Cigar Aficionado

Florida Days

Last week, I escaped the Northeast winter. The trip lasted only for four days, coinciding with my wife’s journey to a seven-day stay at a West Coast spa, but I managed to squeeze in 90 holes of golf. Do the math. Two travel days took away two half days of golf, so we only managed 18 holes on Thursday and Sunday. And, after 36 holes on Friday, we showed our incredible maturity and wisdom gleaned from our more than 50 years on the planet, and canceled the second 18 on Saturday.

We played a great new Raymond Floyd course, Old Palm, and a wonderful but tough Jack Nicklaus design at the Ritz Carlton Country Club in Jupiter. We laid our heads on pillows at the PGA National Resort in Palm Gardens, site of the upcoming Honda Classic on its Champions Course, an early Jack Nicklaus design.

Nice hotel. It’s been totally renovated, and while some building renovations were getting their final touch-ups during our stay, the changes are all for the better. I would say that this is a great place to go for a quick golf getaway. It’s geared up to handle hundreds of players on its four courses, and the daily process from check-in to first tee was smooth and without a hitch. The General, or Palmer course, also has undergone a renovation, but frankly, after playing it on Saturday, I don’t think it holds a candle to the Champions course, and its famed three consecutive holes on the back nine called the Bear Trap. Trust me; if the wind blows for the pros on Sunday, March 2, there will be some big swings on the leaderboard as they play through those three holes. One of my playing partners hit a solid 4-iron, a normal 190-yard club for him, to a 155 yard flag at the par three 15th on Sunday, and barely got there. I won’t repeat my performance there for public consumption; suffice it to say my 5-iron wasn’t enough club.

But the best part of the weekend came each evening on the veranda just off the lobby bar at the PGA resort, and overlooking the newly redone pool area. My friend Mory is a true cigar aficionado, and blessed with a father who has been a life-long cigar smoker and cigar collector who in recent years has from time to time passed on some his treasures to his son. My medical publisher buddy, Chuck, and the neurology professor friend, Matt, also are serious cigar lovers, and the four of us didn’t hesitate to retire to the porch with a glass of port, or another round of red wine. It was shirtsleeve weather, which for a northeasterner in February is about as close to Nirvana as you can come.

The first cigar was a Punch Reales, from the early 1970s. It was totally smooth, and filled a mouth-filling tobacco taste, without any of that tartness or harshness that sometimes comes with a young cigar. It tasted like a 30-year-old plus cigar. The second night, we enjoyed a Montecristo No. 1, one of my favorite Lonsdale sized cigars, from 1980. It had some lovely hints of dried cocoa bean, and again, a total smooth balance of a cigar that had seen enough time in a good humidor. The last night we smoked a Montecristo No. 3 from 2000; it didn’t have the depth of the other three and it still had some of the spice of youth. Each one of the cigars was special, and we were all grateful to Mory for being so generous with such rare cigars.

But I thought the next best thing happened on the second night, when I was introduced to one of the managing directors of the property, Joel Paige, as the executive editor of Cigar Aficionado. Almost the first words out of his mouth were that they were trying to figure out where to keep cigars for the veranda, and he asked if we’d been out there. We were all standing there with cigars in our pockets ready to walk outside to smoke, and we all flashed big smiles. It was very reassuring to know that in a state with pretty draconian smoking laws, there are still people thinking about how to let cigar smokers enjoy one of their favorite evening pastimes.

Unfortunately, I returned to the Northeast on Sunday night (after a four-hour delay in the West Palm Beach airport) to 40-mile-an-hour winds, and temperatures falling into the teens. Oh well, it was a nice break. Even if the golf wasn’t anything to write home about, the cigars were.

"Gordon,Way to make us jealous up here in the North East with that great trip. I am friends with Ex-Red Sox Luis Tiant and he loves the magazine. He sent you an autographed box of his own line of cigars. Did you receive them? They are the same ones the Red Sox were smoking after they won the World Series. Hopefully they can repeat this year. Happy Smoking" —February 15, 2008 19:10 PM