Sure you can smoke a 460cc driver off the tee, but do you know the intricate fundamentals of smoking a good cigar?
I’ve had all the golf lessons I could ever want (no, they didn’t help). But for a primer on choosing the best cigar to enjoy between lousy shots I turned to Bill Shindler, manager of downtown Portland, Oregon’s Rich’s Cigar Store, who has been selling smoke for more than 30 years. Shindler is the David Leadbetter of cigar smoking, though if you ask him about his golf handicap he’s likely to retort, “You mean other than my temper?”
Nattily dressed in a leather vest and cigar motif necktie, Shindler begins my stogie education by describing the construction of a cigar, which consists of the wrapper, binder, and filler. Eighty percent of the taste and flavor comes from the wrapper, which is named after its place of origin. The best wrappers are grown in Connecticut (yes, really), though Cameroon wrappers are also quite good. A fine cigar wrapper will exude a light, oily sheen and feel firm yet pliable when squeezed.
Just inside the wrapper lies the binder—a thicker, coarser leaf that holds the filler together and affects the burn rate of the cigar. Thicker binders equate to a slower, cooler smoke.
Inside the binder, a good hand-rolled cigar will contain long or whole-leaf filler, which should produce ash at least an inch in length. Most of the best tobacco currently comes from three places: Nicaragua, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic. Although Cuban cigars still carry a mystique because you can’t buy them in the United States, Shindler asserts that other nations have developed better crops. He adds that comparing cigars is much like comparing French and California wines—products from different regions can be equally good. In fact, cigars and wine share much in common as both are influenced by climate and soil and induce aficionados to speak in a language that may sound like utter frippery to outsiders.
For golfers, cigar selection can prove as crucial as club selection. “I often choose a cigar based on the length of time I have to enjoy it,” Shindler says. “On the golf course I like a larger cigar because they smoke cooler and the flavors are more complex. I’m moving, outdoors, and the wind may be blowing.” He recommends choosing a cigar “that can hold up to the vulgarities of your particular golf game. For me, a good cigar might be the most redeeming part of my round.” And although he likes to wait until he hits his first good shot to light up, sometimes he’s forced to break this rule.
When faced with a temperature-and-humidity-controlled cigar case full of attractive stogies, less experienced smokers should rely on an expert to help select a good fit. But keep in mind that recommendations may say as much about who’s standing behind the counter. Shindler likes to ask new clients about their favorite smoking experience—did the cigar have a hint of nutmeg, or did it remind the smoker of a beloved uncle? How long will you have to smoke it, and will it likely be with your morning coffee or with a small-batch bourbon after a big meal? A good tobacconist should combine the skills of a psychiatrist, a detective, and an accountant to find the right smoke for you—whether a dainty, inexpensive café crème or a swaggering, unwieldy Churchill.
Once you’ve chosen a cigar you’ll want to make sure to use it properly—and by that I don’t just mean not lighting up in yoga class. All cigars feature a cap on the end meant to hold the wrapper together, but which must be pierced so that smoke will draw through into your mouth. Shindler warns smokers not to clip below the cap line to ensure that the cigar won’t unravel. He prefers a punch or plug cut as opposed to using a guillotine cutter (or your teeth). In an emergency you can always poke the sharp end of a golf tee through the center of the cap.
“Cigars can also be lit a thousand ways,” Shindler says. “And this is a crucial part of the ritual.” Although using a piece of burning cedar (included in many tube-enclosed cigars) is traditional, he prefers a butane lighter.
To light a cigar, “hold it at a 45-degree angle and slowly roast the tip so that the gases burn off and the cigar can acclimate to the heat. It’s like warming cognac. Hold the flame away from the tip and draw to it with a soft, gentle pull. Rotate to get an even burn.” He lights a Fuente Don Carlos to demonstrate, and immediately becomes calmer, more reflective. “Take a moment to savor it. Waft it under your nose,” he practically drawls.
After that, it proves difficult to get Shindler—who seems lost in a cloudy reverie— to answer any more questions, but he does offer the following additional tips:
- Don’t judge a cigar until you’re ½ inch into it. As you smoke the taste and flavor will intensify.
- Never put a cigar on the ground while golfing; you’ll end up smoking fertilizer.
- On a windy day, rotate the cigar or it may burn unevenly up one side.
- Puff once every three minutes. Golfers often smoke too fast because they’re walking and may experience an adrenaline rush from hitting a good shot (a good shot?).
- If Shindler had one cigar to smoke before he dies, he’d choose the Padron Anniversario, the richest, most fulfilling available.
Rich’s Top 10 Cigars:
- A Fuente 8-5-8
- Montecristo White Label
- Partagas Black Label Maximo
- Partagas Spanish Rosado Familia
- Davidoff Special “R”
- Romeo Y Julieta Reserve Real “Toro”
- New Bolivar “Toro”
- Partagas Limited #1
- Jose Seijas Series 2000
- Padron 5000 Mad
For further info: 800-669-1527, www.richscigarstore.com.