OJ Simpson's old golf haunt, La Riveria, sits on the other side of LA from my downtown crib. That westside country club was the setting for the single golf tournament that I can recall watching with intention. The scene was all the way back in '95, and The Juice was no longer loose — he was locked up about a mile away from the crib, awaiting trial.
That year, La Riviera hosted the Pro Golfers Association Championship. Had my man Heavy D not spotted me a ticket, I might never have borne witness. As much as I was struck by the power and skill of the tour's top players, it was golf's customs that rocked my world: alcohol culture in full peacock bloom, continuous day drinking that Jim Nance hadn't bothered to rhapsodize over, and caddy culture making it a game for men who have sons or, at minimum, assistants.
Golf was goddamn fascinating. And I didn't especially care for it. What might happen if one introduced weed? Might that favorably tip the balance?
Looking for weed at Lemonhaze
Around 7:00 am on March 21, I caught the Southbound 7th Street train to Long Beach. My oldest child snatched me up and dropped me off 25 miles down the 5 freeway at Orange County's Irvine Spectrum Mall. A Lyft driver scooped me at Spectrum and carried me 20 roundabout miles along the southeastern edge of Angeles National Forest — some raw California beauty that I ain't never laid eyes on before.
Past the obscure Highway 241 sits Coto de Caza, home to the first season of The Real Housewives of Orange County and, on this day, the Lemongaze Executive Golf Classic. Tragically, the first round of beverages had already happened by the time I arrived. The 122 cannabis executives invited to the classic were out on carts. Tee-offs were happening. I ordered a Greyhound, but weed was on my mind.
Tournament organizer Brian Yauger asked me to join him on his cart and we began making our way from the Coto de Caza Golf and Racquet Club to the course rimmed with tightly designed multi-million dollar homes. I never would see the pool or court, but Coto de Caza also offers swimming and tennis inside its 44,000-square-foot craftsman-style clubhouse.
We delivered cans of beer to each hole. Every third green or so had a sponsor tent set up adjacent to its foursome.
Yauger, 49, is an Austin, Texas native. In his white Cascata cap, Yauger looked every bit the college ball defensive front seven coach that he was not that long ago. He started Lemonhaze in Seattle a little before the COVID quarantine and moved the operation to Las Vegas last year. An avid golfer himself, Yauger said that he only consumes cannabis at night.
There have been 24 of these events. Yauger covers the golfers' fees and the money gets made by charging sponsors for the hole-adjacent hangouts. The tournaments have a yin-yang relationship with the company's Budtenders First parties, a series of events intended to "recognize Budtenders as the de-facto salesforce behind every cannabis brand and celebrate their contributions to the growth of your favorite brands."
The play itself was a mixed bag. I saw some long, straight drives and a few impressive putts. I also saw some shots that etiquette said I should barely acknowledge and never mention on the 19th hole in some desperate search for small talk.
Feels like I saw some packets of edibles too. And maybe I shared a pre-roll with an exec in some obscure nook of the course. But probably not, because I read somewhere that this was a non-consumption event.
Playing slow is bad for business
"I had a great time," said Shiitake Happens proprietor Matt Parker, another executive's guest. "Some of the people I golfed with are the best people ever. I don't think you'll find better people than cannabis people."
He hit a lot of bad shots on that day. The exec who brought Parker to Lemonhaze told him, "Look, you're really good at these events. But you gotta get better at golf." Playing slow is bad for business.
My reason for ripping down to the OC for this trains, planes, and automobiles bullshit? I had put an end to the vast collection of ephemeral crap that some call a print journalism career. My new gambit would be cannabiz public relations. Sure, I was legit curious about how cannabis culture and golf culture would interact, but I had mainly dropped behind the Orange Curtain to build the contacts necessary to make indie PR success happen.
And sometimes you just have to smoke a joint with an exec, theoretically.
A white lady at the country club flinched when I unexpectedly entered her sightline. This would never have happened at La Riviera, I thought. Generally, non-Black Angelenos are beyond that basic bullshit and have proudly been that way for a good 8 - 10 months.
Once I realized Lemonhaze was more of an Orange County event than a cannabis event, the exclusivity of golf became my primary concern. Golf turned into a metaphor for clubs in which business deals are made.
"We're going to be adding golf lessons to our tournaments," Yauger explained later. "So if you don't golf and you want to come out, join the mixture beforehand. And when everybody goes out, we'll have a golf pro there. You can actually take golf lessons and you can hopefully pick up the sport next year."
"I had to hit on that point," I started to say, "and—"
"And you should," said Yauger, "because it's something that, honestly Donnell, it never crossed my mind that that was going to be a problem, but it showed up very quickly that it was. We are working hard to try to resolve that as quickly as we can."
Cannabiz as usual
This is the part where I tell you that I never fully took my figurative publicist cap off in the making of this article. Because I want relationships with the well-funded in cannabis, this joint's maybe 85 percent pure.
Like legal weed's ownership class, the Lemonhaze Executive Golf Classic is hella white. I could spot only a few brown faces in the sea of whiteness. The only Black people not on the Lemonhaze payroll whose presence I noticed were Hazey from Black Cannabis Magazine and football legend Ricky Williams. For some, this news will only boost the tournament's appeal.
I can't hate golf, even though the game's inherently not for the people. My politics lean socialist, but not to the extent that I believe every single thing should be open to every single one. Exclusivity in business deals makes sense to me. Lemonhaze is succeeding because people who run companies are over being buttonholed at weed conferences by people without actual deal-making power. The coziness of a foursome on the green is a business environment that's impossible to duplicate.
When I think of inclusiveness and golf, that day at OJ's country club comes to mind. Not because La Riviera in '95 might have been more diverse than Coto de Caza today, but because hours before tee-off I'd been at the legendary hip hop club Unity celebrating Xzibit's birthday. And I went from the PGA Championship to Golden Gate Park in order to memorialize Jerry Garcia, whose death rocked the whole West Coast.
I would like all of those parties in my cannabiz culture. The Orange County mixture wasn't righteous on that day in March, and maybe it can't ever be. Some say exclusivity and equity are inherently incompatible. I am not sure that I believe that. Probably because I am doing PR.
Donnell Alexander is an inveterate storyteller and a co-founder of The Z&D Agency.