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The Booze Breakdown

Distilling why Americans drink more on the course

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Many players drink during a round according to elaborate plans. But, like the game itself, those plans can easily spiral into a mess of empties. Photo by Stephen Denton.
Many players drink during a round according to elaborate plans. But, like the game itself, those plans can easily spiral into a mess of empties. Photo by Stephen Denton

“What’s in the cup?” I asked. 

“Chard. Sutter Home four-pack for six bucks, man. It’s my new warmup—efficient and delicious.”

That startling revelation kicked off a recent golf binge in the South Carolina Lowcountry that had the same spirit as so many other boozy domestic trips. While being conscientious of sweeping generalizations and those who (perhaps wisely) abstain, I will confidently offer that American golfers collectively drink more on the course than those in other golf-crazed nations.

Like Phil Mickelson’s wedge selection, all manner of liquid replenishment is in play. So many players here treat their booze intake with complex strategies on par with how they attack a short par 5. (My new oenophile playing partner transitions to transfusions at the turn.) Some need a drink to loosen up before the round starts. Some want to keep the buzz going from the night before. Others believe in tapping the beverage cart on each go-round. Still others keep it dry until going deep at the halfway house with Bloody Marys or a six-pack of cheap American light beer. Heck, I tailor my approach based on where I am, who I’m with, the game we’re playing and how many holes are on the docket. My sweet spot is typically between three and seven drinks, beyond which my left side deactivates and both golf and alcohol strategies get hazy.

Lately the relationship between alcohol and golf has spilled over into our stateside spectating, with fan behavior and the overconsumption at pro golf tournaments becoming a hot button. Whether playing or watching, the American proclivity for on course imbibing shines a light on the way many treat golf here: It’s more diversion than sport, more escape than competition.

Not so with our golf-loving friends overseas. During recent trips to the British Isles and Australia, I found a distinctly different culture, one more grounded in sport and active pursuit. The golf is the main attraction; all else is a detractor at worst, a complement at best. Not once did I hear, “Where’s that damn cart girl?” 

In Melbourne I was fascinated to find that alcohol is prohibited on-course at many clubs during “competition days.” In other words, they treat it like Americans treat other competitive sports. Juxtapose that with the reaction at a stateside member-guest that didn’t allow alcohol until after the round. There would be a Dri-FIT riot. And in England, a drink on the course is often just that: a drink.

I believe part of this is attributable to the prevalence of carts in the States. We often ride around tethered to a seat and a cooler, sharing the experience with our cart-mate but cut off from both the rhythm of the round and the twosome zooming in parallel. It’s camaraderie of a different sort: more passive, more sedentary, less communal. Abroad, lugging a few beers in a bag or pushcart is more an unnecessary distraction—no need for something to take the edge off, since the golf and the walk do that anyway.

It’s sometimes more acute after the final putts. The post-round conversations I found in Australia and the U.K. centered on breaking down the course setup and the spirit of the day’s competition. I overheard golfers get deep into club selection and agronomic variables over a draft beer. Back here, those clubhouse conversations yield loud recaps about money games, but often quickly move beyond golf, which was just a fun diversion. Meanwhile, the orders rapidly progress to wine and liquor. The party already started on the course—might as well keep it going in the clubhouse.

I’m not here to cast aspersions on either modus operandi; we’re all out there for different reasons. Rather than judging which is right or wrong, perhaps it’s more insightful to use booze as a window into each culture. The stressed-out American needs a breezy cart ride to unwind, while the laid-back Aussie could use a shot of adrenaline. It comes down to why we play, and the way that we view golf in general: sport or experience?

I had a hell of a time with my friends in South Carolina. I’d bet that, when pressed, golfers in every country float between the two camps. When in Rome, right? I say we keep the game and conversation going. Before, during or after we play, the next round’s on me. 

Todd Schuster is better known as Tron Carter from the NLU collective. His opinions on wine might be spicier than his takes on golf.