19th Hole: A New Day
ARROWOOD GC’S FAIRWAYS KITCHEN & BAR
WHEN FRIENDS of President George H.W. Bush in Houston threw an election-night party for him in 1988, Clive Berkman was the chosen chef. By that time, the South African’s reputation was well established in Texas, with Berkman having helmed Charley’s 517 in Houston — a regular dining spot for the Bushes — and later revamping that venue as his own restaurant, Clive’s.
Berkman trained and cooked in Europe, New York, Miami, New Orleans and Palo Alto. He wrote a book about life and cooking, Empty Bottle Moments. He took a sabbatical for a time in ministry.
So what the heck is Berkman doing now serving pizza, burgers and wraps at the public Arrowood Golf Course in the suburbs of eastern Oceanside?
“I ask myself that every day,” Berkman, 62, said with a laugh.
Blame it on golf.
A lapsed golfer from a couple of decades earlier, Berkman got back into playing a few years ago. A friend invited him on a buddy trip to Palm Springs, and there he met Mike Duncan, the director of membership at Arrowood.
Duncan invited Berkman, who lives in San Clemente, to consult with the golf course about how it could up its food game. Berkman took a look, but there was only so much he could advise on at a place that didn’t have much more than a glorified hot dog stand.
All food was ordered at a window. There was no bar. Arrowood has a beautiful outdoor patio with handsome views of the surrounding hills, but in the small area inside, golfers wolfed down their dogs and hustled out.
“It looked like the people who designed Arrowood had the thought the week before it opened, ‘Oh, we better offer golfers something to eat and drink!’ There was a roughly sketched out kitchen and dining room. They had these grandiose visions, and they poured the money into all of the wrong places.”
Of how the kitchen flowed, Berkman said, “This is the 25th operation of this kind I’ve been involved in, and this had perhaps the worst conditions of any property that I’d ever seen.”
FAST-FORWARD 18 months since Berkman first saw the place, and the pride is growing about what he’s got now. Following the green light by Arrowood’s owner and on-site general manager, Tom Son, Berkman worked to perform several months of renovation, and the course’s new Fairways Kitchen & Bar opened in November.
Berkman wisely didn’t stray too far from the previous menu so as not to scare off regular golfers looking for a simple meal, but he’s added some twists and created other events that are beginning to bring diners from the surrounding neighborhoods who are looking for something new.
There are Taco Tuesdays and full-service Fridays with more upscale fare, such as a 40-day dry-aged rib eye. Wine and painting classes are planned. The effort is to change people’s perception that the golf course only cares to feed those who walk through the gates with clubs in their hand.
“We’re seeing a lot of new faces,” said Nikki Prichard, Arrowood’s director of golf. “Golfers are hanging out more, hanging out in the bar. We’re seeing families come in to get a look. It’s a huge opportunity for us.”
Berkman completely altered the atmosphere of the space, adding a marble-topped bar and a wide, airy entryway through which patrons can easily move between the dining room and patio. A cozy room off to the side can be secured for more intimate parties. The most notable piece of decoration is a stunningly good mosaic of Arrowood’s signature 16th hole on a full-size surfboard.
Prichard, a former University of Nevada golfer who arrived at Arrowood with LPGA Tour aspirations and ended up falling in love with teaching, is the director of golf at the age of 26, and she feels like Fairways is finally a place where she and her friends would hang out.
“It’s very cool and modern,” she said.
WE’RE SEEING A LOT OF NEW FACES. GOLFERS ARE HANGING OUT MORE, HANGING OUT IN THE BAR. WE’RE SEEING FAMILIES COME IN TO GET A LOOK. IT’S A HUGE OPPORTUNITY FOR US.” – Nikki Prichard, Arrowood’s Director of Golf
THE MENU, which Berkman characterizes as “rustic,” has few surprises, but that’s what the chef said he made a priority: quality over quantity.
“We’re focusing on three components: creating the best sandwich, best hamburger and best pizza we can,” Berkman said. “We’re going to pour everything we have into that.”
Berkman serves a hand-thrown, build-your-own 12-inch pizza “that I would put up against anybody.” The burgers are made of Wagyu beef and served on a premium bun. There are chicken Caesar and turkey club wraps, meatball and Italian subs, and, of course, hot dogs and deli sandwiches for those who want something quick at the turn.
The plates that might be better at a table than in a cart are quesadillas, chicken tenders hand-dipped on-site, crispy, triple-cooked chicken wings, and a pastrami and caramelized onion flatbread.
Putting it all together at Fairways has been a tremendous amount of work for Berkman, but there’s also been satisfaction in the results. Berkman, who instructs on the culinary arts at San Clemente High School, hopes that he’s being a teacher in this venture, too.
Berkman is a fan of noted American chef Thomas Keller. “He’s always said we shape our property on paper; they shape us when we move into them. That’s what is happening at Arrowood.”
“I feel like we’re moving the needle,” he says.