Lighting it up on the golf course may mean more than playing well, now that voters have made marijuana legal in California.

It’s no secret, however, that some golfers have been getting high for years on courses here and across the country.

“I play most of my rounds with a nice buzz,” said a golfer at Santa Anita who asked to remain anonymous. “First off, I enjoy it. Secondly, I think I play better; I concentrate more on the swing or putt. And third … well, third, huh? I don’t remember third.”

Then he laughed and said he was playing to the stereotype of the forgetful stoner.

“I’ve had my best rounds – in the low 70s a few times, even – when I was relaxed and loose,” he said. “At a different altitude, you might say.”

Improvement in golf skills when high is a common belief among those who, before recreational marijuana became legal in California on Nov. 9, indulged illegally.

“It’s been illegal all my life,” said a member of an L.A. County course’s men’s club while on the range. “That never stopped me. Sometimes when I stand over a putt and I’ve got the right buzz on, I just know I’m going to make the putt and stroke it so smooth. It will seem strange that it’s legal.”

Smoking marijuana on a golf course still is not permitted under the Proposition 64, which California voters ratified with a 56 percent majority. That’s because the ballot measure does not allow marijuana smoking “in any public place (other than a business licensed for on-site consumption).”

Smoking in public is also banned in Colorado, Alaska, Oregon and Washington, the first states to legalize recreational use of the drug.

“Legalization hasn’t changed anything, whether they are smoking or aren’t on the golf course,” said Rex Smith, director of golf operations at Bandon Crossings in Oregon. “You don’t notice it, and we’re not selling any less beer.”

There’s a group called Fore-twenty in Oregon that claims it hosts the “largest cannabis golf tournament in the Pacific Northwest.” This year it will be on June 29 in Oregon City at Stone Creek, which opens the place to a host of clever nicknames.

Some people who play and work in the game don’t see recreational legalization becoming a worrisome issue.

“It won’t cause any problems, not more than a six-pack. But I’m not happy to see it personally,” said a starter at a high-end Coachella Valley golf course. “I don’t think smoking marijuana is a good example for the kids. But I think on the golf course, smokers will be respectful.”

(Photo by Tom Hill)

A longtime golfer from the Palm Springs area said being cautious and thoughtful will be important moving forward.

“I never smoke around anyone on the course I don’t have a good feeling about,” the golfer, who requested anonymity, said after a round at Indian Canyons in Palm Springs. “Usually I don’t even smoke at all. I like to eat a gummy when I get to the course and hopefully I feel it about the time I tee off.”

Not only are edibles, such as gummy bears infused with marijuana, replacing smoke as a method of imbibing for many, non-THC products, such as cannabidiol (CBD) oil, are being used by people with no interest in marijuana’s psychological effects.

“I rub some CBD oil on my shoulders and the back of my neck every morning,” said a 62-year-old public course player from West Covina. “My shoulders are so sore when I get up; but they don’t bother me as much with the CBD oil. Then again, I probably have fewer aches and pains when I’m golfing than I do most other times.”

Dr. Robert Olson, a surgeon before becoming a medical marijuana physician, has witnessed the evolution from smoke to vape, edibles to drinkables and CBD oils to lotions.

“We don’t recommend for anyone to smoke,” he said at his Greenview Medical office in Upland. “There are so many non-smoke alternatives that produce the desired effects. When you go to a clinic they’ll show you all of the products available and can discuss the effects they produce.”

Until November’s vote, players who wanted to smoke or use creams or lotions infused with marijuana and not break the law had to have a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana use.

“Half the guys hitting here on the range probably already have their medical,” golfer Davis Williams said at a public course in Anaheim. “If they’re under 30 or over 50, there’s a good chance they use something, from Advil to sativa.”

Since the legalization of medical marijuana in 1996 under the Compassionate Use Act, marijuana has become accepted in California, now one of eight states and Washington, D.C., to recognize (and tax) recreational pot.

“I’ve had a license for years,” said a golfer at Rancho Park in L.A. “I get it delivered right to my condo. It’s crazy, when you think back 40 years.”

Olson recommends speaking with a doctor before starting to consume cannabis for medical purposes.

“For those who don’t want any of the associated psycho-active effects,” he said, “the CBD oils and tinctures can provide direct pain relief without getting you high.”

(Illustration by Trinity Powells)

When asked about possible marijuana use on the course, golfer Eddie Cabot, with a recently purchased six-pack of beer from the Jurupa Hills clubhouse in hand, was adamant about his stance.

“I don’t like to smoke,” he said. “It makes me stupid and I don’t like that.”

Still, golf has a long association with inebriation, though statistical data is difficult to find. Anecdotally, many of us who have played hundreds of rounds would likely say that 10 to 50 percent of golfers consume alcohol during a Saturday round, though only a small percentage end up drunk.

“I’ve played with some guys who drink too much,” said a golfer at Whispering Lakes in Ontario. “There’s one guy I won’t play with in our men’s club because he’s usually drunk by the turn. The guys I played with today are friends of mine for a long time; we shared a joint on the third tee. Nobody played that well, but nobody got sloppy, either.

“Seriously, the other thing is I can get high before the round or sometime on the front 9, and by the time I finish, like today, and have to drive home, I’m sober,” he continued. “I can’t say that about some of the beer drinkers I’ve played with.”

Dr. Bob Baker, a former emergency room physician who now specializes in medical marijuana, cautions against mixing beer and pot.

“Although there are no serious adverse drug-drug interactions with cannabis,” he said, “it should not be mixed with alcohol or sedatives because of the uncertainty of the combined effects upon one’s level of consciousness, judgment and coordination.”

The lack of concentration marijuana sometimes produces as a side effect can also impact a round.

“I had one day when I couldn’t chip and, on one hole, I must have hit the ball four or five times in 25 yards to get on the green,” a player recalled while in the bar at Mountain Meadows in Pomona. “I seriously couldn’t remember after 3-putting how many times I hit it. I ended up calling it a triple with an X.”

The anonymous golfer from Santa Anita offered another perspective.

“When I play well, it doesn’t matter how much I smoked,” he said. “Afterwards, I remember every shot.”

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