Cigarettes and Smoking Still Part of Golf Culture
For those of us who have lived through a certain number of decades, the culture of cigarette smoking has evolved from a matter of public glamor and tranquility to a counterintuitive habit in regards to almost anything that requires physical action. I once heard a tape of a famous female physician enumerating the biological advantages enjoyed by women. She said that a woman who smokes is throwing away her aces, and a man who smokes is just a horse’s “behind.” The picture has changed. We don’t see it much in sports anymore, we don’t see it on television very much, or in most public buildings. We still see it, however, on the golf course. It’s almost still cool there.
There are sports that are conducive to smoking, apart from health concerns. Race car drivers look good doing it at breaks, and off-the-diamond baseball players smoking used to be a common sight. Many of the great golfers of the past two generations were smokers, and quite a few sponsored tobacco products, Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer being two of the most high-profile examples. The habit didn’t take in tennis or other fast-paced sports, as there is no time during the action, and little in between. Perhaps it went with the clothes, golf fashion being what it is, and was.
Many of our parents smoked, at least through the 50s and into the 60s. Seeing my father stand on the 7th tee at Neskowin with a cloud around him was not indicting. We didn’t think less of him at all. Science didn’t discover the harmful effects overnight. Many in the 30s and 40s suspected the harm, scientists and just everyday folks. But, for the golfer, it was extra-difficult to put the things down. It looked so right, and we spend so little time looking just right.
A recent article spelled out the most opportune times for smoking during a round, moments that included the first tee, just to help one get started, post-bunker and ensuing high-score trauma, the shrinking lead cigarette, and one at the turn, just because going on to 10 signifies some sort of temporary completion. Lining up a shot, unless you’re in the presence of a time-keeping ogre, is the perfect setting for a drag or two. It’s a game where the shot-making is broken up by intermittent analyzing and instinct checks. How could there be a better time? Besides, until about 1961, it made us look so wise – how’s that for irony?
As for the health part of it, it’s all been hashed out before, but for golf, side-effects might be quite specific, and giving with one hand while taking from the other. It resembles a smoking singer who gains an extra low note, but loses the breath for singing it. Yes, it can be calming at an important time, but it can also serve as an anesthetic. The system is calm for the shot, but the IQ is lower, whether we notice it or not. The relaxation of a stroll through nature seems to go hand in hand with the perceived relaxation of smoking, but consider the irony of taking a cardiovascular walk, so that you can enjoy an anti-cardiovascular habit.
In my own case, I am soon to celebrate the completion of my tenth year without the cursed things. I have still aged, but I theorize that I’ve done it much more slowly. Most importantly for golf, I don’t suddenly wear out on 14 like I once did. Between 14 and 18 has historically been my worst patch for high scoring, but not anymore.
John Daley, who just collapsed on the course, swears that it wasn’t a heart attack because he only smokes two packs a day, not three – you’ve gotta love him. It’s a sneaky thief of health, because it’s not that difficult to walk eighteen holes and smoke. You never have to run – there, you’d really notice it. All things in the balance, though, the smoke-free life is a far better existence. You can trust me on that. That being said, I wish people more days of strokes on the course – the good kind. Take it easy, John.