Enjoying a social round of beers after a satisfying round of golf has long been an integral feature of the sport. Indeed the term “the nineteenth hole” is universally understood to refer to the bar or clubhouse at the end of the course, where players get to unwind after a good golf game.
It can be particularly gratifying to savour one or two drinks on a hot summer day, win or lose out on the course.
Of course, trends do change. The older generation of golfers will remember a time when it was considered legitimate, indeed reasonable, to sink a few beers – sometimes more than a few – before driving home for lunch. The younger generation, on the other hand, knows differently.
A casual drink is one thing, but drinking alcohol in any sort of volume means calling a cab or taking the bus. That or a hefty fine – or worse.
But if the nineteenth hole is an established institution subsumed within the golfing tradition, does this make it okay to consume alcohol whilst the round of golf is actually still being played?
What is the Rule at Most Golf Courses?
So long as they are not situated in a designated dry zone, most clubs are fairly relaxed about golfers drinking on the course, just so long as expected standards are maintained.
There is a whole world of difference between taking one drink on a lazy hot day and emptying out the drinks cart along the route.
Quite often it boils down less to rules than to golfing etiquette. Being mindful of the ambiance of the golf course, and of the comfort and convenience of other golfers and other members at the club, is what should inform a player’s decision as to whether or not to drink on the course.
It should go without saying that once a player’s conduct under the influence of alcohol has become an issue for other golfers, the line has already been crossed and course officials will most likely ask them to leave.
And, naturally, “empties” should never be left at the green. In fact, they should never be left anywhere, but that is sometimes another story.
All this of course is quite apart from the single biggest factor which might give golfers who are tempted to take a tipple cause to hesitate – performance.
How might drinking alcohol affect one’s ability to play golf? In a sport that requires judgment and precision, having a drink of beer or any other alcoholic beverage before playing golf could mean the difference between victory and defeat.
This is surely one of the most obvious reasons to resist temptation?
Are There Any Benefits to Taking a Drink Before Playing Golf?
The late Canadian snooker player Bill Werbeniuk was noted for his gargantuan capacity to consume alcohol, both before and during a game – including major tournaments and world championships.
Ordinarily, he would drink at least six to eight pints of lager prior to a match, and many more during the contest. Incredibly, he did this on his doctor’s advice as a means of controlling tremors and was even reportedly successful in claiming tax relief on the beer that he consumed.
Not many golfers are likely to find themselves in the same position as Werbeniuk (who incidentally died of heart failure at the age of 56).
On the contrary, most golfers would find their performance somewhat compromised if they were even to attempt to imitate his legendary pre-match ritual.
On the other hand, those of an anxious disposition might find that taking a single shot or a cold beer prior to playing, particularly in a social game with nothing riding on the outcome, may calm any nerves and release tension. This is popularly known as “swing oil”.
Even then, it is probably true to say that most players will lose some small element of coordination even after one small drink, and energy levels can also be adversely affected. Excessive alcohol drains blood sugar levels with a ruthless efficiency quite unlike anything else.
If you are going to have a few beers along the way, it can also be a good idea to check the strength of whatever it is you are imbibing.
Alcoholic drinks each have an ABV (alcohol by volume) percentage value inscribed upon the bottle or the can, and the higher it is the stronger the drink.
Beer can range from 3% to as much as 17% (in the case of some strong ciders). Try to avoid anything over 4.5%.
Purchase at the Golf Course or Bring Your Own?
Whilst many courses are relaxed about players drinking alcohol whilst playing, some can be particular about where you buy your beer.
It may be that, either due to licensing regulations or simply commercial considerations, they insist that if you drink beer you must buy it on the premises.
Some clubs even employ bar staff to drive around the course on a buggy selling beer to players along their way. Golf courses are businesses after all, and good business opportunities are not to be passed up.
It is always a good idea to check first what the rules are of the specific golf club at which you are playing. Nobody wants their six-pack to be confiscated unopened by over-zealous course officials if it can be at all avoided.
As a rule of thumb, the more prestigious PGA tour courses are the least likely to welcome visitors bringing their own beers to consume whilst playing.
One thing you can be sure of though is that there will be many a good beverage on sale at the nineteenth hole once the golfing is done.
Remember to Stay Hydrated
Whether or not you are playing golf, the most enjoyable time to drink alcohol is during the summer months, chilling on relaxing weekend mornings or afternoons.
But the irony is that when you consume alcohol in the sun dehydration can set in fast, especially if you are diabetic. This can lead to low blood sugar levels, headaches and nausea.
Players intending to let their hair down on the golf course should ensure that they mitigate against this by taking plenty of drinking water along with them in order that they may stay hydrated.
Alternating at regular intervals between beer and water is a useful trick to learn.
They should also take care to drink at a good pace. There are eighteen holes to cover before even thinking of socializing at the clubhouse after today’s game, to stay the course and remain in the game it is necessary to think ahead and stay in control.
Some Top Golfers Like a Drink Too
It is well-known that top US golfer John Daly enjoyed a long and intimate relationship with alcohol, and he claims to have been drunk when he set course records.
Rocco Mediate has admitted to drinking alcohol whilst on PGA tour events. And Tiger Woods confesses that he has consumed alcohol while playing golf, although he has not taken a drink since 2017.
Does it improve performance? The answer is most likely not. In 2018 the authoritative Golf Digest commissioned an experiment with three golfers of varying abilities who were encouraged to drink whilst playing.
While their performance remained at its peak after one or two drinks, after several there was a marked deterioration in their play. What was more, the better the player the greater was the deterioration?
Alternatives to Alcohol
It should be remembered that having something to drink need not involve alcohol. We all need to drink to remain hydrated, and experts are more or less unanimous in the view that by far the best thing we can drink to stay fresh is plain, simple water.
Today of course, as well as everyday sodas, we have a plethora of energy drinks available to us – some of them loaded with caffeine – and protein shakes for building strength.
There is a logic to using these in sporting situations, whilst alcohol is really just about feeling good and adds absolutely no conceivable nutritional value.
But it is equally true that many Saturday mornings would be a poorer experience were players not able to enjoy a social drink during a social game, culminating in something altogether more intense when at the nineteenth hole at the end of a taxing round.
It’s all about the quality of life, and how it measures up against the quality of play.
It’s All About Personal Choice
When it comes down to it, whether a player wishes to drink alcohol, protein powder, mega-monster caffeine frenzy or good old-fashioned tap water basically boils down to a matter of personal choice.
It makes no logical sense to consume alcohol, but then it makes no logical sense to run a marathon dressed as a chicken. Some things we just do because we enjoy doing them. It’s that freedom of spirit that makes the world a better, and happier place.
Golf is about friendship, camaraderie, bonding, doing business, and enjoying an exotic resort – it’s not always strictly about competition. That is what makes it such a unique and popular pastime.
The important thing to remember is that where alcohol is concerned, the line between being sociable and being a liability is one that is often blurred but is very easy to cross. And once crossed, it is a very difficult route back.
Drinking whilst playing golf is as much an art as it is a pleasure. It’s about getting it right, enjoying the experience and, well, still playing a game of golf. It’s what you pay your membership fee for after all.