Scots love to tell an apocryphal bit of drunk "history" around how 18 holes became the standard course length two and a half centuries ago at St. Andrews. There are 18 shots in a fifth of whiskey, you see, and the game's early practitioners simply nipped from the bottle on each tee and played until it was empty.
It's a romantic, if potentially head-splitting notion, but it's untrue. There actually aren't exactly 18 shots in a fifth; going by the standard of 1.5 ounces per shot, it's closer to 17, and no one likes a stingy pour. But it makes for a good story, and to the extent that the common social lubricant tends to facilitate storytelling, golf is as good a match as any activity.
For many golfers, a post-round drink is looked forward to as excitedly as the round itself, especially if that round turns sour early on. When my dad and I played the great British heathland course St. George's Hill in 2015, the golf was fun, the walk was invigorating and the dry, crisp cider in the bar afterward was the perfect cap to the experience. During a trip to Bermuda in 2017, canned Dark & Stormys were always close at hand, just as refreshing after a windy February round as I'd imagine they'd be on a scorcher in the summer.
Country club drinks: an overview
Indeed, many courses and clubs have their own signature post- or mid-round quaffables. In Georgia, Augusta Country Club is home to the Velvet Hammer, a boozy vanilla milkshake whose exact ingredients remain a closely-guarded club secret but whose imitators tend to incorporate vodka and, depending on the recipe you read, Kahlua, creme de cacao and triple sec. A less-secretive cousin is the Bay Hill Hummer, with vanilla ice cream, brandy, creme de cacao and vodka. If you make your own at home, be sure and use Ketel One in honor of Arnold Palmer's own fondness for it.
Some of American golf's most prestigious clubs have cocktails to match. At the National Golf Links of America and several other clubs in the Hamptons on Long Island, the popular choice is a Southside, which owes its name to the Prohibition-era smuggling activities of Al Capone's Chicago Outfit. It's a gin drink with mint, lemon juice and simple syrup, made fizzy by the optional addition of club soda.
On the West Coast, Cypress Point Club has its own concoction, Sam's Special, named after longtime club manager Sam Solis, who formulated the drink in the 1930s. Like Augusta Country Club and its Velvet Hammer, Cypress Point keeps mum as to the exact recipe - even Bob Hope couldn't coax it out of Solis - but those who have tried to recreate it agree it contains both light and dark rum, sour mix, soda water and a bit of powdered sugar. Another rum drink, a potent punch called the Fernando, is enjoyed by members and guests of 2022 U.S. Open host The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.
Located near Beaufort, South Carolina, Chechessee Creek Club's Creek Tea consists of bourbon, lemonade and a splash of bitters, poured over ice - a great antidote for summer heat and humidity.
Courses throughout the Twin Cities serve variations on the Bootleg, which originated at either Woodhill Country Club, the Lafayette Club and White Bear Yacht Club, depending on whom you ask. This regional cocktail is based around the mix: roughly equal proportions of lemonade and limeade, plus fresh mint sprigs. As for booze, it's drinker's choice: whiskey, gin and vodka are all acceptable.
Vodka is the most popular base of country club drinks often mixed with a bit of fruit and fizz to go with a warm summer round. Two great American golf resorts have their own takes. At Pinehurst, the Pinecone, a roving cocktail cart, serves the Blue Driver, which splashes vodka into blueberry lemonade. Sea Island's Front Porch Lemonade throws in some mint for good measure.
In central Idaho, the Valley Club's drink of choice is the Pedro, which combines vodka with Fresca, cranberry and lime.
Then, there's the Transfusion, perhaps the most popular of all country club drinks: vodka, grape juice and ginger ale, often garnished with lime. Its origins are unknown, but the important thing is that every golf course bartender worth his or her salt can make you one quickly in order to help reverse your fortunes at the turn or drown your sorrows at the 19th Hole.
Country club drinks go commercial; pro golfer alcohol endorsements
Transfusions have managed to transcend the country club scene, thanks to multiple brands taking advantage of White Claw and other fizzy canned drinks that have exploded in popularity in recent years. Cutwater, which makes a full line of spirits in addition to other canned concoctions, has PGA Tour player Harold Varner III as its ambassador for its Transfusions. I've sampled them - they strike a good balance, neither excessively sweet to hide the underlying vodka note nor too aggressively alcoholic-tasting.
Rather than a PGA Tour player, the Fishers Island Lemonade company invokes the eponymous New York club to sell its line of beverages, as well as alcoholic freezer pops. Sweetens Cove, the smash-hit nine-holer in Tennessee, has a $200 bourbon named after it.
Varner is far from the only professional golfer to lend his credibility to cocktails and spirits. Along with music producer/DJ Kygo and actor Miles Teller, Rickie Fowler has endorsed the relative newcomer Finnish Long Drink, which seeks to make inroads in America.
Abraham Ancer, who captured his first PGA Tour victory recently in Memphis, is part of the ownership group of Flecha Azul, a premium tequila brand out of Jalisco, Mexico. A prominent tour player's headwear is prime advertising real estate, and rather than an equipment company or other big sponsor, Ancer uses it to promote Flecha Azul.
Last but not least, wine is the OG pro golfer/alcohol crossover opportunity. Greg Norman Estates has been part of the Great White Shark's off-course enterprises since 1996, and has grown to encompass varietals from Australia, New Zealand and California. Reviewers have lauded the value proposition of Norman's wines, many of which can be had for less than $20 a bottle. Other pro golfers in the wine game include Ernie Els and fellow South African Retief Goosen, as well as LPGA Tour legend Cristie Kerr, who is a Level 1 sommelier with her own California-based wines.