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A Steady Diet of Greens

As seen in the February 2018 issue of Pacific Northwest Golfer magazine

Celebrity chef Tom Douglas goes full circle to find respite on the golf course

by Josh Kerns

For restaurant-goers in the Puget Sound region, the name Tom Douglas is synonymous with some of the Emerald City’s finest eateries.

But it might come as a bit of a surprise the multiple James Beard-award winning restaurateur behind such favorites as Dahlia Lounge, Etta’s, Palace Kitchen and over a dozen more got his first culinary inspiration from a humble snack shack at the turn of a Delaware golf course.

“When I was about 12, I used to caddie at the Newark Country Club in my hometown when I was done doing my paper route,” Douglas said. “We would sit on the wall and hope to be picked for a caddie job for the day.”

It wasn’t easy.

“What I remember most, I was a big heavy kid and my legs would be rubbed raw by the time we’d get done at the end of 18 holes. Typically, I’d carry two bags.”

But the job had its perks. Douglas and the other kids would get to play Mondays.

And then there was the beloved snack shack.

“All the golfers would go after nine and get a breakfast sandwich or something,” he laughed. “That was my favorite place.”

His other favorite place in town was a little downtown diner he’d frequent on Sundays, when he could get away with it.

“It had a little 16-seat counter,” he recalls. “I’d skip church and the waitress would take your order, turn around and cook your meal, then turn back around and hand it to you. Those places definitely did influence me to become a cook.”

His love of the culinary arts would win out over golf, and the next several decades would see the chef, author and entrepreneur turn a single Seattle restaurant into a mini-empire of sorts that includes 16 restaurants, a cooking school, radio show, books and even a farm, not to mention winning multiple prestigious awards that placed him among America’s top chefs.

Add in raising a daughter who would go on to become an attorney, and golf just wasn’t in the cards for a while.

“You can’t work seven days a week and still play golf,” Douglas said, echoing a sentiment many of us can relate to. With the exception of a few brief dalliances, a return to the course needed to wait.

But an invitation from a friend – Beecher’s Cheese founder Kurt Beecher Dammeier – to play Seattle’s venerable Broadmoor Golf Club would quickly rekindle Douglas’ long lost love.

Tom always uses a caddie when he plays at Loch Lomond in Scotland, at which he has an international membership.

“I was hooked, and I decided to join,” he said.  “I’d fallen in love with the game all over again.”

Since then, Douglas has embraced golf as much as a guy running such a thriving business possibly can. And it’s made his life much richer both on the course and in the kitchen.

“I’ve made so many friends,” he said. “I never had close friendships with men before and it’s been wonderful to have those close bonds now.”

While Douglas spends most of his time at Broadmoor, he and a small group of those friends have made the ultimate buddy trip their mission. They travel to Bandon Dunes every year, and a trip to Pinehurst is planned for this spring. But his real love lays across the Atlantic Ocean.

After traveling to Scotland several years ago, he came upon world-renowned Loch Lomond, and it was love at first sight. He joined the club and since then has traveled every year to the site of many Scottish Opens set in a stunning forest along the shores of the lake outside Glasgow for several weeks of much needed rest and relaxation, and as much golf as he can squeeze in on the course rated among the top 100 in the world.

“It’s an absolutely stunning place,” Douglas says. “I end up playing 36 holes a day the entire time, which is far more than I ever get to play when I’m in Seattle.”

He’s also made it a point to tee it up at some of the other links courses around the British Isles including the Old Course at St. Andrews. And all that play in the UK has reinforced his love of a more rugged, less artificial form of golf.

Tom Douglas with wife and business partner Jackie Cross.

“I really don’t like all those perfect American courses. At the Old Course, the greens are bumpy. That’s the way golf is supposed to be. To all those who complain when conditions aren’t pristine, I say ‘stop whining.’”

That would explain his love for Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash. He bemoans the criticism over course conditions – especially the greens – that came during and after the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I think it plays beautifully. You’d be hard pressed to find a better setting, and a more fun layout.”

When it comes to Chambers Bay, Douglas is putting his money where his mouth is. He’s part of an investment group that won the rights to build a proposed $70 million boutique hotel, 200-seat restaurant and bar, and conference and event spaces. It would be his first restaurant outside Seattle.

“It’s a spectacular site,” Douglas says. “It wouldn’t be obtrusive at all, but really complement the area, set right into the hillside looking down on the course. We think it would be a fabulous addition.”

Of the game, Douglas says, “I love to walk, and I always take caddies whenever I can.  It’s just so different to experience the game that way.”

It’s an experience that harkens back to those warm, humid summer days in Delaware as a caddie, decades ago. And there’s a snack shack at the turn. Just like back home.

Josh Kerns is an Emmy and Murrow award-winning journalist and golf travel writer. He served as the voice of the 2017 Boeing Classic as announcer and producer/host of a daily tournament podcast.