This lovely photograph of President Ronald Regan putting on board Air Force One piqued my interest in knowing how many US Presidents have played the game – some obsessively, some badly, and one, in the case of the current incumbent of the White House, with considerable talent. After the passing of the 41st President, George Bush Senior in November, top professionals Jack Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw, Brad Faxon, Fred Couples and Phil Mickelson attended his funeral, such was his connection to the sport.
Since the first recorded Presidential putt by William McKinley on 1897 there have been 18 golfing Presidents. The only ones not to play were Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Henry Truman and Jimmy Carter.
Starting with President Howard Taft who was so addicted to golf that during the 1908 Presidential campaign Teddy Roosevelt urged him to stop playing or lose the election, His successor Woodrow Wilson was so fanatical that he apparently played over 1,000 rounds while in office and even painted golf balls in colours so he could fund them when he played in the snow. Warren Harding had a golf course, Harding Park in San Fransisco, named after him. He was a poor golfer who liked to gamble, placing bets on shots and had his dog trained to retrieve his errant balls frim the White House lawn. Calvin Coolidge played, but mainly out of obligation. When Herbert Hoover succeded him he found his bag of clubs left behind in the White House.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a powerful golf swing and was an accomplished golfer before he became ill with polio. Dwight D Eisenhower played over 800 rounds while in office. His close friendship with Arnold Palmer encouraged the public to take an interest in the sport and during his time in office the number of golfers in the United States more than doubled. He established the putting green outside his office on the White House lawn and he would dictate to his secretary from there.
John F Kennedy was a single figure handicap golfer who played for the Harvard Golf Society but in later years was plagued by a bad back so did not play often. Lyndon Johnson used the golf course as a place for political negotiations. Richard Nixon played to a 12 handicap and had a three hole course built outside his house in California. Apparently once he broke 80 – once – he quit playing during his troubled second term. He then opted to remove the putting green from the White House lawn.
Gerald Ford played in a lot of tournaments and was renowned for his errant drives. However he often broke 90 and was said to outdrive Arnold Palmer who said “No President ever tried harder at the game”. Ronald Regan was a keen golfer who scored in the low 90s. The two Presidents could have had a falling out over golf. Gerald Ford, the 38th President, missed Ronald Regan’s innauguration day on January 20, 1981 because he was playing with Arnold Palmer in the Bing Crosby Invitational.
The Presidents with the most prestigious golfing pedigree are the 41st and 43rd presidents George Bush and George W Bush. George Snr’s maternal grandfather served as President of the USGA and founded the Walker Cup. Bush Snr was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. Both Presidents liked to play fast, under 3 hours. George W stopped playing in office at the start of the Iraq War but after leaving office his handicap has gone down from 15 to single figures. He has established the Warrior Open which honours US Servicemen.
Bill Clinton is an enthusiastic, vocal golfer who likes to entertain on the golf course. His handicap went down while in office. He reinstated the putting green at the White House which Richard Nixon had dug up.
Barack Obama is the first left handed golfing President and apparently fitted in over 300 rounds during his two terms of office. Bill Murray doesn’t look impressed here in The Oval Office.
When President Obama played mostly at the military courses at Fort Belvoir and Andrews Air Force Base. Here are some comments from Instagram about President Obama’s golf
President Donald Trump has an active handicap of 2.8 and is probably the most talented and passionate golf president winning 19 club championships. He is self taught. His organisation Trump Golf owns or operates 17 courses including 4 resorts.