“Whenever I play with him (President Ford), I usually try to make it a foursome – The President, myself, a paramedic and a faith healer.”
William McKinley was the first POTUS to play golf in office in 1897. Since then, 17 (soon to be 18) Presidents have played in office, with Teddy Roosevelt, Hoover, Truman and Carter the exceptions. Besides their contributions to America, they’ve promoted the game in unique ways. We all know our true personalities shine through on the course, and U.S. Presidents are no exception. We’ve had a couple try to hide their affinity for the game, an extremely fast player, and a few whose temper couldn’t be denied. With President’s Day approaching, we’ll take a look at some of the best and worst players, various presidential gifts to the game and fun facts.
William Howard Taft (1909-1913)
Taft is known as the first true golfing president. Known for being huge (literally and figuratively), he thought golf was a great way to experience nature and get some (much needed) exercise. The Prime Minister of Chile was once waiting on a meeting with the president. “I’ll be damned if I’m going to give up my golf game to see this fellow,” said Taft. He was brutally honest about his miserable game, once taking 12 to get out of a bunker. A man true to our hearts.
Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)
Woodrow Wilson (not Eisenhower as often thought) played the most rounds of golf in office…1,200!
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945)
FDR was the only president to partake in golf course architecture (he helped design the Roosevelt Memorial Golf Course, a small 9-hole venue in Warm Springs, GA). Roosevelt was an excellent and avid player until he contracted polio at age 39 in 1921.
Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)
It’s no secret that Ike liked golf…he played over 800 rounds while in office. Inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, Eisenhower was the Supreme Allied Commander for the liberation of Europe, the President of Columbia University and an 18 handicap. Although he suffered from a “congenital slice,” Ike profoundly popularized golf, even installing a putting green on the White House lawn. When he and the late Arnold Palmer became fast friends, often seen playing at Augusta National, it revolutionized the sport as America became smitten with the game.
John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)
Early in his career, JFK hid his affection for golf as he didn’t want to be seen as elitist. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how good he was or what his impact would have been had he not died young, but it’s said he’d often shoot around 80. With chronic back pain and Addison’s disease, his swing was short but smooth. He’d often fall onto his back foot after impact to take pressure off his spine. He’s widely considered one of the best players to grace the Oval Office.
George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush (1989-1993, 2001-2009)
No family has had more of an impact on golf. Another president in the WGHOF, H.W. Bush has been a leader of The First Tee movement and an honorary captain of the U.S. President’s Cup team. His father, Prescott Bush, was president of the USGA and his maternal grandfather, George Herbert Walker, established the Walker Cup. He’s also known as the fastest presidential player, once playing in 1 hour, 51 minutes in a foursome (something to be learned here). George W. Bush gave up golf during the Iraq War, but has returned to the game after leaving the White House to establish the Warrior Open for U.S. servicemen. H.W. once played at an 11 handicap, and W. a 10.
Bill Clinton (1993-2001)
Known to be cavalier about giving himself a “Billigan” or five during a round, Clinton built a new putting green under the Hoover Oak at the White House. He’s known as a good player who gives himself a few shots on the course. He’s heavily promoted golf throughout his career, and supports the Career Builder Challenge in La Quinta, CA.
Barack Obama (2009-2017)
Obama is the only lefty player in the history of the office. Though his first love is basketball, he’s supported The First Tee as well as The President’s Cup. His setup is balanced, and he has an athletic move through the ball, although his swing is a bit cautious. He often plays at public courses, and numbered the third-most rounds in office behind Wilson and Eisenhower.
Donald Trump (2017-)
With a large stake in 18 destinations around the globe, Trump had a large impact on golf before taking office. It remains to be seen what legacy he will leave as a golfing president, but he’s known to be a solid player. Boasting a 2.8 index at his difficult courses, he’s considered the Presidential Office’s best golfer. He has a flat, inside takeaway, but makes a robust hip turn through the ball and is known to hit a lot of fairways. He’s the old guy at the course who looks like you should beat but can’t.
Golf is definitely the sport of the presidents. While it can be argued how much the POTUS should play, or how good they truly are, there’s no doubt the game has had an influence on the most powerful occupation in the world. As far as we know, no major political deals have been struck while golfing, but insights have certainly been gained.