Fans face smoke-free U.S. Open

June 12, 2008 6:55:54 AM PDT
Spectators at the U.S. Open had better keep their butts off Torrey Pines Golf Course: No smoking allowed.

To both the delight and indignation of the gallery, the 108th Open starting Thursday will be golf's first smoke-free major.

"Woo-hoo!" hollered Jill Kulper, of Sacramento, attending the tournament with her husband and young children. "Now we don't have to move away from a good spot when somebody starts smoking a stogie."

Never mind that golf and cigars go together almost like cake and ice cream. Spectators caught smoking - cigarettes or cigars - face up to a $100 fine.

"I sympathize with them. I don't think it's fair," Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez, one of the European Tour's top players and a cigar aficionado, said after puffing his way through a practice round Wednesday on the back nine of the cliff-side South Course that overlooks the Pacific Ocean.

"I don't see what's the problem. Why not make everyone ride a bike here instead of driving their cars? We're in open space. I thought we were supposed to have freedom to do what we want."

Well, he does.

The U.S. Golf Association sought exemptions for everyone, including spectators, at Torrey Pines after San Diego officials, worried about the health effects of second-hand smoke and sick of cleaning up discarded cigarettes, banned smoking at its beaches, city parks and municipal golf courses in 2006, said Reg Jones, managing director for the U.S. Open.

The city rejected that request but did agree to exempt the players, their caddies and others inside the ropes that keep spectators off the course.

"Our concern was for the players," said USGA president Jim Vernon. "This is THE national championship and some of them smoke."

Players, he said, have enough on their hands trying to tame golf's toughest test without having to deal with a nicotine fit.

Defending champion Angel Cabrera, a notorious chain-smoker, kicked his habit recently.

"But who knows if he'll get a pang on the 71st hole?" Vernon said.

If he does, he can light up to his heart's content.

Because variances are granted for areas and not individuals, the city agreed to allow anyone inside the ropes - including standard bearers, marshals and members of the media - to light up this week.

The fans, however, don't have as much as a roped-off designated smoking area anywhere.

"Yeah, they do," corrected a volunteer manning the information booth by the putting green. "It's outside the gates."

Although cigarettes aren't as popular on the golf course as they were during the days of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, smoking a good cigar has become as much a part of the game as drinks in the clubhouse, followed by a hearty steak dinner and a glass or two of red wine.

"I don't like either cigarette smoke or cigar smoke," said swing coach George Pinnell, whose distaste for tobacco dates to the third grade when his father made him smoke a cigar as punishment for sneaking off to smoke cigarettes.

Pinnell is trying to get his top pupil, 24-year-old Open rookie Jay Choi, to quit smoking.

"I'm a fan of the ban," Pinnell said. "I wish more courses would put up the no smoking sign."

David Martin, a 58-year-old retired government worker from San Clemente who's smoked for four decades, didn't know about the ban until told by a reporter who saw him snuff out a cigarette. But he had no problem with it.

He said he's used to being restricted from puffing just about everywhere he goes these days.

"It's the way of the world," Martin said. "It's everywhere you can't smoke."

At least they don't ban alcohol, he said.

"But that makes it even tougher. You have a couple of cold ones and you get a hankering for a smoke," Martin said. "They'd just better not ban the beer. They couldn't do that. That would be like Holy Communion being banned from the Catholic Church."

Bob Gill of San Diego said he doesn't mind keeping his cigars in the humidor this week.

"Everybody likes a good cigar," he said. "But it's just as well. It's healthier this way."