The moment that Mark Hazelwood walked through Augusta National Golf Club’s gates, he reached into his pocket and lit up a Fuente Opus X Lost City cigar – but felt a little out of place.
“Golf and cigars, they just blend,” said Hazelwood, a cigar aficionado of 30 years from Knoxville, Tenn. “It’s in the outside, the open air ... but you don’t see as many of them anymore.”
Cigars have been a part of golf culture, but over the years, enthusiasts have watched this tradition change.
“It was cool in the ’90s; it was the in thing,” Hazelwood said. “But I was smoking when they weren’t cool, when they were cool and then now that they’re not.”
Renee Howell, of North Augusta, isn’t a fan of stogies and has seen attitudes change at Augusta National. Having not missed a Masters for 47 years, Howell saw a wave of cigars among patrons peak in the 1990s, she said. In the past decade, she said, cigars have become less fashionable as a stigma grows on smoking.
“It’s not a Southern thing; it’s a nationwide thing where it’s part of the bond of golf and being a man,” Howell said. “In the ’90s, it was very vogue. It has subsided over the years. It’s still here but not as much.”
Marcella Perez, the owner of Marcella’s Fine Cigars in Augusta and Aiken, said cigars are still a part of golf even though they are less fashionable in the mainstream. Masters Week is the busiest week of the year for her two shops.
She said cigar smoking peaked in the mid-90s when Cigar Aficionado magazine launched and started putting celebrities on the covers. Since then, cigars have become less fashionable but are still an element of golf.
“Nowadays, smoking is an outdoor thing anyway, so I think golf and cigars still go together,” Perez said.
Jon Yapo, 33, of Orlando, Fla., said he smokes a cigar every time he plays golf. It fits in his hand as smoothly as a golf club. He loves the smell and the texture.
He knows that not everyone agrees, so when he comes to the Masters, he chews the cigar all day but never lights up.
“I love smoking cigars, but it bothers people, so when I come to a high-profile event like this I have respect for the people around me,” Yapo said. “There was a time when most men did it, and that was a time of a different crowd. The old school doesn’t translate.”
Steve Cusick, 27, said there is a correct way to continue the tradition, however. On Wednesday, he and four family members gathered under some shade beside Eisenhower Cabin and celebrated the day with a round of cigars.
He said they purposely moved away from fellow patrons to enjoy their smokes.
“If I went out of my way to be a jerk about it, that’s where the social stigma would come from,” Cusick said. “But there’s a right way to do it.”