Hagen Cleek, General Manager of Cowboys Golf Club in Dallas, Texas, worked closely with Executive Chef Kevin Grafton to create a brand new destination-dining concept at the world’s only NFL-themed daily-fee golf club.
Never growing complacent is critical to F&B success. And Hagen Cleek, General Manager of Cowboys Golf Club in Dallas, Texas, takes this philosophy quite seriously.
Cowboys GC is the only NFL-themed golf club in the world. It is open to the public for golf, dining, hospitality and private events. Last year, Cleek worked closely with Executive Chef Kevin Grafton and the club’s parent company, Arcis Golf, to unveil a brand new destination-dining concept named The Ring of Honor Kitchen + Bar. (The venue takes its name from the ring above the field in AT&T Stadium where the names of Dallas Cowboys greats are permanently displayed.)
“Not too long ago, we were just someplace you stopped when you were hungry,” says Cleek. “Now, people come to Cowboys Golf Club just for the food, whether they are playing golf or not. Culinary is part of the whole experience.”
As General Manager, Cleek is responsible for the overall direction of the club, and he strives to give his managers, like Grafton, who was previously the Executive Chef of Timarron Country Club (Southlake, Texas), the tools, support and encouragement they need to excel in their positions.
C2C: What brought you to Cowboys Golf Club?
HC: I came to Dallas-Fort Worth in 2003 to work with Eagle Golf at Woodhaven Country Club, then Lake Park Golf Club, and Clear Creek Golf Course. I came to Cowboys Golf Club in 2009, which became part of the Arcis Golf portfolio in 2014.
C2C: What was the F&B operation like when you came on board?
HC: It was above-average, serving typical but hearty golf-course fare.
C2C: How has it evolved?
HC: Last year, we debuted The Ring of Honor Kitchen + Bar, which was the centerpiece of our clubhouse expansion. Great care was taken to position it as a stand-alone restaurant and bar with a vibrant atmosphere that would appeal to area residents and businesses, whether they were playing golf or not.
C2C: What’s the concept like?
HC: It’s an experiential dining establishment that features a lively bar with a selection of artisanal cocktails, along with a rotation of a dozen Dallas craft beers, and an international wine menu chosen to complement the “right off the ranch” selections.
C2C: What’s on the menu?
HC: We have a broad selection of items, ranging from deviled egg chorizo and Dr Pepper spare ribs to the best burger you’ve ever tasted. Now people come here just to eat. It’s phenomenal.
C2C: What is your favorite dish on the menu?
HC: The pan-fried cajun spice redfish with spinach, mushrooms and roasted tomatoes with a citrus cream sauce. The fish is blackened. The roasted tomatoes are incredible. The sauce is amazing.
C2C: How does F&B contribute to the greater goals of a club?
HC: By enhancing the dining experience, other revenues may be generated. If we produce at a high level, it not only helps with golf, but non-golf banquet business as well.
C2C: What have been some of the club’s F&B goals over the years?
HC: We wanted to create a destination-dining experience, and with The Ring of Honor Kitchen + Bar, I’m proud to say we have achieved this vision. It is a very different experience than what is offered at most daily-fee golf course restaurants. And supporting the concept is a menu that showcases homemade items, using ingredients from our region of Texas that are only found here.
C2C: What should be a club manager’s role in the overall operation of an F&B department?
HC: The club manager should be leading the charge. It’s all about buy-in and facilitating teamwork.
C2C: What is your club management style?
HC: My style is to manage managers and let them, in turn, manage their people. Here at Cowboys Golf Club, from the top level of our company down, everybody endorses what we are trying to accomplish. At the property level, we are all pulling in the same direction. It’s a fantastic way to do things.
C2C: What is your relationship like with Chef Grafton? And how has it changed or evolved?
HC: Everybody has their own way of approaching menu creation and how to achieve excellence. Kevin and I evolved together during the creation of The Ring of Honor Kitchen + Bar. We work as one, with common goals in mind. He has embraced the concept of a destination, experiential restaurant and we give him the freedom to elevate and present menu items that “wow” our guests.
C2C: What do you value most in Chef Grafton?
HC: He desires to be the best always. This is what sets him apart. He does not want to put out any product that is not fantastic, and he possesses a unique ability to meld different ingredients to create menu items that stand out. I like that there are menu items offered here that you can’t get anywhere else.
C2C: What kind of people thrive on your club’s F&B team?
HC: People who are go-getters. They understand and want to be a part of something special. They are not complacent. Creativity and originality leads to being distinctive and successful when it comes to the culinary experience.
C2C: How do culinary trends affect F&B at Cowboys Golf Club?
HC: We evolve and amend the menu with two or three new items every three or four weeks. To keep it current and to wow our guests, nothing is ever stagnant. The one thing that does not change is that ‘fresh is best.’
C2C: How do you think chefs, F&B Directors and GMs should stay on top, or even ahead, of F&B trends?
HC: You can’t get drawn into a shell and not be aware of what is happening in the outside culinary word. Being aware of what is going on and experiencing what others are doing is paramount to being better. If you can improve upon what others do, or set your own path and add special touches, customers take note. We definitely don’t sit back and think that what we are doing today is going to be okay tomorrow. Complacency is the death of everything.
C2C: What is next for F&B at Cowboys Golf Club?
HC: We’re always changing to add to the experience. On the golf course, we are going to add items that can be delivered more quickly, like pulled pork quesadillas with chipotle-cheddar spread and roasted turkey and brie paninis with raspberry-habanero jelly and spinach.
A new lighted putting green will add to the guest experience, and we’ll be offering catered items in this area.
On the beverage menu, we are always rotating new local craft beers in frozen, 18-ounce goblets from the 12-tap beer system, which has been very well-received.