As the Caribbean sun rose over the gently swaying palm trees, a semi-organized army of golf carts rolled out from the first tee, spreading out across the Dorado Beach East golf course in Puerto Rico. It was time for the 2004 Montecristo Cup to begin.
Nearly 100 everyday golfers would spend the next three days playing alongside professionals from the Champions Tour and get to ogle their amazing golf shots, some of which simply made them shake their heads in disbelief. But the December 1 through 5 get-together wasn't only about fun—more than $100,000 was raised in the charity event, co-sponsored by cigarmaker Altadis U.S.A. Inc. and Cigar Aficionado magazine. Other sponsors and contributors included NetJets, Cadillac, Kendall-Jackson, Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Montecristo Rum and Hyatt. The event's proceeds, slated for the Hurricane Relief Funds of the Caribbean Islands, will be used to help rebuild lives shattered by hurricanes. The horrific tsunami that claimed the lives of more than 200,000 souls not a month after the Cup would serve as a poignant reminder of how susceptible people are to the wrath of nature, and how important it is to donate to these types of charities.
This, the sixth annual Montecristo Cup, was the largest one to date. The pro golfers included Jim Thorpe, who won the pro division for the fourth time, shooting a 63 from the back tees in his first round, Larry Laoretti, Tom Wargo, Gibby Gilbert, Walter Hall, Miller Barber, Allen Doyle, Brett Quigley, Walter Morgan and Dana Quigley, who called the event "the best three day pro-am I've ever played in."
It would have been hard to find a dissenter in the crowd of amateurs, who soaked up near-perfect Caribbean weather as they tried to conquer the testy 7,000-yard Dorado Beach East Course. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., the course is well defended with bunkers and water, either in the form of lakes or the ocean—several holes hug the beach. Others put the golfer in the midst of the Puerto Rican rain forest. Each morning, after refueling with a buffet breakfast, the golfers would head to the practice range, hoping to find the secret to shave off a stroke or two.
The entire event was cigar-friendly, and the participants could smoke from sunup to bedtime. Each golf cart came fully equipped with six tubed Altadis-brand cigars, such as Montecristo White and Platinum and Romeo y Julieta, and there were plenty more smokes at lunch and dinner.
The golfers played in foursomes. Each quartet of amateurs was paired with a pro; on the first day, the amateurs played with two pros, one for the first nine holes, one for the back nine; on day two, they were paired with a different pro for the entire 18 holes; and on day three, they were paired with yet another pro, ensuring that each team played with four different pros for the tournament. The pros gave tips when requested, trying to help cure a slice here, a chunk there, and giving professional reads on the greens. They also made extraordinary shots that the amateurs could only execute in their dreams. (On a long par 5, with 260 yards to an uphill flag for his second shot, Brett Quigley took out a fairway wood. "Can you hit it 260 off the deck?" I asked. "I'm sure going to try," he said with a little smile. Ten seconds later the ball was sitting pretty on the fringe.)
The groups played in varying formats, always able to drop from the best drive. On the first two days, they used the best drive and then each golfer played out his or her ball; on day three, it was a full best-ball scramble.
Teams won points depending upon their daily performance—prizes were given to the teams that won each day, and there were also daily contests for getting a ball closest to the hole on par 3s—and the team with the most points at the end of the tournament won. Thursday's contest was won by the team of Paul R. Sweeney, Joe Powell, George Ricehouse and Ray Batey. On Friday, the team of Jim Colucci, Paul Del Rossi, Paul Quigley and Devon Quigley won. Saturday's scramble was won by Marvin R. Shanken, editor and publisher of Cigar Aficionado, radio star Rush Limbaugh, Bill Terlato of Paterno Imports and Mike Moone of Luna Vineyards.
First-place honors for the tournament went to the foursome of Colucci, the senior vice president of sales and marketing for Altadis U.S.A.; Del Rossi, who owns the Davidoff store in Manhattan's Columbus Circle; and Paul and Devon Quigley, relatives of pro golfer Dana Quigley. Paul is Dana's brother (and father to PGA golfer Brett Quigley), and Devon is Dana's son.
Second place went to a team that has not missed a Montecristo Cup throughout its six-year history. Tom Poole always brings his son, Shepard, his son-in-law, Michael Lahey, and his best friend, Robert Friemann.
After three days of golf (four, for those who arrived on Wednesday and got in a practice round), the weary competitors sat down for a hearty dinner with fine wines, great food, awards aplenty and a charity auction emceed by Laoretti. Tom Poole was invited to speak at the podium.
"How often do you get to golf with your son, your son-in-law and your best friend?" he asked rhetorically. His smile was mirrored by those in the room, all having spent a weekend they wouldn't soon forget.