Folklore has the beverage of choice of most golfers depicted as a bottle of scotch. In fact, legend has it that golf has 18 holes because that was the number of shots that could be found in a pint. For years the only name attached to a beverage at a golf course was Arnold Palmer. Palmer would often request an iced drink of ½ ice tea & ½ lemonade after a round. It was so popular that golf courses across the country would serve the Arnold Palmer to patrons. Today the Arizona Ice Tea Company mass produces the Arnold Palmer with Arnie’s picture prominently displayed on the can/bottle.
Within the last decade wine enthusiast soon became familiar with golfers like Greg Norman, Arnold Palmer and Annika Sorenstam as they became partners with vineyards and began producing their own labels. I became more interested in the golfer/wine connection as more professional golfer’s names emerged. I soon learned that all wine is not created equal and that there are many ways to classify these wines; player, geographic region, vineyard, type of grape, price, etc. So the journey began.
California is home to many wine labels including famous American golf legends Arnold Palmer and more recently Jack Nicklaus. Although the Arnold Palmer wine market is targeted to high end restaurants like Pebble Beach & Bay Hill, a bottle can be purchased for $15 locally. Jack Nicklaus wine emerged this year and made its public debut at the Memorial Tournament hosted by Jack in Dublin, Ohio at the Muirfield Village Golf Club this June. The Nicklaus wines run between $35 - $43 a bottle.
Players from other countries who have labels from California include Annika Sorenstam. She produced her first label from the Wente vineyard in the Livermore Valley of California. It was a good fit for Annika, who also has a passion for gourmet meals. Annika’s wine ranges in price from $32 o $75 a bottle, but if you want one autographed be prepared to drop $180. Recently she has started the Annika wine club that offers discounts and will feature an insider’s first look at new releases.
Partnerships are also found in the golfer California Wine connection. Both Luke Donald & Jack Nicklaus have teamed up with Terlato Wines from world famous Napa Valley. Greg Norman, who also has Australian wines, has a label from California as well. Not so famous for wine is Memphis, TN, home of John Daly’s label since 2006 with his motto “Grip It & Sip It” priced from $11 - $50 a bottle. Mark O’Mera, along with golfing buddies Curtis Strange, Vijay Singh and Hunter Mahan, are in a new business venture with a new Champagne, called Beau .
A look to the north and Mike Wier, Masters Champion of Canada , has had his own vineyard in the Niagara Region since 2005. Wier uses his winery, the “Mike Weir Estate Winery,” to raise money for his charity the “Mike Weir foundation,” assisting causes who support children with financial, physical or emotional needs. Since his first vintage was released in 2007 over 30,000 cases have been sold, priced from $19 - $23 a bottle.
Englishman, Nick Faldo’s Australian wine label was launched in 2000 as a natural fit to his golf course company, following in the foot-steps of David Frost from South Africa & Australian, Greg Norman who were the first professional golfers to have a wine label bear their name. Faldo’s wine is priced at $15 a bottle. He admits he is no wine connoisseur but as he ages the antioxidants provided in moderate wine consumption are more beneficial than a glass of beer after a round. He is quick to point out that there isn’t much drinking for him on tour, a glass or two at dinner is the most because they have work to do.
Greg Norman on the other hand had a true passion for wine. He is driven to make a quality wine that would compete with the best Australian wines. Greg offers a wide selection from vineyards both in Australia & the United States priced from $14 – 50 and displays the famous “shark” logo on each bottle.
South Africans golfers with wine labels include; David Frost, Retief Goosen, Gary Player & Ernie Els. Although David Frost is known on tour for having the lowest PGA Tour Putting total of 92 putts for 72 holes at the MCI Heritage in 2005, he is no stranger to the wine industry. His family has been in the wine business for over 60 years in South Africa. David first hit golf balls on the vineyard his father owned. David & his brother purchased their own 300 acre vineyard in 1994, “The David Frost Wine Estate,” producing over 7,000 bottles annually.
Using a little play on words, Reitief Goosen’s wine labels “The Goose Expression 2005” and “The 2009 Gander Shiraz” reflect the old saying “what is good for the goose is good for the gander.” The Goose is a blend of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon while the Gander is a unique blend of black currant, ripe cherry, spice, chocolate, and subtle cigar box smoky flavors.
Ernie Els has both a smooth swing and a smooth wine. His first vintage was produced over 10 years ago and today includes 6 different blends ranging in price from $39 - $99 a bottle. Els also combines his love of golf and wine with his South African heritage by offering travel excursions including golf, wine tasting at the vineyards and a safari.
The game of golf definitely delivers. Throughout my life I can attribute some of the best experiences I have had to the game. There have been a variety of people, places and things that golf has introduced to me that are without a doubt exceptional. Among them is my new found appreciation for wine. Truth be told for most of my life I would have passed on a glass of wine for a milkshake for the calories any day of the week. However, once again, golf expanded my horizons by introducing a few of the wines that now bear the label of professional golfers.
Golfer’s across the country are gathering their foursomes for wine tasting parties. Themed parties include wines by country, players who have won the Masters, etc. Bottles from favorite players are served along with local favorites. Of course as always, there is a pitcher or two of “Arnold Palmer” for the designated driver so that we can all continue to enjoy the great game of golf.