Presidential Golf Tourney Could Benefit Wounded Vets
In America, golf by our presidents has long been publicly criticized. Unfairly, I think. President Obama played about 105 rounds in his first term - about half the rate of play of most duffers in the Sandhills.
My criticism of Barack Obama's golf is that he doesn't play often enough, particularly with important members of Congress. It is the most civilized way to get to know and often trust a guy with whom you might normally prefer not to associate.
I'd like to see Obama inaugurate a tradition in which once a year the president sponsors a televised golf tournament, perhaps on a Saturday at the Congressional Course in Bethesda, Md., with all profits donated to the care of wounded veterans.
A more secure location would be Andrews Air Force Base, in Prince George County, Md.
Players from each branch of the nation's political leadership would be invited to compete, with perhaps a top professional or amateur player included in each foursome. Past presidents could be invited, too. It could be good politics, although perhaps not great golf, and might renew interest in a sport in decline.
Left-handed President Obama is a slow player with a 17-18 handicap. Vice President Joe Biden plays to 8.2, and House Speaker John Boehner cards 7.9, with a serious tan to prove it. Obama occasionally practices his game when at Camp David. It provides only one hole of golf and a so-so driving range.
President Woodrow Wilson played more than 1,000 rounds before his stroke. President Eisenhower seldom let work get in the way of golf. He carded more than 800 rounds, playing every Wednesday afternoon and Saturday morning. He'd have played more except for illnesses. In his presidential library, the flooring from his days in office are scarred by metal golf spikes from when he'd come into the White House directly off a convenient putting green.
When the joke circulated, "May the president play through? The Russians just bombed Manhattan," and he got heat from some Democrats, his predecessor, Harry Truman, said, "To criticize the president because he plays a game of golf is unfair and picayunish. He has the same right to relax from the heavy burdens of office as any other man."
Golf Digest ranks these 15 president golfers, from best to worst, based upon a list created by Don Van Natta Jr., author of "First Off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers, and Cheaters from Taft to Bush." Here's the ranking: Kennedy, Eisenhower, Ford, Roosevelt, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Clinton, Obama, Reagan, Harding, Taft, Wilson, Nixon, Lyndon Johnson and Coolidge.
When my wife and I co-authored "Great Donald Ross Golf Courses You Can Play," we discovered other presidents who'd also played the game. Jimmy Carter, who preferred tennis, played Ross' Penobscot course in Maine. And Teddy Roosevelt, known for carrying a big stick but not a golf club, played Ross' course at Poland Spring, Maine. The first sitting president to walk a fairway was William McKinley, who played while vacationing in 1897.
Thus, every president for 115 years has played, with just two exceptions, Hoover and Truman. Hoover probably decided that golf during the Great Depression would be inappropriate, and Truman may have considered the image of a golfing commander-in-chief during World War II unseemly.
Hoover introduced "Hoover-Ball" to the White House, a combination of tennis, volleyball and medicine ball invented by his physician, Admiral Joel T. Boone, to keep Hoover physically fit. It was played daily at 7 a.m. by 16 VIPs, including Cabinet members and Supreme Court justices, using a 6-pound medicine ball over a net 8 feet high on a tennis court.
Boone said it contributed "three times as much beneficial exercise as tennis, and six times as much as golf." It was played by four-man teams every day for four years, with exceptions only for foul weather. No president since has been tempted to try it.
Harry Truman preferred poker with his buddies to investing time on a golf course, and got his exercise from fast, early morning walks around Pennsylvania Avenue with hustling Secret Service agents in tow.
Because of its elitist image, presidents for over a century years have hidden their golf from public view. There's no longer any need. A presidential golf tournament could spark renewed interest and respect for the sport, and support a noble cause.
Paul R. Dunn lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at email@example.com.
More like this story