A sign hanging from a post at the first tee alerted golfers last week that groundskeepers had just sprayed fertilizer at the Fircrest Golf Club’s 18-hole course.
Uh-oh. Our foursome had stocked up on cigars to enjoy during the round. During past outings, I would gently set my lit stogie on the ground while I’d swing. That usually meant setting down my cigar about 105 times in four hours.
Unsanitary? Sure. Add a fresh application of fertilizer and the grass suddenly doesn’t seem like the best cigar holder.
Not to worry. This golf outing wasn’t about golf as much as it was a research project, a hands-on investigation into the performance of the Cigar Compadre, a new clip-to-anything cigar holder that hit the market this summer.
Its inventors and investors? Two Tacoma businessmen – Paul Miller, real estate developer and former Tacoma city councilman, and Karl Anderson, chairman of the boards at Concrete Technology Corp. and the LeMay car museum.
They also were my golfing partners on this day.
How did they come up with the Cigar Compadre?
“Necessity is the mother of invention,” said Anderson, quoting ancient Greek philosopher Plato.
True. When Charlie Sifford showed up on the Professional Golfers Association Tour in 1961 he instantly gained fame for two groundbreaking reasons. He became the PGA Tour’s first black player. And he popularized the pairing of golf and cigars by always playing in tournaments with a cigar in his mouth.
Ever since then inventors have attempted to come up with a device to hold cigars on the golf course. Do a Web search and you’ll find odd holders – including a cumbersome robotic arm you can ratchet into various shapes or a golf tee with a tray on top that you can stick into the ground, or clips that crunch the cigar leaf wrappers.
Anderson, a 67-year-old cigar aficionado who took up golf six years ago as an enjoyable way to get in all the walking his doctor prescribed for him, thought he could come up with a better cigar holder for golfers.
He had a lot of time to think about it and talk it over with Miller. In 1997, Miller hosted a 50th birthday party at his home for a mutual friend, Ray Corpuz, then the Tacoma city manager.
During the party, Anderson said, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a cigar to go outside on the deck and smoke?”
“Paul says, ‘Let me do something about that.’ Next thing I know he comes back from the basement with a handful of cigars,” Anderson recalled.
From that testosterone-fueled event evolved “Los Compadres,” a men-only social cigar club of area businessmen that meets once a month at the home of a member to test new cigars and enjoy each others’ company.
After Anderson took up golf, he bought and tried various cigar holders but never found one he liked. “Then one day,” he said, “I was doing some work on the yard repairing an irrigation pipe, and I said, ‘Oh, look at this!’”
He had stubbed off a piece of white water pipe and figured a cigar could easily slide into it. He made himself a prototype and sewed it to his golf bag with carpet thread. That didn’t work, so he wired it on.
“It was OK but not convenient,” he said.
Then during a cigar trade show in Las Vegas, Anderson got an idea of taking a cigar tube cap the size of a 35mm photo film canister and screwing it to a battery clip he bought at Radio Shack.
“Everybody wanted one,” Miller said. “He was up to about 20 or 25 of these things that he made and it became obvious this is an item that worked.”
So Anderson refined his device by custom-crafting the plastic holder. He put a hole in the bottom, which allows air to draw through the tube and keep your cigar lit. And when you smoke the cigar down to a short stub, you can drop a golf tee into the hole and use it to push the stub up so you can grab it without burning your fingers.
Anderson filed for a patent as the inventor. Miller oversees the business side of the partnership. He hired Scott Bailey, a Tacoma advertising executive, to come up with the packaging and promotion. They set up www.cigarcompadre.com for online sales.
Roy Kimbel, a Tacoma fundraising and development executive, never goes golfing without a Cigar Compadre now.
“Oh, I love it,” Kimbel said. He bought several as gifts and carries around a supply to give away when he encounters a cigar-smoking golfer.
Pro Golf Discount has carried the $8.95 devices for four months at six Northwest locations to test their popularity. It has sold more than 100 units and expects them to sell well as Christmas stocking stuffers for duffers, said Craig Tabor, assistant manager and product buyer.
“There’s nothing in the golfing industry that’s available that’s quite like this,” said Greg Talley, head pro at Fircrest, which also stocks the Cigar Compadre. “The nice thing about it is the size. It’s not too bulky. It’s easy to pack around for travel and use in a lot of situations.”
Like boating. The packaging and promotion also targets boaters who want a convenient place to put their cigars.
And it works. I smoked two cigars – a short thicker cigar on the front nine and a much longer thinner one on the back nine. I clipped the Cigar Compadre to my bag at first, but it had more stability when clipped to the pull cart. Just make sure to clip it in a spot where the ash won’t fall into your bag.
“Clearly we think it’s a better product than anything on the market right now,” Miller said. “It’s never going to be a ‘retirement product.’ We don’t have a huge goal of trying to turn this into a massive company.”
Neither really needs the money.
“The truth of the matter is we just did it ’cause we could,” Anderson said. “It’s fun, and we’re sharing our joy with other golfers who like to smoke cigars.”
Dan Voelpel: 253-597-8785