Will our ‘birdie juice’ get us in trouble?

Dear Molly: My friends and I all carry birdie juice and whip out our flasks to toast birdies. This does not happen often. But we’ve noticed that a lot of Colorado golf courses have posted signs threatening those of us who bring our own alcohol along. Do we need to hide our celebrations? Will they really throw us out if they catch us? 

A few winters ago, I was paired with a couple of Canadian snowbirds on a course in Palm Springs. We all missed a few birdie putts along the way until, finally, on 17, two of them found the hole. “BIRDIE JUICE!” my new friends proclaimed, whipping out the flasks and sharing some butterscotch schnapps. “Birdie juice? Why didn’t you tell me about this?” I asked. “I’d have tried a lot harder.”

Since then, I’ve tried to remember to carry my own little flask for my rare birdies. After all, didn’t golf get its odd number of 18 holes because that’s how many shots are in a bottle of whisky? And wouldn’t any golf course operator consider this a harmless little ritual? Uh, well … Those answers are actually “no” and absolutely, positively, emphatically “NO.”

First of all, the fact-checking website Snopes has busted the 18-shot myth. Golf courses generally have 18 holes these days because the Old Course at St Andrews reconfigured in 1764 from 22 holes to 18, making that the standard. Golf courses in Scotland today don’t even have drink carts, and players there must observe the golf tradition of the 19th hole oh-so-carefully because the alcohol limits for drivers are even lower than they are in Colorado. Frankly, the Scottish don’t do anything on their golf courses except golf, which helps explain why a twosome routinely gets around 18 holes in three and a half hours, or less.

That second question, somewhat to my surprise, raised many issues and more questions about what a mature adult might consider a harmless little ritual. Colorado golf courses have a love-hate relationship with liquor. Tom Buzbee, who runs Flatirons, a favorite of college students, says the course has multiple police cases opened each year related to players sneaking in alcohol and causing trouble.

“Fights, crashed golf carts, abuse of the staff and abuse of the golf course can usually be tracked back to alcohol that was snuck onto the property,” he says. Indeed, Mr. McMulligan was once walking his pushcart along a fairway at Fox Hollow when a cart came around the corner flying at him, crashing into only his cart, thankfully. Out of the guilty cart fell a few mini bottles. This was early on a Saturday morning. Imagine the dangers of golf at happy hour!

But golf courses spend a bit of money procuring and retaining liquor licenses so that they can supplement their revenue with beer, wine and cocktail sales, and they want you to buy theirs, not bring yours. Think of your favorite bar or restaurant. Would you ever sneak in a flask or bring your own cooler? This is no more acceptable at a golf course, unless you’re playing nine holes your family built by the corn fields. Not even private clubs are private enough for that.

Of course, with that license comes a bit of responsibility, and staff are trained not to overserve customers because the course could lose its license if an inebriated guest gets behind the wheel. But how can they know when players are drinking unknown quantities of alcohol they have brought in themselves? If you and your buddies are smuggling in a cooler of beer at South Suburban Golf Course, Todd Marley has instructed staff there to confiscate it. At another course, you can expect to be kicked out. And at another, it could be worse, depending on the municipality.

But for a little flask of birdie juice that you hardly ever get to drink?

“That would be a violation of (Colorado) statute, as you cannot bring your own alcohol beverages onto a licensed premises per 44-3-901 (i)(l)(B),” says Suzi Karrer, the communications supervisor for the state’s Liquor & Tobacco Enforcement Division, adding, “It also creates issues with assessing intoxication levels with parties that bring their own alcohol beverages while also being served on the licenses premises.”

The fact is, that sip of birdie juice that won’t produce any hangover could result in a big headache. Do not count on the golf course operator, marshal or cart server looking the other way.

Molly McMulligan, created by golf journalist and CGA member Susan Fornoff, is the CGA’s on-the-course advisor on how to have more fun on the golf course. She deeply appreciates the experiences and relationships golf has brought her as she’s played everywhere from famed Cypress Point to a remote Scottish nine that had an honors collection box at check-in. Trust us, you don’t want to take swing lessons from Molly. But if you’ve got a question about etiquette, relationships or the culture of golf in Colorado, Molly will find the answer. Send your questions along here.


CLICK HERE to check out five of Colorado’s best 19th holes.