The Rich Tradition of Golfers in the Oval Office
Many presidents have been questioned by their critics about whether it’s really necessary to be playing golf during some of the most important and often difficult periods of their tenure in office. But can one really think of a better place to be? American history has an interesting tradition of Commander in Chief and their love affairs with the links. This cathartic ritual shows little signs of disappearing in the future.
Avid Golfers Recently in the White House
In order to envision the prevalence of golfing and the leader of the free world, we should perhaps begin with the current president: Barack Obama. President Obama is the fifteenth of the past eighteen U.S. presidents to call himself a golfer. He has caught some slack from critics, as have his predecessors.
Michael Moore famously portrayed George W. Bush in Fahrenheit 9/11, taking shots of the latter on the golf course. Yet the 43rd president of the United States quit golf in 2003, reasoning, “I don’t want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the Commander in Chief playing golf. I feel I owe it to the families to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal.”
President Obama surpassed his predecessor in golf outings, with more than 75 since being in office. Vice President Joe Biden has a handicap index of 8.2. Though President Obama has surpassed both Bush and Reagan, Bill Clinton is known to have practiced his putting in the aisle of Air Force One. President Clinton was able to shoot in the 80s; though he is also known for his mulligans and foot wedges, known as “Billigans.”
Like his son, George Herbert Walker Bush loved the game. The Walker Cup gets its name from his grandfather, who was president of the USGA. “41” was able to get his handicap down to 11 and is known for his speed. He claims to have played one infamous 18 hole round in less than an hour and a half. An avid supporter of the sport, Bush was the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award and earned a spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Golfing as a Political Liability?
John F. Kennedy was a fabulous golfer, who often shot in the high 70s and low 80s. An all-around athlete, known for his smooth and powerful golf swing, he was only tampered by chronic back pains. Golf was viewed as a potential political liability for JFK at that time and he often hid his visceral enthusiasm for the game.
Dwight D. Eisenhower loved golfing so much that when democrats said he spent too much time on the course, he had a putting green installed outside the oval office. This green is still used today. The small practice area has balls with the Seal of the President of the United States and is maintained with mastery. A member of Augusta National, Dwight D. Eisenhower played about 800 rounds of golf while in the White House. “The Eisenhower Pine” is located on the 17th hole. Ike hit it so frequently he suggested it be chopped down at a members meeting at Augusta National. The request was declined.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt is not the president who comes to mind when one thinks of great golfers, but indeed he was. Before being confined to his wheelchair at age 39, stricken with polio, Roosevelt was a gifted and avid golfer with a dominant swing. During the Great Depression, Roosevelt used his love for the game to put the nation to work building courses in his Works Progress Administration.
All of the Rest
Here are some more facts about presidents and their love for the game: Gerald Ford was maladroit, but able to score in the 80s. Ronald Reagan did not play often and his best score was in the low 90s. Warren G. Harding fought his hardest to score lower than around 95. William Howard Taft was the first president to take up golf, but he was not one of the best. Richard Nixon shot a 79 and then he quit golfing. Lyndon Johnson worked his swing by securing votes on the course for the monumental Civil Rights Act of 1964. Woodrow Wilson rarely had a score in double digits. When Calvin Coolidge left the White House, his clubs remained there.