Cigar Aficionado

Golf Trip

You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief around the stone coffee table on the outdoor patio, the palm fronds brushing against each other in the light breeze and the stars—especially the Orion constellation—shining in the clear, nighttime sky. We were sitting there in shirt sleeves, a glass of Brugal rum on the rocks with a slice of lime, and the magazine’s Cigar of the Year, a Padrón Family Reserve No. 45 Maduro in our hands. It was our second night at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, but the first night, after a three a.m. wake-up call for a six a.m. flight, the cigar and glass of rum hadn’t been quite as relaxed, more a defiant declaration that we were on vacation than a laid back moment before collapsing into bed—and the golf hadn’t even started yet.

We were at the Caribbean golf resort for a three-day binge of golf—36 holes a day which, trust me, is more golf than four guys in their late 50s should even dream about playing. Golf trips can be a bit problematic, the search for the right mix of personalities and desires potentially subject to miscalculations of intentions and incompatibilities. But the four guys—Chuck, Mory, Matt and yours truly—around the patio epitomized the synergy of the perfect combination. Three of us went to the same college, so even though we weren’t close friends 35 years ago, the shared history has smoothed the way to an adult friendship that can be rare to find as you get older. The fourth had known one of the college group for 25 years through a business association and the other two for more than 10 years through the same country club. We represented the medical, publishing, and business sectors, often with intertwined connections between each of those worlds.

We played straight up without handicaps for three days, the same pairs each day, and at the end of the six rounds, we had split 3-3 and there wasn’t much more than a two-hole difference between total holes won and lost. Each of us had at least one good round—not bad after a multi-month winter layoff—although we all had nine-hole stretches with excellent scores. Trash-talking? You bet. Laughter? More than you can imagine, including on the last hole of the weekend, when one of us (he shall mercifully remain anonymous) chili-dipped his drive off the tee, and we nearly all fell down laughing—no mercy in this group either.

But one other bond tied us together—cigars. We started our trip with a tour of the Tabacalera de Garcia factory in La Romana, one of the largest hand-rolled cigar factories in the world, overseen by José Seijas. Seijas is not only one of most capable tobacco men in the cigar business, he is also one of the nicest. My friends had never been inside a cigar factory, and it was a tour of discovery, learning about the tobaccos from around the world that go into cigars, the intricate and precise aging and processing of tobacco leaves, the careful selection of color and then the skilled creation of the bunch and the final application of the wrapper. Without a doubt, each man said they had learned more than they knew there was to know about cigar making and they walked away with a greater appreciation of what they would be smoking.

Golf. Cigars. Hard to ask for more. We began each day by 8 a.m. standing on a tee box. We ended each night around a table at our house with a cigar in hand, talking about politics, medicine, publishing, golf, the Third World, our lives and our futures. We’re already plotting next year’s trip.