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Cigar for the Course

Smoking and Golfing Make for a Winning Combination
Michael Konik
From the Print Edition:
Denzel Washington, Jan/Feb 98

Go to any good golf course these days and you'll find cigars are as plentiful as Great Big Berthas and wicked slices. Walk into a well-stocked pro shop and you'll see nearly as many handmade smokes as you will Titleists and Top-Flites. Look on the menu at the grill room of the better country clubs and you'll be perusing cigar lists as exhaustive as those for Port and Armagnac.

Cigars and golf: the two seem to go together like eternally optimistic 28-handicappers and championship courses with a 141 slope rating. Whether permanently stuck in the maw of a concentrating player (à la Senior PGA Tour star Walter Morgan), enjoyed in celebration after a stellar birdie, or as accompaniment to a post-round cocktail, a fine cigar and a game of golf seem to complement each other like rare rack of lamb and a mature merlot.

This was not always so. (But, then again, up until a few years ago, golf was not nearly the Tiger-charged, relentlessly televised phenomenon it is today.) In the past five years,concurrent with the general explosion of cigar smoking throughout America, simultaneous enjoyment of a round of golf and a favorite cigar has become a pervasive--and perhaps inevitable--leisure time trend.

"This nation has become a country of dog walkers, because you can hardly smoke indoors anymore," says Richard DiMeola, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Consolidated Cigar Corp., makers of Te-Amo, a brand that is involved in an advertising campaign with the Senior PGA Tour. "Golf, being an outdoor pastime, is conducive to smoking cigars. If a smoker wants to light up, he can enjoy himself without worrying about offending anyone. How many other sports can you say that about?"

Well, boating, for one. Ironically, DiMeola says that after measuring the results of ad campaigns run in golf and boating magazines, there was no contest: "Boating produced nothing. Tennis, nothing. Golf, we got an enormous response." To this day, his company advertises some of its products in several golf publications, including Links and Golf Digest--and continues to see encouraging results.

Te-Amo, recognizing the affinity between cigars and golf, began marketing its "mature" product to golfers as far back as December 1991. It was then that the company approached a little known Senior PGA Tour golfer named Larry Laoretti, who, it seemed, was seldom seen crushing a drive, finessing a chip or stroking a putt without a cigar in his mouth. Happily--for both the player and his sponsor--in July 1992 Laoretti won the U.S. Senior Open while playing with a cigar clenched between his teeth, affording Te-Amo, and cigars in general, a worldwide audience.

"That may have been the start of it all," DiMeola recalls. "Shortly after Larry won the Open, we formed Team Te-Amo." The company signed up Walter Morgan (who smokes constantly), Larry Gilbert (who smokes between shots) and Tom Wargo (who enjoys cigars off the course). "We are strongly aligned with the Senior Tour. It's given us enormous awareness among cigar-smoking golfers, especially those who perhaps enjoy a more robust cigar."

Other major producers have seen the wisdom of marketing their cigars to those who would just as soon purchase an oversized titanium driver as a hand-crafted humidor. John Rano, senior vice president of marketing and product development at General Cigar Holdings Inc., makers of Macanudo, Partagas, the Dominican-made Cohiba and a host of others, says, "This is a significant market. The demographics are great. You've got a game that is very social in nature, with two or four guys together for maybe 80 percent of the four or five hours they're out on the course, and in the grill room afterward. The whole ambience of smoking a cigar out on a golf course, with friends, is potentially more pleasant than other places where you might have hassles."

Until supplies got thin in 1994, General Cigar was the United States' biggest seller of cigars to golf courses. "We used to dominate the market," Rano says. "And even if our supplies don't allow us to do that anymore, we still view the golf course as an important outlet."

Indeed, Rano's company continues to advertise heavily in golf magazines, including a new print campaign featuring PGA Tour star David Duval. "David's a young, hot golfer, a hip guy. And he happens to smoke Macanudos," Rano says.

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