The Sea Pines Resort - Chef in the kitchen plating food

Creating player menus for 2024 RBC Heritage takes months of planning

Feeding the world’s best golfers

Story By Karen Moraghan + Photo by Arno Dimmling

Ben Harris, resort executive chef at The Sea Pines Resort
Ben Harris, resort executive chef at The Sea Pines Resort, has witnessed a significant evolution in the dietary preferences of RBC Heritage players. Gone are the days of conventional comfort foods, as athletes now clamor for menus featuring organic non-GMOs, locally procured, grass-fed meats and wholesome whole foods.

A finely tuned machine requires the best fuel to achieve optimum performance, and today’s PGA Tour professionals are no different. When these top-tier athletes arrive on Hilton Head Island in mid-April for the RBC Heritage presented by Boeing, they will bring along swing coaches, trainers, caddies, families and, yes, even nutritionists.

For Ben Harris, resort executive chef at The Sea Pines Resort, player dining at this year’s event will be different than any of the previous editions. Since the PGA Tour designated the RBC Heritage as one of eight “Signature Events” for 2024, the player field will be considerably smaller at 70 to 80 players — and will be comprised of the game’s top performers from both last season and this one.

The other major change is what Harris deems a near-seismic shift in the players’ overall dietary requests.

“Universally, today’s players are looking for foods that best fuel their bodies,” Harris says. “Prior to 2024, player dining pretty much revolved around us providing good, healthy food. Consistency was particularly important to the players. But we’ve never seen the shift to healthier eating quite to this magnitude.”

It’s no secret that today’s golfers are the fittest and most athletic the game of golf has ever witnessed, and Harris and his team will be responding to their desires.

“It’s a big, big shift in the players’ diets away from comfort foods to organic non-GMOs (genetically modified organisms), locally sourced, grass-fed, grass-finished whole foods,” Harris says. “The players are looking for the best ingredients with foods that feed, recharge and replenish their bodies. And, personally, I would agree with them. This isn’t a mindset shift with just PGA Tour pros; we are witnessing this change in diners at Sea Pines desiring to eat healthier, non-processed foods.”

Harris says players are even watchful of the snacks they’re choosing, moving from the processed energy bars that once were popular to those dense in nutrients that the resort culinary team makes from scratch with organic grains, seeds and nuts. “They don’t want anything on the course that will weigh them down but will instead keep them nimble and alert,” he notes.

Breakfast will start as early as 5 a.m., with lunch running late into the afternoon, depending on when players finish their rounds. The contestants are on their own for dinner.

Power Salad with fruits and nuts - Sea Pines Resort
©The Sea Pines Resort/Maggie Washo

Offerings include an omelet station with a variety of healthy toppings, as well as smoothie options and fresh juices. An extensive salad bar will highlight the lunch menu with different lettuces and kales, lean proteins, locally sourced organic vegetables, fruits, numerous other healthy toppings, non-GMO breads and house-made dressings.

Harris says the PGA Tour’s mandated guidelines for player dining is backed by the science of nutrition.

“The tour has utilized national nutritionists to separate food into two main categories: pre-round and post-round. The focus is on fueling before the round and recharging the body after the round,” Harris says. “Pre-round menus have lower fats and higher carbohydrates for more energy on demand, while the recovery menus are higher protein with a bit more fats that metabolize more slowly.”

To ensure they are fully prepared, Harris and his team have been in frequent communication with Mohammad Azhar, national director of culinary operations for the PGA Tour. Aaron Cox, executive chef of culinary operations for The Sea Pines Resort, even traveled to Southern California to watch and collaborate with Azhar during February’s Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club. 

“Mohammad has been invaluable, just incredible,” Harris says. “It was great for Aaron to see firsthand how they handled player dining at an event that, like ours, is a Signature Event.”

“The fun aspect in all this,” he continues, “has been using science to serve as the backbone of the menus and then having our team of chefs working closely with the Tour and making the food taste great. We love that the players and caddies are excited to enjoy our food and beverage every year.”

The Sea Pines Resort’s catering and conference service teams also have played an instrumental role in prepping for this year’s tournament. Melissa Katon, the resort’s associate director of conference services, has worked diligently to ensure the meals are 100 percent compliant with PGA Tour guidelines by collaborating with sponsors and chefs to curate the week’s menus. Come Monday, April 15, all the many weeks of planning will give way to on-site preparation of the food and beverages.

Salmon plated with veggies - Sea Pines Resort
The PGA Tour’s mandated guidelines for player dining categorize meals into two essential groups: pre-round and post-round. The primary emphasis lies in fueling the body before the round and replenishing it afterward. Pre-round menus are designed with lower fat content and higher carbohydrates to provide instant energy for optimal performance on demand. Conversely, post-round menus prioritize higher protein intake alongside a moderated fat content, facilitating a slower metabolic process aimed at effective recovery and sustained muscle repair. ©The Sea Pines Resort/Maggie Washo

And as he has done in the past for the RBC Heritage, Harris will use his hospitality industry contacts to pull in other executive chefs from around the country to assist in player dining at all the resort’s restaurants as more than 100,000 spectators from across the U.S. and the globe descend on Hilton Head Island for the popular event that has been staged annually since 1969.

“It’s a huge undertaking, and it gets bigger ever year,” he says. “But experience has taught us to be organized and always to be prepared everywhere. This week is circled on our calendars; we really look forward to it, and it’s always a great deal of fun.”

Of course, it’s also a lot of work, and Harris, who joined The Sea Pines Resort six years ago, says he won’t be able to relax until the second week after the tournament is completed — when the resort is fully returned to its regular routine. Only then can he afford to decompress.

“We first put our world here back together,” he says, “and then it’s an optimum time for a vacation!”

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