Any golfer worth his niblick has a favorite hole on a favorite course. John Willett has all that, and a favorite cigar, too.
“Give me the 18th at Congressional. A beautiful par 3,” Willett declares. “And give me an Arturo Fuente Churchill. A really fine Dominican.”
Willett loves golf. And he loves cigars. But love isn’t a strong enough word for what he feels about golf and cigars. To Willett, the individual parts complement each other as puissantly as Beavis does Butt-head.
Conversely, a smokeless roundlike bulimia without the hurlingjust won’t cut it.
“If I’m going out to the golf course, I’ve got to light up at that first tee,” he states. “I have to.”
Willett feels so strongly about the marriage of his two favorite pastimes, in fact, that he has devoted his workweek to promoting it: He’s the founder and big hitter behind a group calling itself, simply enough, the Cigar Smoking Golfers Association.
He established CSGA last August. At the time, he was a claims manager for a personal-injury law firm and had all but decided he’d rather spend his time chasing a little white ball on a grassy knoll than an ambulance on a black-topped highway.
“I was sitting in a martini bar smoking a cigar one evening, just thinking about how many unhappy people I dealt with that day at work, and how all the people I ever dealt with were unhappy,” Willett, 41, recalls. “And I looked down at the bar and saw that while I was thinking I’d doodled a picture of a cigar and golf bag crossed like a coat of arms. I don’t know where that came from, but the idea stuck.”
That bar doodle, which Willett still carries around in his wallet, soon led to the formal incorporation of CSGA. And ever since the group’s initiation, the founder has been happily apprised that a whole lot of other people share his cognizance and appreciation of the smoking/links symbiosis.
“It’s not just me,” he says. “Ask any avid golfer what would most enhance a good round of golf, and a lot of them will give you an answer of, ‘A good cigar.’ A whole lot of them.”
Willett’s words aren’t mere puffery: To date, more than 400 people have put down the $35 annual initiation fee, and the CSGA mailing list has ballooned to over 1,100 names.
For their bucks, members get discounts at participating courses and cigar stores, invitations to dinners, tournaments, and social events, and a subscription to the official CSGA newsletter, Smokes and Strokes.
Damian Kim, a 28-year-old paralegal now living in Upper Marlboro, is among CSGA’s recent sign-ups. (Favorite hole/cigar combo: The 420-yard par 4 second hole at Lincoln Hills Country Club in Pittsburgh/an Opus X, a $15 Dominican.)
“I joined as soon as I found out that such a group existed,” laughs Kim. “I’ve been an avid golfer since I was a teenager, and I’ve been really getting into cigars in the last year. So why not?”
Dennis Brooks, 32, a conference coordinator with the Naval Research Lab in Southwest D.C. is another member of CSGA’s freshman class.
“You look at how much bigger golf has gotten in the last few years, and how popular smoking cigars [is] now, too, and you wonder why nobody thought of starting a group like CSGA before John Willett did,” puffs Brooks. (The 147-yard water-guarded par 3 ninth hole at Virginia Oaks in Gainesville/Macanudo, a Cuban. Black-market price.) “That’s just a damn good idea he came up with.”
Given the anti-female history of golf in the U.S. and the general anti-feminine image of cigar smoking, the CSGA doesn’t seem like an ideal forum for distaff duffers and puffers. Au contraire, pants Willett.
“I’ve been very surprised, and delighted, by the interest women are showing in CSGA. Cigars and golf aren’t just for men anymore,” says Willett, adding that 7 percent of CSGAers are women.
Among them: Karen Fast, a catering manager at Morton’s of Chicago’s Georgetown branch. “Men have always made fun of women golfers and women smokers. Maybe this will help put an end to that,” explains Fast. (The par 3 11th hole at Patuxent Greens/a Davidoff, a $10 Dominican.)
The first “major” on CSGA’s social calendar is scheduled for the evening of Jan. 22, when the group will hold a dinner at the DoubleTree Hotel at Tysons Corner. According to Willett, the purpose of the function is to “eat, drink, smoke, and talk about how to get ready for the ’97 golf season.” The professional season kicked off last weekend in Carlsbad, Calif., with yet another victory for Tiger Woods (Augusta?/Nonsmoker), but even the CSGA head thinks winter weather will keep most local golfers from taking their drags at area courses until late March. The cold and snow, however, won’t keep them from wanting to babble with each other about the game over some cigars.
The featured speakers at the first CSGA dinner will be two health-care professionals, including Dr. Robert Nirschl, an orthopedist who is considered an expert on golf-related injuries. Lip, throat, and lung cancer aren’t yet considered golf-related ailments, and therefore will not be discussed by the medics. But if young Woods would only take a few hits off a stogie while donning his first green jacket come April, well, who knows? Dave McKenna