. There would also be no way a team that doesn’t have the luxury of a big market budget would justify spending a premium on higher-quality foods.
Harmon was a part of all the highs and lows during her time with the Rays. In speaking Spanish at an intermediate level, she was able to speak with a lot of the players in their native language, which further cemented the trust factor within the ball club. She also isn’t new to the golf scene having worked as the head golf sports dietician for IMG Academy from 2012-14. She’s worked with athletes across almost every sport and is looking forward to seeing the results of this new concept across the tour.
“My goal is to make sure every single player in that clubhouse’s nutritional needs are being met,” she said. “Whether that’s fueling opportunities, food preferences, help to navigate a new diet, struggles with energy levels…I want to make sure all of the players feel like their needs are being met 100 percent. This nutrition program is built to do that and it doesn’t get any better than what we’ve been working on for the last nine months.”
Bringing The Dining Experience Up to Par
Azhar came aboard the PGA Tour in 2017 as the senior executive chef at TPC Sawgrass. Given how highly regarded the nine PGA Tour events in the TPC network are, the food and beverage program was in need of some reimagining to reach the same acclaim. Azhar’s goal has been to feature a menu that is both cutting edge, trendy, and able to rival some of the top restaurants in the local markets of the courses.
With the Players Championship being the tour’s flagship event, his offerings will take center stage along with the action.
“One of the main things I started working on is making sure the Players Championship is one of the best dining experiences in the area,” Azhar said. “The last few years, we’ve been working on innovating the Players dining concept as well.”
During Players week, Azhar will have his hands full overseeing the offerings to the 144 competing players as well as their families and guest visiting TPC Sawgrass seeking a unique Players Club experience. Azhar says that those dining in can expect to enjoy a nutritious meal that doesn’t compromise great taste. That task is achieved from the sourcing of the ingredients.
“Our meat, fish, eggs, and produce are all locally sourced,” he says. “If I’m not able to source locally, then it’s all grass-fed or organic. All the fish is wild caught because they have a higher level of fatty omega-3 acids and that’s important for anti-inflammatory properties with athletes. Our eggs are from pastured hens because that boosts nutrient density, and all of our fruits and vegetables are organic and grown locally.”
What’s on the Menu?
Born and raised in India, Azhar has also worked in various regions of the world and the menus across the TPC network draw direct inspiration from his culinary journey. Some of his favorites on the menu are the TPC Pretzel with housemate queso, the butter chicken with papaya chutney yogurt raita, the Tinga nachos, and the superfood bowl that includes a poached egg, crispy brown rice, kale pesto, and the option to add the protein of choice.
The menu changes seasonally to make to utilize the freshest local ingredients. About 30 percent of the offerings remain as they are the best sellers and reasons guest return to dine at the clubhouses. Given the effort and attention on improving the dining for the Players Championship, Azhar knows it will just be an added bonus to this weekend. But he isn’t shy about what he wants from each person who will be dining at TPC Sawgrass this weekend.
“I want them to say this is one of the best meals I ever had and I want to come back to have this meal again,” he says. “You want to hear that often and I want to make sure players and their families say that.”