How much can PGA Championship fans eat? We’re about to find out.
PGA Championship ticketholders may think twice before lining up for an $18 beer this week at Southern Hills. Whether to grab a beer brat, pulled pork sandwich or butcher’s grind cheeseburger, however, will be a decidedly less taxing decision.
That’s because, in what is thought to be a first for a sporting event of this size, all concession food and non-alcoholic beverages at the 104th PGA are included in the price of admission for fans attending the tournament rounds.
That price isn’t cheap — $195, or a nearly 40 percent mark-up from what the PGA of America charged at Kiawah last year — but it will guarantee that fans won’t go hungry or thirsty.
“If you wanted to have a hot-dog eating contest with your buddy, you could do that,” Bryan Karns, the PGA Championship director, joked in a telephone interview Wednesday morning.
Quips aside, the PGA of America’s decision to move to an all-you-can-eat model was not taken lightly. The idea was proposed by food-service management company Delaware North, with whom the PGA of America has partnered to handle its food-and-beverage offerings the last two years. Delaware North is deep in the sports space, managing concessions at venues such as Lambeau Field, Busch Stadium and MetLife Stadium, and it saw the PGA Championship as an ideal opportunity to extend the offering into golf.
“No one has done it to this level,” Karns said. “But the [sports] industry as a whole is headed this way.”
Karns said the model should make for a fun experience for spectators, while also helping to keep food fresh and lines moving quickly. “We felt like that’s an incredible feeling, particularly on Thursday and Friday when it’s going to be warm out here, for people just to be able to go, You know, I want a water. Instead of having to go up there to reach into their pockets, it’s already taken care of.”
Here’s how it will work: When fans come through the main gates at Southern Hills, they’ll be given a bracelet that will grant them all-you-can-eat-and-drink privileges at the half-dozen or so concessions around the property. Upon each concession visit, fans can request two entrées (hot dogs, burgers, catfish po-boys, etc.), two sides (chips, pretzels, etc.) and two non-alcoholic drinks (water, soda, etc.). Then, should they choose, they can do it all over again. And again. And again.
How much fans will, in fact, consume this week is a bit of a mystery, but the PGA of America says its shelves and fridges are adequately stocked.
“We planned for one and half times the normal behavior,” Karns said. “So if I’d normally go and get one burger and a bag of chips, probably now I’m going to go and get at least two and maybe three bags of chips. We have a game plan in terms of what we anticipate, and we’re closely monitoring that. There’s absolutely going to be some learnings from this week, but I think we’ve overprepared. We really want this be a success the first year so anywhere we were concerned we’d be under, we’ve just added more.”
Karns added that Delaware North and its subsidiaries have “tremendous amounts of data on consumer behavior,” as does the PGA of America from conducting its own events. “We know how much the average person spent, what they spent, what the popular items were, and then we levered that against other venues like Lambeau Field that have some level of all-inclusive and looked at how is the consumer behavior there.”
The price of admission is steep by golf tournament standards, but Karns said the nearly $200 fee is “still accessible” and not unreasonable given what’s on offer paired with all the increases in operational costs the PGA of America has had to absorb on account of inflation. “It’s still less than $200 to come out to a major championship that in a place like Tulsa is viewed as a once-in-a-decade opportunity,” he said.
Karns said the PGA of America has worked hard to alert ticketholders of the all-inclusive element but that given the late move to Southern Hills as the venue for this PGA Championship and the scramble to get all the pieces in place quickly, it’s possible that some fans will arrive on site unaware of the baked-in perk.
“I think a lot of people are going to show and go, Wait, I can do what?” Karns said.