Where To Golf Next

Links Drinks puts a shot into course cocktail scene

As golf course food-and-beverage operations continue to evolve during the pandemic, Links Drinks’ Transfusion finds its niche as a refreshing ready-to-drink cocktail in a can

Golf is booming at the moment, thanks to the relative ease of social distancing and the perceived health benefits while segments of the U.S. have been partially crippled by the coronavirus pandemic. But it hasn’t come without some necessary inconveniences.

Grillrooms and bars are closed or limited at most courses and clubs, which can make it tough to get a cocktail. Fred Evanko believes he has the solution. Evanko and his wife, Denise, started Links Drinks to produce a cocktail in a can. In fact, they make one popular concoction, the Transfusion, which is made with vodka, ginger ale and grape juice.

“Our product is perfect for the grab-and-go snack bar environment we’re in at most golf courses,” Evanko said.

Evanko was vice president for sales with VPar, one of the first real-time live scoring apps. He was busy building business in the Northeast and, in the process, attending a number of local pro-ams, corporate outings and charity events. He took particular notice of the cocktail of choice.

“A lot of people were drinking Transfusions,” he said. “And I wondered why couldn’t we make a canned, ready-to-drink Transfusion?”

Canned cocktails made with spirits have become increasingly prevalent with three leading distillers making their own versions of popular drinks. Evanko was looking for a niche and thought golf was the perfect vehicle to sell his product.

Links Drinks — Transfusion
Links Drinks, founded in 2019, is starting to grow outside of its northeast U.S. footprint and is also experimenting with adding new flavors.

Evanko has been in the golf space for some time, having worked for almost 17 years for Reed Exhibitions, who produce the PGA Merchandise Shows. But tragedy struck in 2013 when Fred and Denise lost their daughter, Grace, to cancer.

“It gave us perspective and made us realize life is too short,” Evanko said. After doing what he calls “grassroots research” and the hiring of a beverage consultant, Links Drinks was born. Originally, the concoction was a malt beverage but the taste wasn’t to Evanko’s liking. He decided to use spirits, despite the additional costs, and the Links Drinks Transfusion uses six times distilled vodka and is 7 percent alcohol in a 12-ounce can.

Links Drinks launched statewide in Connecticut a year ago. After the end of the 2019 golf season, the company secured distribution in four additional states and recently added a sixth. Links Drinks is also available in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Colorado. According to the company’s website, the Transfusion will soon be available in South Carolina.

“We started out with a focus on the golf customer,” Evanko said. “The original concept that made me confident about the idea was that we had a built-in audience who know and like the drink.

“We didn’t come out with another craft beer that tastes better and has better packaging. The core customers are golfers. But it’s not just a golf drink. We’ve already found men and women like it, younger adults like it.”

At present, Links Drinks does 60 percent of its business through liquor stores and 40 percent at golf courses. Winged Foot Golf Club, the host of this year’s U.S. Open, offers the Links Drinks Transfusion. Evanko said the club sells more Transfusions than his biggest customer in Connecticut.

The company is looking to expand its reach beyond the Northeast and is looking at the warm-weather states where golf is big business. “We’re trying to walk fast,” he said. “We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.”

And Evanko is testing new recipes for additional flavors that might be grouped in a variety pack.

The concept of reaching inside a cooler for a cocktail instead of waiting for someone to mix it might sound foreign but might be part of a new normal, whatever that turns out to be.

But please tip your bartender, anyway.

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