Golf club caught between city, smokers over possible ban

TEGA CAY -- Nothing beats a round of golf chased by a cold beer in the clubhouse -- and a cigarette?

"No Smoking" signs adorn city of Tega Cay buildings, including the golf clubhouse. But smokers light up regularly in the Tega Cay Golf Club bar.

The Tega Cay City Council recently tabled a recommendation from the public works committee to eliminate smoking in all public buildings, saying the committee had no authority to address the issue.

But the Vintage Club, Tega Cay's largest club with about 150 members age 55 and older, might pick up the cause. Member Joe Soprano, who serves on the public works committee, plans to ask club members to sign a petition and get involved.

"I think most people are in favor of a no-smoking facility," said Soprano. "We've talked about it, but now, it's time to step forward."

Smoking-ban advocates deem the time ripe because a new company, Pinnacle Golf Properties, assumed management of Tega Cay golf operations last month. The former manager had permitted bar smoking.

Bryan Bradshaw, Pinnacle's clubhouse manager, said he heard about the committee's stance last week.

"The facilities belong to the city, and we are going to do whatever they want us to do," he said. "If there is a gray area, we are sitting right in the middle of it. There is available seating for non-smokers."

Committee members believed the recommendation was within their jurisdiction because they are responsible for public buildings and safety, said Jim Van Blarcom, committee chairman.

"We have complaints from people who want to eat lunch or dinner in the clubhouse, but they don't because of the smoke," Soprano said. "Smoking has become a big issue in cities across the country."

Greenville, Sullivan's Island, Charleston and some other South Carolina cities approved laws this year banning smoking, not just in city-owned buildings, but public buildings including bars and restaurants. Some bars have filed lawsuits.

Other states have adopted laws banning smoking in public buildings.

In Rock Hill, the issue recently was discussed among city officials and hospitality industry representatives. Some local bar owners expressed concern, although one bar and restaurant owner who had banned smoking said it had not hurt business.

Councilman and public works liaison Larry Harper weighed in at a committee meeting last week.

"I've never seen anyone smoking in one of the city's buildings just out of respect," he said. "But this is a bar in the clubhouse. This is a bar serving alcohol. They allow smoking in the bar."

In his research, Van Blarcom spoke with Danny Holmes, owner and operator of Towne Tavern on S.C. 160 in Fort Mill. Holmes banned smoking in his bar and restaurant in April 2005, a few months after he opened for business. He serves wine, beer and mixed drinks.

"The bar crowd that was here just vanished for a few months," Holmes said of the smoking ban, "but the food portion increased. Now, the pendulum has swung back. We did more business last year than in 2005 and more this year than in 2006. Our alcohol sales are what they used to be."

The vast majority of Holmes' employees are non-smokers. The smoke was not only unhealthy and unpleasant, but he found it difficult to retain employees exposed to secondary smoke for seven to eight hours a day, he said.

He also discovered "families don't want to eat dinner in a bar atmosphere.

"One reason our business has picked up is because we have a lot of ex-smokers who come in because there is not the temptation to smoke," he said. "Also, there's an influx of people from outside the Carolinas coming from states that are smoke-free."

Soprano theorizes more people might go to the clubhouse bar for a drink if they don't have to inhale smoke.

On the other hand, Harper contends the people of Tega Cay "own that business. We all have a stake. I think council as a whole would like to hear from the populace."

When the composition of the council changes in January, council members who smoke will outnumber nonsmokers 3-1. Currently, all four council members smoke, although Mayor Bob Runde does not.

But Soprano doesn't think councilmen's personal pleasure in smoking is the issue.

"I don't think the council has taken a stand for or against," he said. "I think they want to see what the community thinks."