Dark woods, understated lighting and plenty of glass greet you as you step inside the new Nona Blue Tavern in Ponte Vedra. International and PGA Tour player Graeme McDowell and his two partners opened the doors to their second restaurant on Wednesday, donating a check for $15,000 to Tom Coughlin and the Jay Fund, money raised from their soft opening earlier this week.
“I don’t remember feeling this way about the first one,” McDowell said on the back deck of his new restaurant. Their first Nona Blue opened in Orlando near McDowell’s Florida home in Lake Nona. This one seemed a natural progression, right down the street from the PGA Tour headquarters.
“Great local people and family,” Graeme said of the people he’s met in Ponte Vedra. “The first one was a stab in the dark, we feel like we know what we’re doing and they’ve done such a good job with the Sawgrass shopping area. We’re happy to be in the community.”
A self-proclaimed “foodie,” McDowell said he didn’t know much about the restaurant business when they first started but learned quickly.
“It took me a little while. I learned build outs are very expensive. I leave the flippin’ burgers and the hiring and firing to my guys and I see myself more of the PR and branding guy.”
Based on how much golf is played near his restaurant in Orlando, the Nona Blue name became known fast.
“The response I get from all over America is great. People shouting “Nona Blue” at me and G-Mac and cheese (a menu item). It’s really cool, it’s overwhelming the support I’ve gotten in Orlando and hopefully here.”
It’s not a sports bar, but there will be plenty of sports watching done. And it’s not just a place for guys to meet after a round at one of the local golf courses.
“We’re not trying to position ourselves as an NFL watching Sunday destination, but the games will be on,” McDowell explained. “We want you to be able to come in with your wife or girlfriend, but also the boys can come in after a round and drink a few rounds. Approachability, warm, comfortable.”
You could see the pain in his face when he started to talk about golf and the upcoming Ryder Cup. McDowell’s play over the last two seasons didn’t earn him a spot on the team. He didn’t like that.
“The Ryder cup, not being on that team, that’s going to hurt, sitting on my couch and watching but I’m going to watch every shot and it’ll motivate me to get back there.”
It’s not as if he’s completely disappeared. McDowell won a tournament in November of last year but is currently ranked 78th in the world. That’s not the form the former US Open champion is looking for.
“I think streaky is a fair assessment,” he said. “When I play well I play really well. Life’s been a real distraction for me for all the right reasons in the last couple of years. I’ve gotten married had two children and opened two restaurants.”
But golf is moving back up his priority list. “I’ve rededicated myself to the game because that’s still what I want to do. I had to ask myself some tough questions this time last year and ask myself what I wanted to do and I found that I still love golf and want to win another major before I’m done. It’s a refocusing, I feel lighter and leaner than I’ve ever been,” Graeme explained looking fitter than his form in the last 15 months.
And as far as the Ryder Cup goes, McDowell sees the Cup changing hands at Hazeltine.
“I really feel like there’s a change in the feel of the American side. You’ve got a lot of young guys who are really, really close. Like a little fraternity out there. It’s something you can’t create.”
“We have six rookies on the European squad but rookies are not what they used to be. They’ve played a lot of golf in the States. I look for it to be a close one as usual. I have a bad feeling for us but I’ll be pulling for the Europeans. I’ll be using it as motivation.”