CJ Cup Byron Nelson’s title sponsor brings new flavor to a beloved local institution

McKINNEY, Texas — K.H. Lee has won twice on the PGA Tour deep in the heart of Texas, but should he ever win the Masters, he has already thought of at least one dish he’d serve at his Champions Dinner the following year: Tteokbokki, a simmered spicy rice cake noodle dish with minced meat.

“I think American people would love it,” he said.

Lee is back at TPC Craig Ranch this week where he has experienced great success and also where the tournament has a new flavor. Lee’s biggest sponsor, CJ, a South Korea-based holding group with a presence in food, retail, logistics, media and biotechnology, has stepped in to replace AT&T as the title sponsor of the Tour’s annual stop to the Dallas Metroplex. The CJ brand has had a consistent presence in professional golf through ambassadors such as Ben An, Sungjae Im, Si Woo Kim and Lee, and has been associated with the PGA Tour dating to 2017 when the Tour hosted its first event in South Korea on Jeju Island. But due largely to the outbreak of COVID-19, which prevented travel to Korea, the tournament has bounced around from Las Vegas to Ridgeland, South Carolina. Finally, the CJ Cup is putting down roots in Dallas, a city home to a large contingent of Korean-Americans, signing a long-term deal in what has become known as the CJ Cup Byron Nelson.

“It’s a storied tournament,” said Minsok Pak, CEO of CJ Food. “It gives us a permanent spot for the next 10 years, which allows us to have a deeper connection with the community.”

CJ has long valued the nexus between sport and consumers, and used that bridge to connect them elsewhere. The company is in the middle of a six-year partnership with the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, who wear a logo patch on their jersey. Lakers legends World Metta Peace and Sasha Vujacic participated in activities at the golf tournament in a branding crossover. The timing of CJ’s takeover of a local institution that has carried the Nelson name since 1968 coincides with a re-brand of Bibigo, which launched its U.S. business in 2010, and is considered an important part of the company’s global portfolio, accounting for roughly a third of its total food business. In the last four years, Bibigo’s market share has grown 1,100 percent, and the sense is they’re just scratching the surface.

Jordan Spieth hits a tee shot on the 18th hole during the first round of THE CJ CUP Byron Nelson at TPC Craig Ranch on May 02, 2024 in McKinney, Texas. (Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images for The CJ Cup)

“It’s a growing market and one in which we have very big aspirations right now,” Pak said. “In addition to what we see around the CJ brand, you will see Bibigo is going to be all over the place. That’s our main global food brand and this year it had a new logo and brand refresh. It will be showing up not only in the concessions but in the signage and activation in the community.”

During Thursday’s first round, fans were lining up to sample Bibigo’s Mandu Dumplings in the fan zone and order favorites ranging from fried bibigo chicken dumplings with a citrus-soy dipping sauce and sweet-heat sesame cucumber salad to Korean crunchy chicken and Korean-style loaded fried with Bibigo’s Korean BBQ drizzle sauce.

“It’s a great way to introduce consumers to our variety of flavors and give them a chance to sample these products,” Pak said. “That’s how we get consumers to try these new categories and then they come back because they’re darn tasty.”

On Tuesday, local chefs challenged each other to a Korean versus Texas Barbecue cook off. The winner? It’s too close to call. Even Pak said he had a hard time choosing between the two delicacies.

“I have some cognitive dissonance on that one because I grew up in Texas so Texas or Korean bbq, ah man, that’s a hard one,” he said.

Lee, however, didn’t hesitate in voting with his heart.

“Come on, I’m born in Seoul so I love Korean barbecue,” he said.

Lee said that Korean culture – from the Netflix sensation “Squid Game” and the movie Parasite – have infiltrated U.S. pop culture and that the popularity of Korean food should continue. (He’s bullish on Korean ice cream being the next breakthrough star.) He said he has taken Tour pros such as Maverick McNealy to Korean barbecue restaurants while traveling on the road and hoped to host some players this week in Dallas.

Nick Dunlap hits a tee shot on the 12th hole during the first round of THE CJ CUP Byron Nelson at TPC Craig Ranch on May 02, 2024 in McKinney, Texas. (Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images for The CJ Cup)

“Most guys, almost everybody knows Korean BBQ — the grilled meat — and sometimes they ask me ‘can we go to a Korean restaurant?’” Lee said. “I love to treat the guys to Korean restaurants.”

At the CJ Cup Byron Nelson, food may well be the way to a fan’s heart. Asked by a reporter if Mandu Monday could become as popular as Taco Tuesday, Lee pondered the questions and said, “Even if not on Monday, I love Mandu.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek