Young Kwak/Associated Press
Former Spokane Valley, Wash. mayor Michael DeVleming, right, and Mark Bushnell, center, smoke a cigar as a member of their foursome, Leslie Michler, walks by during a round of golf at Esmeralda Golf Course in Spokane, Wash. The city of Spokane recently tried to ban smoking on its four public golf courses, only to be stymied by an outcry from players and smoking rights advocates.
By Nicholas K. Geranios
SPOKANE, Wash. — For the cigar-smoking golfer, 18 holes and a stogie rank with peanut butter and jelly or gin and tonic among life’s ideal combinations.
That’s why recent efforts across the country to ban smoking on public golf courses are being greeted by those players like a triple bogey. In the balance between individual rights and public health, weekend duffers feel authorities have become unreasonable.
The city of Spokane just tried to ban smoking on its four public golf courses, only to be stymied by an outcry from players and smoking rights advocates.
“Golf and cigars go together like a hand in a glove,” said Dale Taylor of Tacoma, president of the Cigar Association of Washington, a smokers’ rights groups. “That may be the only time some people smoke.”
Washington state is among the least hospitable places for smokers, with no smoking allowed in any public indoor space, or outside within 25 feet of a door or window. But the proposed smoking ban on public links has struck a nerve, in part because of the vastness of golf courses. Playing a typical 18-hole course, such as Downriver in Spokane, means traveling easily more than three miles.
“If I was just walking and somebody was 300 feet away, I’m bothering them?” avid smoker and golfer Greg Presley told the Spokane parks board during a public hearing. “We’ve got to have some common sense.”
Evidence of the illnesses caused by second-hand smoke has led to widespread bans on indoor smoking nationwide in recent decades. The great outdoors is now at the forefront of campaigns led by smoking opponents, and hundreds of places ban it in outdoor restaurants, parks and beaches, said Annie Tegan, of the Seattle office of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, which seeks to limit smoking.
Because bans are enacted at the local and state levels, it is difficult to determine their exact number of them. Tegan knew of about a dozen communities that have banned smoking on public golf courses, including San Francisco, Glendale and Pasadena in California; Hawaii County, Hawaii; Bloomington, Minn.; Goshen, Ind.; Abilene, Texas; and Arvada, Colo.
The Hilo Municipal Golf Course is the only public course on the big island of Hawaii, and last year’s ban on smoking in all public parks, beaches and other recreation facilities has not been popular, said assistant pro Sharol Ayai.
“There’s big-time complaining,” Ayai said. “The golfers will still smoke because most feel it is unfair. We all pay taxes.”
Ayai said the ban, which does not apply to private golf clubs, has not had much impact on the number of rounds played at the course, in part because it is ignored.
Some communities that tried to ban smoking on golf courses, like Thousand Oaks, relented after complaints by golfers, whose fees support the facilities.
“You really have to stretch things to imagine you are offending anybody when you are outside smoking cigars,” said Gordon Mott, executive editor of Cigar Aficionado magazine, which includes a monthly feature on smoking and golf.
Some non-smokers oppose outdoor smoking bans as intrusive government.
“It’s a disgusting habit, but people have a right to make choices,” Spokane resident Joel Bark told the local Parks Board during the public hearing.
Patrick Reynolds of the Foundation for a Smokefree America acknowledged that moving the anti-smoking fight from indoors to outdoors was “cutting edge.”
“But these are in fact reasonable laws,” Reynolds, grandson of tobacco pioneer R.J. Reynolds, said. “Second-hand smoke causes lung cancer.”
The bans also are aimed at reducing litter, he said.
Smoking bans also have been imposed on spectators at pro golf tournaments. Last month, there was a no-smoking zone for the first time at the Masters. The U.S. Open in 2008 at Torrey Pines banned smoking by spectators because San Diego had banned smoking in its parks, beaches and public golf courses. But players were allowed to smoke.
With little advance notice, the Spokane parks board voted in March to ban smoking in all city parks, including golf courses. An existing law already prevented people from smoking near playgrounds, swimming pools or other parks facilities, so the board didn’t think many would care when it decided to ban smoking entirely, parks spokeswoman Nancy Goodspeed said.
They were wrong.
The outcry from smokers and libertarians was swift, and prompted the board in April to stay the ban on golf courses while it studies the issue further.
“We heard from everyone and their brother, on both sides,” Goodspeed said.
The board will wait for people to calm down before taking up the issue of smoking on golf courses again, she said, adding that may be a year or more.
Presley, who said he has smoked and played golf for five decades, hopes it never comes up again.
“There’s plenty of fresh air out there to share,” Presley said. “Everyone pays taxes.”