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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.

Duval is not the only touring professional to pick up a cigar company endorsement contract. Jimmy Johnston carries the golf bag of Victor Sinclair Cigars on tour each week, giving his sponsor exposure to thousands of golf fans, as well as distributing free samples of the company's Victor Sinclair and Don Rafael cigars to eager Tour players. "We started shipping Jimmy 50 cigars a week," says company president Victor Long. "Now it's up to 200 a week on Tour. The players hang around Jimmy's locker on Tuesday [the first practice round of the week] waiting for handouts."

Victor Sinclair is a cigar company whose business is intimately, if not inextricably, tied to golf. It supplies the PGA Tour's TPC (Tournament Players Championship) Network of golf courses, makes private-label brands for events such as the President's Cup, and stocks the humidors at such prestigious links as Sea Island and a little old golf course in Georgia called Augusta National. "It's a great honor to sell our cigars to Augusta, even in the small quantities they require," Long says. "It's a way of showing our love for and commitment to golf."

Long says that smoking your favorite cigar on a golf course is in many ways a perfect marriage of two of life's great pleasures. "A round of golf gives people the time to enjoy cigars without interference. You're playing with friends, feeling the camaraderie. You're outside, enjoying the scenery. And cigars, of course, are all-natural, a part of nature. You probably couldn't find a more comfortable place to be with friends and smoke a cigar than a golf course."

Other big-name PGA celebrities, such as Davis Love III, the 1997 PGA Championship winner (featured in the August 1997 issue of Cigar Aficionado), and Brad Faxon, both confirmed cigar lovers, seem to agree. Though neither endorses any particular brand, they can often be spotted before and after rounds indulging in their favorite treat.

If you subscribe to the concept that a cigar is best enjoyed in a venue where one has the most peace of mind, where one can be simultaneously lost in thought and physically stimulated, then surely the links are a perfect setting. Moreover, if you believe the game of golf is best enjoyed when one is not paralyzed by swing thoughts and mechanical enigmas, when one can take time to look at the trees and "smell the tobacco," then a long draw on a good cigar is a great way to get in touch with the contemplative, spiritual side of the game.

Dormie Imports, Ltd., of Portland, Oregon, is a cigar company built on this philosophy. Dormie's president, Tom Whittaker, who admits to "a terrible passion for cigars and golf," thinks the typical cigar lounge in most major cities is sometimes too smoky for even the most committed cigar aficionado. "The golf course is one of the last safe havens for cigar smokers, a place to relax and enjoy," Whittaker says. "For someone who smokes an occasional cigar, this environment may, in fact, be the most enjoyable."

Dormie makes the Match Play brand, a series of Dominican cigars named after some of the world's greatest golf courses: St. Andrews, Prestwick, Turnberry, Troon, Olympic and Cypress. Sold exclusively to "A-list" retailers, medium-bodied Match Play cigars, according to Whittaker, are aimed at cigar smokers who appreciate the contemplative nature of decision-making and who possess the ability to relax in a competitive "match play" environment.

"Every time I start to get hung up on 'swing plane' and 'hip position,' I know it's time to clip a cigar and take a look around me," Whittaker says. "It's the surest way to get my game back."

How ripe has the golf/cigar marketing partnership become? In Scottsdale, Arizona, at one of the game's great merchandising centers, a 13,000-square-foot retail carnival called In Celebration of Golf, you'll find playing equipment, apparel, antiques and even painted-on-site fine art. You'll also find a cherry-wood humidor created by artisan Douglas London, which commemorates the Ryder Cup matches. The humidor's lid features the souvenir matchboxes of the past 32 Ryder Cup events, with the rosters of each team inscribed on the back of each box. The humidor retails for $590 (matches included, of course).

Scottsdale's other great proponent of the cigar/golf relationship also happens to be a major retailer of fine smokes. But this place is neither a golf shop nor a tobacco store: it's a golf course.

Grayhawk Golf Club, home course of Peter Kostis, Gary McCord and Phil Mickelson, sells nearly 5,000 cigars a year out of its pro shop, snack bars, restaurants and even beverage carts. According to Joe Arnold, director of operations for Grayhawk's restaurants, "The management here, from top to bottom, enjoys cigars. So having them available was never a question. Besides, our guests expect them--as evidenced by how many we sell."

Grayhawk, a 36-hole daily-fee complex with two world-class courses, one designed by Tom Fazio and the other by the team of David Graham and Gary Panks, has been selling cigars since it opened three years ago. From day one, demand has been strong. "Anyone who can spend 150 and up for a day of golf can afford a $15 cigar," Arnold says. "If it's a good product, a quality product, they'll happily pay. Having a good cigar out on our golf course adds the perfect touch to a memorable day of golf." The club offers three makes of Española (Presidente, Excellente, Sassoun), three Dunhill models and a Macanudo Vintage 1993, which is priced at $28.

"I'm happy to say demand seems to only be going up," Arnold reports. "Which makes sense. Having a cigar is a totally relaxing complement to a game that tends to make some people slightly aggravated."

During the first week of January, Grayhawk will host the third edition of the richest golf tournament in the world, the $1-million-first-prize Andersen Consulting World Championship of Golf. The match play event, televised on ABC, features the winners of four regional qualifiers, including U.S. representative Love.

Not long from now, as the sun sets on a late Sunday afternoon in the Sonoran desert, one man will walk up Grayhawk's immaculate fairways, knowing a putt awaits him that, should he hole it, could earn him $1 million. Chances are, when that last putt drops, whether it is stroked by a cigar aficionado like Love, or one of his opponents --Ernie Els, Colin Montgomerie or Hajime Meshiai--a cigar will be lit in celebration.

Just as thousands of hackers at golf courses around America do every weekend of the year. *

Contributing Editor Michael Konik writes Cigar Aficionado's gambling column, and is the golf columnist for Delta Air Lines SKY.

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