February 26, 2008

Eating À La Tour

The best of the best for the players, better than good for the sponsors, not too bad for the fans, so-so for the caddies... And then there's the press

Everyone knows there's no free lunch on the PGA Tour. Now that the International is kaput, there aren't even any free milkshakes. What people don't know is that there is a definite food hierarchy when the traveling circus comes to town.

At the apex of the pyramid are the players. The Sultan of Brunei doesn't eat this well. If you read all the golf magazines, you are no doubt persuaded the modern golfer is a slave to nutrition, one step removed from an exclusive diet of brown rice, millet and buckwheat, a grower of organic soy in his garden in Isleworth. In fact, the players' clubhouse dining room resembles Robin Hood's feast in Sherwood Forest. Celebrity chefs prepare roast beef from cows transported to market on downy pillows, while the perfumed and waxed skins of the fresh fruit have never heard a harsh word, much less a bump or bruise. The plates are the finest Wedgwood, the goblets Waterford crystal and the silver cutlery individually packaged in their grandmother's pattern. The tables are covered in Irish linen and the candles give off the slightest scent of a pine forest, just enough to make them feel as though their ball has come to rest in the light rough.

One step below are the sponsors, who make do with caterers in tuxedos, cloth napkins, tender filet mignon with a whiff of gourmet horseradish and vodka that comes from bottles hand-etched by Russian artisans.

This may come as something of a surprise, but the very next level of importance is you, the fan. To be sure, you've been bussed in from parking lots across town, scanned for weapons at the front gate and strip-searched for cell phones, but it's all out of love. It may be true that you are required to purchase your own food at prices that would make an extortionist blush, but very often the ham is almost devoid of gristle and the corndogs come with an unlimited supply of generic-brand mustard.

The caddies are next. Often, their pens will be supplied with potassium and roughage in the form of brown, withered bananas and granola bars as old and hard as the stones paving the Appian Way. The caddies, however, bring their own food trailer which, rumor has it, specializes in dishes renowned for their ability to blunt the effects of long evenings strategizing in pubs.

Below even the caddies are the TV folk. This may seem counterintuitive since many of them are unionized, but the fact is they're the evolutionary equivalent of carnies. Patton's Third Army ate better. Grips and technicians wrestle in the mud for the limited supply of Styrofoam bowls and spoons previously used by prisoners to tunnel to freedom. About the only thing they have going for them is that at CBS, for example, Feherty and McCord are employed as tasters.

Which leaves us with the true social outcasts -- the print media. We have one wooden bowl, carried from tournament to tournament by Doug Ferguson, the fine Associated Press writer, and take turns approaching the tour's media room officials with bowed head saying, "More please, sir."

If, by odd chance, you see us wandering glassy-eyed inside the ropes you may notice we don't, as a whole, appear underfed. It's a great mystery.