Which Presidents Played Golf?
If horse racing is the sport of kings, then golf is the sport of Presidents. Fifteen of the last eighteen presidents have (except Hoover, Truman and Carter) played the game.
As a teacher of political science, I just can’t let President’s Day go by without tipping a hat to our presidential golfers:
- The presidential golfing tradition began with 300 pound William Howard Taft. Although warned by political mentor Theodore Roosevelt that it was not good for his image, Taft continued to play. He once turned away a Chilean diplomat in favor of playing golf. Taft, a lawyer, never wanted to be president and eventually ended up with the position he coveted: Supreme Court Justice.
- Dwight Eisenhower’s obsession with the game had a lot to do with golf’s rising popularity in the 1950s. Ike reportedly was a good golfer who broke 80 several times. His weakness was the putter. Eisenhower is said to have played 800 times during his eight years in office., and was a frequent figure at Augusta National.
- In spite of all the jokes, Gerald Ford was a terrific athlete who lettered at the University of Michigan. His golf game was solid, and he regularly shot in the 80s. Late night comics teased him about hitting people with his shots, but Ford tended to play in more public spaces, where people were lining the fairways.
- Woodrow Wilson played as many as 1,200 rounds while president. Even snow didn’t slow him; he had the balls painted red. Wilson was on the course when he received the news of the sinking of the Lustitania. In spite of his dedication to the game, though, he wasn’t very good. His wife, with far less dedication to the game apparently was capable of regularly beating him.
- JFK apparently also was a golfer, but his handlers made the political decision to hide that fact: they apparently wanted to separate him from the image of his predecessor as First Duffer. As the story goes, Pierre Salinger finally told people that Kennedy was golfing when they began to wonder where he was off to on all of those afternoons. Salinger apparently thought he had to tell people about the golf to deflect the suspicion that he was carrying on with other women. Of course, we now know that he WAS carrying on.
- And speaking of adulterers, Bill Clinton, has gained a reputation for playing fast and loose with the rules of golf. One playing companion said that “it took him 200 strokes to score an 82”
- The Bushes come from a distinguished golf heritage. Their ancestor George Herbert Walker was USGA president in the 1920s. The Walker Cup is named for him. But as much as I like Dubya and Sr., I don’t think I can forgive them for what they do to the game of golf. The Bushes, you see, play speed golf, where score doesn’t matter as much as the time consumed.
- Barack Obama reportedly played 200+ rounds while President.
- And of course, Donald Trump is not only a avid golfer, but also the owner of some fine golf courses.
Eisenhower practices abord the USS Canberra, 1957
For more on Presidents and their golf game, you should read First Off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers, and Cheaters from Taft to Bush