By Robert Bicknell

July 2008


If you really want to see a local Golf Director or Club GM whimper and run for the trees, just tell them that the owner decided to outlaw smoking anywhere in the club, including on the course.

Yes, it might sound absurd, especially here in Vietnam where it’s still difficult to get players to take their hats off in the clubhouse, but that is exactly what they did at Torrey Pines, site of this year’s US Open golf tournament.

Ok, to be fair, it wasn’t the club itself who did it, but rather the San Diego city government who got tired of cleaning up millions off butts and worried about lawsuits from "second-hand smoke" in their restaurants, on their beaches and golf courses.

Yes, I can see a horde of coughing squirrels filing a class-action lawsuit against the city for second hand cigar smoke from golfers...

In the US, if you tell someone to "take an aspirin", they’ll take the whole damn bottle unless instructed otherwise. This is why you will actually find "do not eat this product" labels on haemorrhoid creams, and "do not use this hairdryer while bathing."

The sad part is that you know someone did it, which resulted in a lawsuit, payment of uku-billions of dollars in pain and suffering damages, and the creation of billions of ridiculous warning labels.

Anyway, I digress. San Diego did agree to suspend the rule for the US Open participants, just in case Tiger Woods or any of the "big bag boys" wants to fire up a stogie.

The USGA petitioned the city for a variance as they were concerned about the players because it is the national championship and some players smoke. The USGA also said that "players have enough on their hands trying to tame golf’s toughest test without having to deal with a nicotine fit."

Eh? Sentiment coming from an organization which takes sadistic delight in setting up a golf course in such a way to exact the maximum amount of pain and anguish from the players?

Spectators, however, are out of luck because variances are granted for areas - not individuals, and the city only agreed to allow anyone inside the ropes - including tournament staff and members of the media - to light up this week.

You would have to wonder if this year’s event will see more people risking immediate arrest for ducking under the rope for a quick puff or two, or instead of asking players for an autograph, begging for a butt.

"Yo, my’re a great player, we love you...can I have a puff...please? Just a quick drag. I promise not to exhale until you’re on the next one will know...pleeease?"

Yes, there is nothing more pathetic than a chain-smoker in the midst of a full-fledged nicotine fit, but one person who won’t be worried about this rule is defending champion Angel Cabrera, who was a notorious chain-smoker, but kicked his habit recently.

I quit a few months ago, so I have a pretty good idea of what he went through, it isn’t easy, but it’s definitely worth it.

I have been surprised by no-smoking courses before in unlikely places, such as China or Phuket, Thailand, which banned smoking everywhere on the course except on the tee boxes, and they had ash trays there, which was a nice touch.

But, if you got caught smoking on the greens, it was a heavy fine and you know the caddie caught hell afterwards from the management.

Now, can you imagine the hue cry if the Vietnam Government did that to the golf courses here? First of all, the club owners would scream very loudly as they do not want to upset their members.

Secondly, it would be almost impossible to enforce simply because most members have made intimidating the marshals a fine art. Very few marshals would risk the wrath of a player, especially a Vietnamese VIP, but informing them that they would have to put out their cigarette of risk a fine.

I imagine at the check-out there would be more screaming than at the Salem witch hunts.

However, no-smoking on golf courses really wouldn’t be all that bad an idea because that would make less cigarette butts for the caddies and maintenance staff to pick up every day. Also, the members just might decide to quit smoking altogether and that wouldn’t be a bad thing either.

As a former smoker (I quit a few months ago) I can attest that walking 18 holes became a little easier and should become even easier with every passing day, or so the doctors say.

However, since the bottom line IS the "bottom line" I don’t believe any club in Vietnam would even consider this rule because they know just getting players to take their hats off in the clubhouse is next to impossible and getting them to smoke would result in players going elsewhere.

At least for now...

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