The Good Life

Smoker's Heavens

Cigar Aficionado's well-traveled golf writer picks his favorite golf courses to smoke cigars in the United States and around the world
| By Jeff Williams | From Morgan Freeman, Mar/Apr 2005
Smoker's Heavens

You know what it's like today to try to smoke a cigar in this world. As the law and political correctness circumscribe and tighten the circle where cigar smoking is acceptable, and legal, there is one place outside of your own home that you can reasonably expect to light up a cigar—the golf course.

Laws have made smoking indoors illegal, in both public and private facilities. And, in many states smoking is not allowed in any enclosed public facility or in restaurants or bars where food is served. But we still have the golf course. It is at golf courses where a certain degree of freedom still exists. Even if you can't smoke in the clubhouse, there is the course itself. What other sport would allow that?

What other sport has tees specifically made to keep cigars elevated from the turf? What other sport has a bag right at hand in which to carry a stash of cigars? There are still a few states that do not restrict smoking, like Georgia. That southern outpost also has excellent golf facilities at which to enjoy your favorite smoke. Some states will allow smoking in certain designated areas. And in those states that prohibit it in public indoor spaces, there is always the terrace, the great outdoors. That's why golf is still user-friendly. There are thousands of places—clubhouses, patios, tee boxes, even practice ranges—strewn across America and the world where smoking a cigar has special meaning. Here are a few that stand out, as places to play, as places to smoke, as places to write down in your diary of golf experiences. At the golf course, the smoking lamp is always on.

Verandah, Champions Dining Room, Augusta National Golf Club
Yes, first you have to get there, and getting there might be more difficult than accessing CIA headquarters. But if you are so privileged as to know a member, or know someone who knows a member, or know someone with clubhouse badges for the Masters, then you must make your way to the verandah on the second floor of the clubhouse, just outside the Champions Dining Room, also known as the Library.

Having made it this far in the world, consider yourself as having arrived. Take a seat in a cushy armchair and ponder where you are. This is the House that Jones Built. Bobby Jones, that is. The Masters is the tournament that Arnold Palmer built. Every great player of the twentieth century played at Augusta, from Sarazen and Hogan and Snead and Nelson, to Palmer and Nicklaus and Player, to Woods and Singh and Faldo. This is also the house that Hootie Johnson rules, as Masters chairman, and he is an avid cigar smoker.

Now, riding on the powerful arm of privilege, you have taken a seat on the verandah after playing Augusta National. You have discovered the difficulty of the largely undiscovered front nine and the beauty of the postcard back nine. You have played through Amen Corner, traversed the ponds at the 15th and 16th holes, and walked up the surprisingly steep fairway of the 18th, waving to the ghosts of the gallery that so adores its Masters champions. So what if you shot a 97. You are here.

The moment is, at once, both reality and dream, and you should have your very best cigar (a pre-Castro, perhaps?) at the ready. Any lush cigar will do, any cigar full of taste that burns slow and cool, any cigar that abides a sense of contemplation. You will want something that lasts.

You don't get a full panorama of the course from the verandah because the view is obscured by two of the most elegant, regal trees in existence. But you catch glimpses of the ninth and 18th greens, of the putting green, of the private member cottages. It would be gloriously special if you could be smoking that cigar late in the day, after the completion of play when the greenskeeping crew is cutting the fairways and greens. The blend of aromas of freshly cut grass, Georgia pine and a wonderful cigar is enough to produce olfactory overload. Yes, you have arrived.

Eighth Tee, Pebble Beach Golf Links
The Pebble Beach Golf Links is as much a living landscape painting as it is a championship golf test. The course is the annual host of the AT&T National Pebble Beach Pro-Am and every few years the U.S. Open rolls in. Playing Pebble Beach is an intoxicating visual experience, a dramatic meeting of the Monterey Peninsula headland and the Pacific Ocean. Surely the par-5 18th hole that sweeps along Carmel Bay and the little par-3 seventh hole that sticks a pinky finger into the ocean are Pebble Beach's most photographed and remembered holes.

But standing on the eighth tee puts the Pacific at your feet and gives you a vast vista of the ninth and 10th holes, the precious village of Carmel and the Point Lobos state park in the distance. With any luck, you'll see otters below you diving for their dinners, a seal on the prowl and sea birds on wing.

This is a great place for a short cigar, one that might last only a couple of holes. During normal play this tee often gets backed up. The eighth is the toughest par 4 on the course for the average player, since the second shot requires a long carry over a small cove to get to the green. Since there is little room to bail out and there's at least one lost ball in every group, it can take close to 20 minutes to play the hole, and this can cause as much as a two-foursome backup on the eighth tee. In that case, by all means pull out a cigar and sit down at the back of the championship tee. It's a perfect place for a soothing smoke.

Club XIX at The Lodge at Pebble Beach has an ambitious cigar program. Because of California law, cigars must be smoked on the terrace, certainly not a bad place to be with its views of the 18th green and the ocean. The cigar list is as heady, and expensive, as you will ever find. How about a Gurkha His Majesty's Reserve for $450? To go along with it, how about a glass of Hardy's Perfection Cognac for $525, a bottle for $6,500? There are rare Scotches, ryes, gins and an enormous vertical listing of Opus One wine. Club XIX will even set up a table for you near the 18th green with cigars and drinks.

Of course, you can bring your own cigars and consume far more modestly priced drinks. There is no need to go over the top. The substance of the occasion is being at Pebble Beach, and whatever your choice of sustenance, you will be just fine.

Men's Locker Room, Seminole Golf Club
The Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Florida, is one of the most private and coveted clubs in the United States. The membership roll is filled with influential businessmen, industrialists, financial wizards and entrepreneurs, as well as past presidents of the United States Golf Association. Seminole doesn't have wide public recognition because it doesn't host professional tournaments and isn't a venue for made-for-television golf.

Like Augusta National, however, all the great players have come to Seminole. Ben Hogan spent many a winter during the off-season practicing at Seminole and called its sixth hole one of the world's great par 4s. Like Augusta National, you are going to have to find a member to get you in.

Among the cognoscenti of the golf world, Seminole is revered for its Donald Ross course that sits along the Atlantic Ocean, and for its old Mediterranean-style clubhouse, a throwback to the days when a golf clubhouse was about golf and not about catering.

The Seminole men's locker room is decidedly part of another era. The room is a long rectangle with a high ceiling crossed by cypress beams. The wooden lockers run along the two long walls with a continuous bench for seating. Other wall space is taken up with placards that give the results of various club championships and invitationals, such as the Coleman Cup. In the middle of the room are deep armchairs and sofas, the perfect place of repose for a glass of beer and a cigar after a round at Seminole. You will also realize that you've arrived at the inner sanctum of the game. Smoke 'em while you can.

18th Hole, Bethpage State Park Black Course
While Augusta National and Seminole are ultra-private, the Black Course at Bethpage is ultra-public. For less than $40, a golfer can play one of the truly great parkland layouts in the United States, an A. W. Tillinghast course that hosted the 2002 U.S. Open. It was such a rousing success with the USGA's bank account and with the players that the Open will return there in 2009.

The Black, part of a five-course complex on Long Island east of New York City, is a muscular challenge, a course that tests the swing, the physique and the psyche. An extensive remodeling by Rees Jones in advance of the 2002 Open brought the course up to date, added length and restored bunkers, and extensive tree removal and pruning opened up the views. It is a lovely, and often strenuous, walk in the park. And walk it is, since no golf carts are allowed.

Anyone can play Bethpage Black, by making a telephone reservation or walking up for the available open tee times. On weekends, this has often meant an overnight sleep in a car, especially now that the course has become nationally known because of the Open. At the end of the long wait, at the end of the long round, everyone agrees it was a worthwhile, often sublime experience.

That's why it's so much fun to light up a cigar on the 18th tee. The 18th tee is elevated and provides a spectacular view of the well-bunkered fairway, the well-bunkered green and the brick clubhouse beyond. After the long walk up the hill from the 17th green, you are faced with the final walk of the day. So light up a cigar here (a robusto would be perfect), carry it to the green, shake hands with your partners and repair to the clubhouse patio, where you may finish the smoke with a pitcher of beer and lively conversations about one-putt double bogeys and leg cramps.

The Terrace at Old Head Golf Links, Ireland
When it opened in 1997, the Old Head Golf Links was generally regarded as the most spectacular course in the world, exceeding even the majesty of Pebble Beach. The course sits on a huge rock table thrust out into the Atlantic Ocean, seven miles south of the precious Irish town of Kinsale and only a 40-minute drive from the city of Cork. Nine of the holes play along the cliff lines, which are more than 250 feet high. Sea birds make their rookeries in caves that run underneath the 12th hole, making a raucous cacophony as you play.

In 2004, Ireland became the first European country to ban smoking in working places, forcing the patrons of pubs and restaurants to puff outside. That also relegated cigar smokers at the Old Head to the terrace, though many would have gone there anyway, including co-owner John O'Connor, a man devoted to Montecristo No. 4s. The terrace overlooks the 17th and 18th holes, parts of the front nine and the immense black and white lighthouse at the farthest tip of the land. All are surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. Some 10 miles offshore is where the Lusitania was sunk by the Germans, one of the catalysts for America's entry into the First World War.

The Old Head is both a membership club and open to the public. It's not bashful about charging greens fees that are Pebble Beach—like, in the $300 range depending on the value of the euro to the dollar. Well-trained caddies are available and the Old Head really should be walked to get the full sensory experience.

Since you are not in the United States anymore, you can buy Cuban cigars. The Old Head will have plenty on hand, such as Montecristo, Partagas and Cohiba. Then grab a pint of Guinness and move to the patio, where you might well encounter Mr. O'Connor himself. Say hello. He will like you even more for smoking a cigar.

Royal and Ancient Clubhouse, St. Andrews, Scotland
If history is a fable to which we all ascribe, then the fable and history of golf begins in St. Andrews, Scotland. It is on this fabled linksland that shepherds, for amusement, bashed rocks around with sticks and rolled them into holes in the fourteenth century, and by the start of the sixteenth century, something of a formal game had evolved. That's how the story goes, and for lack of anything compelling to refute it, that's what we believe. (Let's not talk about the Dutch at the village of Loenen in 1296, OK.)

The clubhouse of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews sits stoutly behind the first tee of the Old Course. It's the home of the world's most powerful golf association, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, where it holds sway over golf around the world except for the United States and Mexico, which are ruled by the United States Golf Association. The Old Course is the frequent host of the British Open Championship, the oldest of all major championships.

In front of the clubhouse is a terrace, and to its right, as viewed from the first tee, is a set of steps leading down from the side entrance of the clubhouse to the street. These are excellent areas to smoke a cigar and take in the royal and ancient atmosphere. You don't have to play golf at all (but it would be a shame, really, if you didn't) to have a St. Andrews experience. It's rather fascinating and amusing to watch players gather and tee off at the first hole and finish off at the 18th green, which will be to your left as you look out onto the course. The six courses at St. Andrews are public, but the Old Course is by far the most difficult to get on and arrangements should be made well in advance to play it. Occasionally, a single can join a threesome by walking up.

Smoking a cigar on the clubhouse terrace can be a contemplative experience. You could be thinking back to the days of the shepherds, to the 1800s and legendary pro Old Tom Morris, to Bobby Jones's Open triumph in 1930, to Arnold Palmer's second-place finish in 1960 that revitalized the championship. Here, with the smoke being whisked away by a fresh sea breeze, you are part of living history.

The Lodge at Sea Island Golf Club and Ocean Forest Golf Club
On St. Simons Island off the deep southeast coast of Georgia are two golf facilities of stout character and supreme amenity. The Sea Island Golf Club is public, the Ocean Forest Club private. Both are excellent examples of Low Country golf. The Sea Island Club has a course redesigned by Rees Jones and another course by Tom Fazio that has hosted the UBS Warburg Cup competition; the Ocean Forest Club, also designed by Jones, hosted the venerable 2001 Walker Cup, a competition between amateur teams from the United States and Great Britain/Ireland.

The Lodge at Sea Island is très upscale, with lovely rooms and a superb restaurant, Colt and Alison's. Cigar smokers can light up in both the Oak Bar (an homage to the Oak Bar at the Plaza Hotel in New York) and in the men's locker room. The Lodge has a cigar program, the goal of which is to provide a wide selection taken from Cigar Aficionado's lists of the top cigars. So if you are looking for a Fuente Fuente OpusX, a Fuente Short Story or a Padrón Anniversary, you are likely to find it here and be able to smoke it in an unencumbered environment. Whether with a beer in the locker room or a single-malt Scotch in the Oak Bar, cigar smoking at Sea Island comes guilt-free.

If you are fortunate enough to have an in at the Ocean Forest Club, you can also smoke in the locker room and the bar. The club has gone so far as to provide private humidors for its members and is completely cigar-friendly. And the golf's not half bad, either.

The 10th Green at Garden City Golf Club
It's really too bad that a New York State law enacted in 2003 forced cigar smoking out of the bar and lounge at the Garden City Golf Club. This was a very special place to smoke, if you knew a member and had an invite. Sure, you can smoke near the putting green now, sitting in a wooden armchair, and that's a very nice experience in its own right. But smoking in the old, creaky clubhouse was extremely satisfying and not a little charming.

Garden City Golf Club is an anachronism, a men's only club in the middle of a tony suburban town on Long Island, a quick drive from Manhattan. It has played a stellar role in golf in America, hosting the 1902 U.S. Open as well as U.S. Amateur and Walker Cup competitions. Its annual Walter Travis Invitational tournament for mid-amateur players is among the finest of its type in America, and an invitation to it is coveted.

The course has virtually the same routing as it did in 1897 when Walter Travis and Devereux Emmet designed it, and is very suggestive of the inland courses of the United Kingdom rather than the United States. Garden City is always a treat to play, and despite its rather tame appearance, it can be a stern test.

Since smoking on the course isn't prohibited, I'd suggest lighting one up as you leave the 10th green. A recent eradication of scruffy trees and bush has opened up a wide vista, and from the 10th tee it's possible to see all the way to the 16th tee, maybe three-quarters of a mile away. Garden City is a nifty, trapped-in-time, decidedly old-fashioned place that becomes more special hole by hole. And puff by puff, you can enjoy it even more.

Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, Oregon
If the high and the mighty have their Pine Valleys and Augusta Nationals to retreat to, then the merely well-to-do have Bandon Dunes. Bandon Dunes, which is slated to open a third course on June 1, is America's truest linksland golf destination, perched on bluffs overlooking the Pacific on the southern coast of Oregon near the artsy town of Bandon. It's difficult to get to, but worth every ounce of effort.

Mike Keiser, the Chicago greeting card magnate, has created an ultimate male-bonding, macho-mystique, must-see, must-do golf eden on land that's just perfect for the game. (Women cheerfully admitted.) With courses by David McLay Kidd, Tom Doak and Ben Crenshaw/Bill Coore, Bandon Dunes is nothing short of wonderment.

It's also ultra-cigar-friendly with two great gathering spots: the Bunker Bar and the immense outdoor fireplace outside of McKee's Pub. The Bunker Bar resembles a cozy rec room, with card tables, pool tables and thick leather chairs. It is so named for the pictures of famous bunkers from around the world. See how many you can name. The outdoor fireplace is ringed with teak chairs and log benches. There are patios outside all the public places in the Bandon Dunes complex, all cigar-friendly, all intimately part of the linksland that surrounds them. A wide range of high-end cigars is available throughout the property.

While Bandon Dunes is ideal for buddy trips, show up as a single and you will instantly be among friends. And should you be a cigar smoker, you will be in an atmosphere designed to please you.

Jeff Williams is a sportswriter for Newsday on Long Island.


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