Let’s face it. There isn’t terribly much danger of spectators at The Open going hungry at Royal Lytham & St Annes. In fact, over the four days of the Championships it is projected that assorted sustenance consumed will include – ready? – 86,000 pints of beer, 11,000 chocolate bars, 33,000 portions of fish and chips, 40,000 cups of tea and coffee and 20,000 sandwiches…although thankfully not all by one person.
But keen-eyed observers will notice that there is another key group of people whose nutritional needs must also be met – the players themselves. One member of the team on whose shoulders this rests is Joe King, Regional Commercial Manager at Sodexo Prestige Scotland, the caterers to The Open – and before you ask, yes, we know Royal Lytham is in England… At every Open, no matter where it is, the Sodexo Prestige Scotland look after the players and the R&A, while their English counterparts take care of the public catering and patrons’ hospitality (that is, guests of Rolex, Doosan, MasterCard, Ralph Lauren, Nikon and Mercedes Benz).
It’s a big job. Joe and ten colleagues arrived in Lytham nine days ahead of the Championship to begin their preparations. By the first practice day 25 of them were in place, and when play proper commenced 40 staff were on hand, including six chefs. During the tournament the chefs arrive each morning at 3am, as the players’ restaurant opens at 5.30 in readiness for the earliest tee-offs. It closes at 10pm, and the last staff leave about an hour after that.
The players’ area is the Competitors’ Family Marquee near the Clubhouse. For the first two days of play, catering is provided for 600 people. This allows not only for the 156 players in the draw but also the fact that each can bring three guests. Some elasticity is always factored in to allow for extra visitors, not to mention hungry mouths asking for more.
“Including practice days, over the week we reckon on serving 1,500 hot breakfasts and 3,500 continental breakfasts,” says King. “That would include 6,000 bacon rashers, 1,500 sausages, 1,500 eggs, 3,500 croissants and pastries and 1,500 smoothies. Then there will be 4,800 dinners – typically beef casserole, or chicken and rice, along with a vegetarian option, a pasta bar and a salad bar – all washed down with 800 bottles of vitamin water and 400 bottles of Coca Cola. We also order 300lbs of bananas.”
“Players always like being in the marquee because they feel so relaxed – there’s a sofa area where they can sit with their families and chat, and there are lots of small children having a good time.”
“We make a point of trying to use the same staff every year in the players’ area so that they feel at home, and it works. When Tom Watson arrived he gave a big hug to the manager Kirsty Hinton.”Also within Joe’s remit are the two R&A dining areas, the Trophy Room and the Captain’s Suite, both right by the chipping green. The Trophy Room – where, as the name suggests, the Claret Jug is on display every day – caters for 100 of the R&A’s guests daily, while the Captain’s Suite hosts another 60. So throughout the Championship, diners in the Trophy Room will get through 40 lobsters, 100 ribs of beef and 190 beef Wellingtons. In the Captain’s Suite the menu over the course of the tournament includes smoked trout, whisky-cured salmon and a tian of crab and crayfish. (For those of you wondering, “tian” comes from the Chinese word for heaven, and is a French speciality made from a composite of cooked ingredients. Impress your friends with this knowledge.)
It all sounds pretty marvellous. But on the right day, if you’re on the move in the gallery, then one of those 33,000 portions of fish and chips can really hit the spot.