When US Presidents Play Golf
From William Howard Taft, the 27th President who introduced golf to the White House, and Woodrow Wilson who played more than 1,000 rounds during his eight-year presidency, through to Donald Trump, who spends about 25% of his time on the greens, the game of golf remained a constant in American political life.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States, discovered the game one foggy morning in 1894 when he created a small course on the family’s four-acre estate, at Campobello, Canada.
“From then on, FDR was hooked, and being tall and lean, was perfect for the game”, Don Van Natta Jr. has written of that day.
Well-known for his ability to hit long drives, FDR became an avid golfer, even golfed while on his honeymoon in Europe in 1905.
As president, Roosevelt made the game available for those who could never have afforded to join a private club, building dozen of municipal golf courses including Bethpage State Park in New York and FDR Golf Club in Philadelphia.
He played golf until polio robbed his mobility at age 39.
A 2009 Golf Digest article ranked Franklin D. Roosevelt fourth on the list of top 15 golfing presidents.
John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy was long regarded as the most skilled golfer that has occupied the Oval Office, although at that time, playing golf wasn’t a good look for a Democrat.
JFK nearly made a hole-in-one at the famed 16th hole ocean hole, hitting a 5-iron tee shot that rattled the flagstick while playing at Cypress Point Golf Club before his election in 1960.
“You’re yelling for that damn ball to go in and I’m watching a promising political career coming to an end. If that ball had gone in, in less than an hour the world would be out that another golfer was trying to get in the White House”, said Kennedy to one of his playing partners that day.
Achronic back pain prevented Kennedy from reaching his enormous potential as a golfer.
George H.W. Bush
With the death of George H. W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States, in 2018, golf lost an important advocate for the game and a fierce protector of its Rules and integrity.
“Golf has meant a lot to me. It means friendship, integrity and character. I grew up in a family that was lucky enough to have golf at the heart of it for a while. My father was a scratch player and my mother also was a good golfer”, said George H. W. Bush upon receiving the Bob Jones Award.
Golf honors and awards:
PGA of America’s 1997 Distinguished Service Awards
PGA Tour’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009
USGA’s 2008 Bob Jones Award
Member of the World Golf Hall of Fame
Bush Sr. played in numerous tournaments and sped through his games. According to Golf Advisor, he “was decades ahead of his time on the course, insisting on playing speed golf. Any round that wasn’t over in less than three hours was too long for the former president.”
The first left-handed president to play golf, Barack Obama played more than300 rounds while in office, less than Eisenhower, Clinton, or Wilson, but more than most other presidents.
Obama had quite the set of playing partners during his presidency. One of them was Tiger Woods at the Floridian, in 2013.
“He’s got an amazing touch, he can certainly chip and putt”, Woods said of Obama.
Obama also invited Rory McIlroy to a White House dinner in 2012, when the pro golfer was first ranked No.1 in the world. The Northern Irishman offered Obama swing tips.
“Unbelievable experience at the White House last night! Big thanks to Barack Omaba for the invite! We’ll get that golf swing sorted soon”, tweeted McIlroy.
Although has received a great deal of criticism from opponents for his golf habits, the former president counts all of his strokes and doesn’t like to talk about politics.
Donald Trump unseated John F. Kennedy from the No.1 spot in Golf Digest top ranking of golfing presidents.
Trump may have criticized Obama for playing too much golf, but since taking office, the president has been a regular visitor at his own golf clubs in Florida and Virginia.
“Owning a great golf course gives you great power.”
At his course in West Palm Beach, Florida, he played on February 3 with multiple major-winners Tigers Woods and Jack Nicklaus. It was his 168th visit to a Trump golf property since he has been President, according to CNN.
Trump genuinely likes playing the game and reportedly taught himself to play:
“For me, it’s all about the hips. I read about the hips a long time ago in Ben Hogan’s book, and it become my simple key, and I’ve stayed with it. It might look a little crazy, but the more I clear, the straighter I hit it.”
Quick fact: Early this year, President Donald Trump installed a golf simulator in the White House. The device will enable the president to play virtual rounds of golf at some of the most iconic global courses.
American Presidents have come and gone, but golf continues to be a test of character and a symbol of all that is retrograde and exclusionary in American life.