Tee Up: Or Are Presidents Really Good Golfers?

“If I had my way, no man guilty of golf would be eligible to hold any office of trust or profit under these United States.”-H.L. Mencken

Back in 1897 William McKinley hit the green.  Since then, the only presidents who haven’t teed up are Teddy Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, and Jimmy Carter, but for all the time they spend playing, how good were our Presidents?

Taft: A 20 handicap who was said to always play out every hole. While in office, Taft celebrated the completion of the Connecticut Avenue bridge over Rock Creek Park because it allowed him quicker access to the Chevy Chase Club.

Wilson: Wilson logged more than 1,000 rounds while in office. He had golf balls painted black so he could play in the snow, but all that golf never helped Wilson improve as he rarely broke 100.

Harding: Played twice a week, but often scored in triple digits. His primary legacy to the game was the outstanding TPC Harding Park golf course in San Francisco, which was named after him.

Coolidge: Coolidge played mostly out of obligation and he usually required double-digit shots on each hole. When successor Herbert Hoover moved into the White House, the only thing said to be left behind were Coolidge’s bag of clubs.

F.D. Roosevelt: Before he contracted polio, Roosevelt was an accomplished golfer. In college, he was the club champion at Campobello Island Golf Club in New Brunswick, Canada, near his family’s summer estate.

Eisenhower: (Friend of Arnold Palmer) As president, he took 29 trips to Augusta and when in D.C., he played nearly every Wednesday at Burning Tree Club. Eisenhower also installed a putting green on the White House lawn.

J.F. Kennedy: Kennedy was careful to keep his golfing outings on the down low, as golf was viewed as a sport for the privileged. He did most of his golfing at Burning Tree, the most private club in the Washington area, where Kennedy was said to skip around the course, hardly ever playing a round of 18 or even nine holes. While playing at Cypress Point before he was elected, Kennedy nearly made a hole-in-one at the famed 16th hole.

L.B. Johnson: LBJ viewed golf as the perfect activity for political negotiations and it’s been said the votes he needed to pass the Civil Right Act of 1964 were secured on the golf course. Johnson’s swing was said to look like he was “killing a rattlesnake,” and he was not one for rules, hitting as many shots as it took get one that he liked.

Nixon: While serving as Vice President under Eisenhower, Nixon dutifully took up the game and became a solid player, once breaking 80 and playing to a 12 handicap. Even though he had a three-hole course built at his home in San Clemente, Calif., Nixon gave up golf while in his troubled second term.

Ford: Often broke 90, and was long enough off the tee to once out-drive Arnold Palmer and Gary Player on the first hole of an exhibition match at Pinehurst. He was the first president to join the USGA, in a ceremony at the White House.  He was also honorary chairman of the first Presidents Cup (1994).

Reagan: His most significant golf moment came during a round at Augusta Country Club when an armed man crashed the gates, took hostages and demanded to talk to Reagan. Reagan was one of six presidents who took lessons from Max Elbin, the longtime pro at Burning Tree.

G.H.W. Bush: His maternal grandfather, George Herbert Walker, was president of the USGA (later taken by his father Prescott Bush) and founded the Walker Cup. Bush played an 11-handicap and was inducted to the World Golf Hall of Fame. Bush also insisted on playing “speed golf,” refusing to play any round more than three hours.

Clinton: Clinton re-installed the White House putting green that Nixon had removed. In 1995, Clinton joined George H.W. Bush, Bob Hope and Gerald Ford in a pro-am to comprise perhaps the most powerful foursome in golf history.

G.W. Bush: Played to a 15-handicap before giving up golf at the outbreak of the Second Iraq War. After leaving office, he has returned to the sport, establishing the Warrior Open, which honors U.S. servicemen.

Obama: He was the eighth left-hander in the White House, but the first to play golf. He favored military courses at Ft. Belvoir and Andrews Air Force base. He also invited Rory McIlroy to the White House for dinner in 2012 when the Northern Irishman was first ranked no. 1 in the world.

Trump: Trump might be the best golfer, claiming a handicap under 3 with a self-taught swing that’s remarkably consistent. Of course Trump Golf also owns or operates 17 golf courses, including four resorts: Turnberry and Trump International in Scotland, Doonbeg in Ireland, and Trump Doral in Miami.

For more presidential golf stats click here.



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