GK: When did you start working in the golf industry?
I commenced my working career on a dairy farm and in my wildest dreams I would never have thought I would have ended up following the career path that fate has allowed me to follow. After graduating from Agricultural College, I traveled around Europe and the USA for two and a half years realizing that there are better ways of making a living than milking cows!
While visiting Long Beach, which is in Nassau County, New York, just south of Long Island, I accidently secured casual work as a waiter. Working the summer in Long Beach was great fun, and I enjoyed the role and the customer contact. When I returned to Adelaide, I wasn’t sure what to do and having enjoyed hospitality work I thought I would find something in this field until I decided what to do with myself. After 18 months I decided that perhaps hospitality would be a good career, so I worked various jobs in hotels, restaurants, and bars each time slowly moving up the ladder.
While working in a large seaside hotel as Assistant Manager, an opportunity arose to work in a golf club which was too good not to pursue. It was in 1992 when I commenced my position as Director of Food and Beverage at The National Golf Club on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. It was a fantastic location near beaches, restaurants, the golf course and one of the best wine regions of Victoria.
After a few years, I was promoted to Assistant General Manager, which allowed me to expand my skills into the administration area of club operations. I was lucky enough to be working at the club during a time of substantial growth which included constructing 36 new holes plus an $18 million clubhouse. Operating from the original clubhouse plus a temporary clubhouse until the new building was complete was challenging. However, the members embraced the changes which made for smoother operations.
Once the new clubhouse opened, it was time to find a new challenge, so I started looking to move back to my hometown of Adelaide, although opportunities in top clubs were very limited in South Australia. The position of General Manager of the Adelaide Club was advertised, and I was fortunate to secure this role which I thoroughly enjoyed for five years before my dream job at Royal Adelaide Golf Club became available. The offer to join Royal Adelaide was too good to pass up. In 2007 I took the role as General Manager of Royal Adelaide Golf Club.
I have been fortunate to have managed two clubs that were both founded in the 1800’s. The history and traditions are strong in these establishments and maintaining that while keeping relevant to modern society is always an exciting challenge. Royal Adelaide is the highest rated and oldest golf club in South Australia, which adds extra responsibility and diversity to the role as General Manager.
GK: Tell us about the food here. It must be of a high standard as you are in the premier wine state of Australia.
The cuisine has changed a lot since I started working here. Like many places ten years ago, Royal Adelaide didn’t have the best of food, and just before my starting here the club had employed a new chef who was able to revamp the whole menu and improve the emphasis on food. Also, the new clubhouse manager had a vast knowledge of wines, so more of the premium South Australian wines found their way onto the wine list complimenting the improved food offerings. There are a lot of good restaurants in Adelaide, so it’s a pretty competitive market.
Recently Nigel Munzberg took over, and he has exceeded the members’ expectations by lifting the standard of food even higher. We have a Top 10 rated golf course, so the food, wine quality, and service need to measure up to that standard. You can’t just tick one box and not the others.
GK: How did you find your Executive Chef, Nigel Munzberg?
We advertised online for the chef position, and 30 chefs applied. I interviewed six chefs, and all had substantial experience. I suppose it was his background and the caliber of restaurants where he had worked that caught my eye. Nigel worked at some excellent restaurants in the nearby McLaren Vale wine region, and the quality of food in Australian wine regions is very high to match the quality of the wines. He is also a skilled communicator; an Executive Chef has to be able to talk to members and their guests to understand both their likes and dislikes. I also needed someone who was flexible enough to be happy making sandwiches one day and a gourmet dinner the next. We have a huge variety of the types of meals the kitchen is required to prepare which adds to the challenge of the role. Nigel enjoys cooking in all categories, and we have enough upscale events to spike his motivation and passion for fantastic cuisine.
GK: Nigel seems to have freedom to prepare just about anything he wants, which is desirable for any chef as it allows them to be creative.
Yes, he does. We are lucky to have a membership that likes variety and expects quality food. We place very few restrictions on what Nigel produces which allows him to utilize the fresh and seasonal produce which South Australia is renowned for producing.
GK: What are some of the member favorites?
Members still love the offal dishes like Lamb’s fry and brains plus you could never take the King George Whiting off the menu! The specials menu and special dinners give us options to be more creative, and we have several great wine dinners. We have the single bottle dinner to which the members bring a bottle of exquisite wine, and we make a six-course degustation menu to go with their selection. Nigel shows his flair at these dinners and loves preparing the dishes for the members.
GK: You have some members that have been coming here for over 50 years. Tell us about that.
It’s incredible. We have about 160 members who have been here for 50 years or more. We try and ensure enough diversity to keep them active within the club. We have a lunch for the 50+ year members, and it is extremely popular. A lot of them attend every year, and we make sure to serve our most popular dish…the King George whiting, which comes from our South Australian waters.
GK: Tell us about the clubhouse expansion.
Where do I start with the clubhouse expansion project? Eight years ago I thought the clubhouse wasn’t of the standard befitting a club of Royal Adelaide’s stature. Since 2008, we have been working with the committee to enhance and improve the clubhouse to measure up to its legacy. If I showed you photos of what it looked like before, you’d probably cringe. [laughs] Little money had been spent on the main areas for decades, and I thought the club should have the best clubhouse in South Australia. The kitchen and back of the house had been upgraded before I commenced, so the focus was on upgrading the front of house areas. We started with the bar and dining room areas, and when we opened it up, we had so much more space. The members said, “Wow! This looks fantastic, why didn’t we do this earlier!”
The administration area was dismal and nonfunctional, so we built a new reception area and put the front desk near the front door rather than down a side passage where it was previously located. Then we revamped the men’s locker room for the first time since the 1960’s.
The biggest project was relocating the ladies locker room to the member’s side of the building which required a new building. A century ago it may have been fine having the ladies locker room at the opposite end of the building but those days have changed. Building the locker room gave us an opportunity to fix up many other clubhouse faults at the same time. We changed all the levels around the clubhouse to make them all the same, upgraded the breezeways, car parks, front entrance. In addition, we built a new cart barn, storage areas which allowed us to change the way we stored and handled member’s stored bags and buggies.
This work has dramatically improved the whole presentation of the club and the clubhouse. If you are playing at a top quality club, the entire experience from driving in the front gate to departing the course has to be of a high standard which I feel we are finally achieving.
GK: Tell us about the ISPS Handa Women’s Open.
The completion of this work also sets us up for hosting the ISPS Australian Women’s Open in 2017. This is the first time it’s returned to Royal Adelaide since Annika Sorenstam won it here in 1994. The Open is growing each year, and now that Adelaide has secured the event for three years we plan on showcasing the courses, the food, wine and our the city of Adelaide. The catering for this tournament will give Nigel and the kitchen team some additional challenges and adds to the diversity of his role.
2017 is going to be a busy year at Royal Adelaide being our 125th anniversary. We are currently planning some member events and invitational events to help celebrate this milestone.