At the Fore Twenty Golf Tournament, Tee Shots Aren't the Only Things Getting Smoked
It was a sunny afternoon in northern Oregon, but a scattered haze hung low over Stone Creek Golf Club and the air had a sweet scent.
Adrian Tannler stepped to the 3rd tee with a driver in hand and his eye on a target. At 44, tattooed and in green canvas sneakers, he called to mind an aging skate punk, though his proper grip and stance betrayed him as the country clubber he'd once been.
The hole was a par-4 that narrowed through tall pines, trouble left and right. Yet Tannler looked unruffled, smiling and relaxed. He was aiming for the firm turf of a fairway while playing on a different strain of grass. "I can't tell you exactly what varietal it was," Tannler said. "But I can tell you this, it was really nice."
He'd smoked it on the way to the course that morning, rolling up to the clubhouse Jeff Spicoli-style, and nothing at the moment was going to harsh his mellow: not the challenge of the tee shot; not the rust from a long layoff; not the pressure put upon him by his three scramble partners, all of whom had found the trees.
"I'm in a good mental space, no external distractions," Tannler said. "Everything is pretty much chi-ing in the right direction."
He swung and split the middle, then gave a gentle fist pump, hoping to go low but happy to be high.
He had plenty of company around the course from golfers in a similarly altered state. In name, at least, it was a competition: the Fore Twenty Golf Tournament. But in practice it was more like a corporate outing, with a vibe about as corporate as a caddie shack. Its field of 128 was composed of a motley cast of characters who'd spent more time in head shops than they had in pro shops. They ranged from greenhouse growers to dispensary owners, from hemp papermakers to herbal tea producers, to say nothing of a host of recreational users from the booming cannabis industry. Their purpose was a hybrid cross of work and pleasure. Even those who'd shown up buzzed had brought their business cards.
"The idea is to get together, have fun, and build relationships," said tournament founder Matt Enos, as he stood outside the clubhouse, fielding updates on the action over his phone. "We want to keep it respectful to both cannabis and golf."
Amiable and burly, Enos, 40, staged his first Fore Twenty in the spring of 2015 (in stoner slang, 4:20 means it's time to smoke), which was hardly the first time that he'd paired golf and ganja. Raised in Southern California, he became a golf junky at an early age, and worked throughout his late teens and early twenties as a cart attendant at a high-end country club. The fact that he smoked dope didn't make him the exception. Not in the cart barn. Not on the course. Emblazoned in his mind were countless memories of golfers who would wander off the fairways on alleged hunts for lost balls, only to return with a faraway look.
On the one hand, Enos understood the discretion. On the other, it irked him, an outgrowth, he believed, of golf's prim hypocrisy: while drug-use was embraced in the form of drinking, cannabis consumption was looked upon askance.
"You had this world where it was acceptable to get plastered at the bar, or put a case of beer in your cart and drive around like an idiot, but if you wanted to chill out with a little weed, you were somehow a degenerate," Enos said. "It just didn't make any sense."
The breaking point for Enos came in his late twenties, when he was turned down for a job as a golf equipment rep. Dejected, he moved on to career in telecom. But he played golf when he could and he kept an eye on cannabis, watching as the climate around it changed. As social norms shifted, and scientists gained a deeper understanding of marijuana's potential medicinal values, a legalization movement started spreading, taking root most notably in Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Alaska and the District of Columbia, where cannabis-use is now allowed for medical and non-medical purposes.
Like a darkroom plant hauled into the light, the marijuana industry had begun to flower, its blooming sales projected to reach $44 billion by 2020.
"Here you had a robust industry, with skilled and serious business people working in it," Enos said. "They needed a place to network other than the same old hotel ballrooms and convention halls."
As Enos saw it, the golf course was that place, but nailing down the details proved easier said than done.
In his search for a venue, Enos says, he got "10,000 no's from courses in California." A stigma persisted. Even in Oregon, with its more relaxed cannabis laws, it took some dialing before Enos found a willing partner in Stone Creek.
And so it was arranged, on a Peter Jacobsen-designed layout 30 minutes south of Portland: an event that gave new meaning to growing the game.
On the appointed day, in late September, Enos arrived at the course around mid-morning to grapple with logistics. There were swag bags to fill (with matches, herb grinders, bud marketing material), sponsored holes to assign, tournament prizes to sort through. On that last front, Enos had assistance from Zach Faust, a longtime golfer and local glassblower whose custom wares include trippy-looking pipes that glow iridescent green when exposed to ultra-violet light. Fitting giveaways in form and function, Faust's work, it was determined, would be set aside for foursomes who wound up with the lowest -- and highest -- scores.
"There's something about the personality type of the cannabis user that's a perfect fit for golf," said Faust, who learned the game from his father as a young boy growing up in Wisconsin. "Just that peacefulness, and the vibe of being out in nature. Golf really needs to learn to be more cannabis-friendly and understand that not everyone is out here just to get stoned."
According to the flier advertising the event, the Fore Twenty was slated to start at "high noon." But when the clock struck 12, play still hadn't begun. Golfers milled about. As shotgun outings go, this one had the feel of herding cats on catnip. Some players smacked balls on the range. Others lounged in carts, their attire spanning the gamut from crisp collared shirts and khakis to cargo shorts and skater caps. Aromatic hints of weed lingered here and there.
Finally, at 1 p.m., a Stone Creek staffer grabbed a bullhorn and issued the usual pre-shotgun pronouncements. He then passed the loudspeaker to Paul Loney, a local attorney who wore his hair in a Willie Nelson braid.
What followed was laid-back kind of legal counsel.
Yes, cannabis was green-lighted in Oregon, Loney noted, but because Stone Creek sat on county land, distributing cannabis samples on the course was not allowed.
He encouraged good behavior. "And if cops pull you over on your drive home," he concluded, "don't tell them the last time you self-medicated."
With that, they were off, a fleet of golf carts fanning across the course. Driving one of them was Cody Walker, long-haired and cheerful, with a sweet swing, a scarred face and a memorable story as to how he got the two. A natural athlete, he played golf throughout his teens in Tacoma, Washington. But after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, he mothballed his sticks and joined the army. Three years later, as he rode atop a Humvee in southwest Baghdad, a car bomb blew up beside him, severing his lips and tearing off his nose. As he staggered to his feet, he was shot through the cheek by friendly fire.
Somehow, he survived. Back home in Washington, he launched a marijuana-based business, Who? Walkin Happy Oil, specializing in concentrated, liquid cannabis extractions known in the industry as CO2 oils.
Walker sold those products. He also used them, treating himself for pain and post-traumatic stress.
"For me it's not about getting high," he said, after finding the green on the par-three second. "It's about getting through the day."
Nerve pain. Trauma. Muscle spasms. Nausea. Medical research points to marijuana as a potential cure for a wide range of conditions. What is does to golf performance is a matter of debate.
As the day wore on at Stone Creek, the evidence was mixed. On the face of it, a steady fusillade of shanks, tops, skulls and chunks seemed to suggest that Ben Hogan had been right not to mention Mary Jane on his list of modern fundamentals. And yet, in fairness, it was difficult to prove that the poor shots had been caused by excessive doobage, and not plain old ineptitude.
Then there was this: some players smoking weed were smoking their drives, too. Notable among them was DeShawne Maxwell, a Portland-area barber and recreational pot user, who was paired in the event with his pal, Sean Dawson. Both said they were high. Neither wanted to come down.
"I can pretty much smoke all I want and it doesn't hurt my game," Maxwell said before striping his tee shot on the par-4 9th. "It's when you drink too much. That's when you're done."
By that point in the round, this much seemed clear: Whatever its effect on a golfer's swing, cannabis did little to improve pace of play. Not that anyone appeared to mind. On every hole, sponsors gave out samples: rolling papers, herb tea, coconut flakes sprinkled over ice cream. The more the course backed up, the more it came alive with Cheech-and-Chong-like patter. At the par-4 8th, a drawn-out low-key argument broke out among Cody Walker's foursome as to which among them had the honor, only to resolve when the group decided that it didn't really matter.
At any rate, they were pleased to linger, nibbling on bite-sized servings of red velvet cake from an edibles company called Baker Bois. Covered in cream-cheese frosting, the tasty morsels were being handed out by Baker Bois co-founder Drew Smith, who said that the samples were cannabis-free. But, he added, he'd brought a special stash that he was willing to share with anyone who won a game of "stoner trivia."
Walker's group was keen to play.
"What famous stoner movie did Dave Chappelle star in in 1998?" Smith asked, reading from a cue card.
That was easy: Half Baked.
"Which famous U.S. president (yep, "famous" as opposed to all those unknown U.S. presidents) said, 'I inhaled frequently. That was the point'?"
"He's the sitting U.S. president," Smith hinted.
"He currently occupies the Oval Office."
"Obama!" Smith declared.
Sheepish grins. Chuckles.
"Oh, yeah! Right."
It was nearly dark as the tournament wound down. In the waning light, plumes of white smoke wafted through the trees, as if play had been suspended to elect a pope.
Foursomes made their way in. Most of them remembered to submit their scorecards but very few seemed worried about their results.
Among the last players to finish was Adrian Tannler, whose day ended much as it began: with his chi flowing in the right direction. His group made net birdie on its final hole.
"Great day for networking," said Tannler, the founder of a company called PharmFresh, which sells an array of cannabis products. "And a great day for golf."
Enos, the tournament founder, sounded pleased as well. His work wasn't done. He had plans for the future of the Fore Twenty, which included his ambition to launch similar events in emerging cannabis markets like San Francisco and Las Vegas.
"I'm not going to stop until golf embraces cannabis completely," he said. "It should be an accepted part of the game as much as Budweiser."
That was his long-term vision.
In the short-term: awards and a buffet dinner of barbecued chicken, beans, fruit and pasta salad.
Good stuff to munch on, even without the munchies.
The caterer, Pauline McGuire, had prepared plenty extra. She'd also baked lemon bars and brownies.
"Unfortunately, though," she said, "just the regular kind."