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Pairing Wine with Golf

Courtesy of The Phoenician The Phoenician

Photo: Courtesy of The Phoenician

I admit that I tend to be a little extreme in my fondness for wine and golf. After all, I grew up as a competitive junior golfer in Southern California and went on to write Sideways, the novel (which later became the movie) that set the wine industry on its ear. But it seems to me that almost all sophisticated golfers also possess a taste for fine wine. Every self-respecting (and aren’t they all?) private club and luxury resort has a high-quality wine cellar and a demanding, knowledgeable clientele. Just look at the number of golf stars whose business tentacles stretch into the world of wine. Playing beautiful courses, hitting great shots and celebrating with friends over a glass of great wine: That’s just about as good as it gets.

Which got me to thinking: Just as there are pairings of wine and food, one could imagine a similar teaming up of ideal wines with which to celebrate memorable golf moments. Snake in a fifty-foot putt on eighteen to break eighty for the first time?Well, it’s time to uncork that ’94 Screaming Eagle Napa cab you’ve been saving in your cellar. Hit two OB on the first hole?It might be more appropriate to drown your sorrows in a bottle of plonk merlot. Absurd, yes, but fun anyway—kind of like golf itself.

Looking back at my golf career, I can identify some remarkable episodes that really call out for remarkable wines. I started playing at age eight in San Diego, and golf quickly became my life. In the summer I would be happily deposited at the Stardust Country Club (since redone and renamed Riverwalk Golf Club) to play up to forty-five holes a day. I never took a lesson, rarely practiced and was active in the San Diego Junior Golf Association. When I was twelve, like a lot of my contemporaries, I moved up an age division because the thirteen-year-olds got to matriculate from the pitch-and-putt venues and play regulation courses.

As it happened, my first event was the Stardust Invitational. Not only was it contested on my home course, but with it came a perpetual trophy like the Claret Jug on which the winner’s name would be enshrined forever. (Speaking of the Claret Jug, isn’t it utterly appropriate that golf’s oldest championship trophy is a wine decanter?)

It was an eighteen-hole, one-day event. I had never broken eighty before, but for some inexplicable reason it was one of those mornings in which I started out in a zone and never left it. Every time I looked up, the ball was going exactly where I pictured it would. Putting, I thought the hole looked like a basketball hoop. At the turn I had shot a thirty-seven—an all-time nine-hole low for me—and this at an age when I could only reach half of the par fours in regulation. On the back nine I shot thirty-eight with a bogey on the unreachable (for me) par-three eighteenth for a then-career-best seventy-five.

Before our group (one of the final foursomes) came in, they were ready to hand the trophy to some towheaded hotshot who had carded a seventy-six; there was some scrambling around when I handed in my card. Being presented with that massive trophy—which Phil Mickelson, another Stardust standout, would go on to put his name on more than once—and holding it aloft was a great moment, one I cherish to this day.

At the time I probably celebrated with a Coke, but today, thinking about what wine is worthy of this memory, I hark back to the first great wine I ever drank: a 1967 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, a blockbuster of a bottle that if properly cellared would probably still hold up today, like that magical round of golf.

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