Karl Lindholm: Thoughts on golf and presidents

Word is that our basketball-playing President Obama has fallen in love with golf.
He tries to get out on the golf course once a week. He says that playing golf makes him feel “almost normal; … it’s the only time I’m outside.”
His critics find this diversion unseemly, charging that he is fiddling while Rome burns. The Tea Party site Obamagolfcounter.com tracks how many rounds he has played while in office. At last view, it registered 192.
A natural athlete, Obama shoots in the 80s. “He’d play better if he played more,” say those who play with him.
Presidents seem to like to play golf. Why is that?
Well, golf is a game that rewards a methodical, dispassionate approach, like that of President Obama himself. It asks that you hit the little white ball with a swing of nearly metronomic consistency — and then apply that swing to elements designed to thwart your best efforts: long grass, sand, water, uneven terrain, weather that tests your resolve.
I imagine that the challenge of golf is useful to Obama in confronting the obstacles of a recalcitrant Congress. It demands patience and self-control.
Golf is a fairly dignified game appropriate to a chief executive, a restrained form of sport with an emphasis on etiquette. Good plays are not punctuated by exultant displays of emotion. “Nice shot” usually suffices.
The Golf Pro at Poland Spring, the resort course where I caddied as a kid, Bob Card, contended that golf was “a game for men in long pants.” He was the golf pro from central casting, blade thin, very handsome, he looked great in his golf togs.
For one who thought that golf was a man’s game, he certainly gave lots of lessons to women, each in its own way an extended flirtation. We loved to caddy for Bob Card, especially when he took someone out for a playing lesson.
Do you think Hilary Clinton will be a golfer if she is elected President? Do you think she will then be offered a membership in Augusta National, the snooty country club where the Masters Tournament is played every year. In a radical gesture of inclusion, the club now has all of two women members, Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore, a South Carolina financier.
One of my favorite moments in all of sports was when Tiger Woods won the Masters in 1997 at age 21, winning for all the caddies and waiters at this bastion of the Old South: Club chairman for 40 years, Clifford Roberts, famously said of Augusta National, “as long as I am alive, all the golfers will be white and all the caddies will be black.”
One has to be invited to join Augusta National — there’s no application. It’s unlikely that Obama, despite his position of leader of the free world, and his love of golf, will be nominated.
The most avid golfer among our Presidents was undoubtedly Dwight Eisenhower, the supreme commander of our military forces in Europe in World War II, President from 1953-61. He was a member of Augusta National and played there often.
Ike played all the time; he even built a putting green on the White House lawn. He hit the links over 800 times while he was President, spending 1,000 days in a golfing activity. He did not worry about the appearance of a lack of Presidential gravitas.
William Howard Taft, our 27th President, (1909-13) is acknowledged as the first Presidential golfer, though his predecessor Teddy Roosevelt played clandestinely, not wishing to be considered among the “idle rich.”
Despite his enormous girth (he weighed well over 300 pounds), Taft motivated himself around the golf course with considerable dexterity and skill. Fourteen of 17 Presidents since Taft have been golfers: only Hoover, Truman, and Carter didn’t play.
Before Franklin Roosevelt was crippled by polio, he won a club championship at Campobello Golf Club on Campobello Island in New Brunswick. Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton all shot in the 80s.
After leaving office, Ford loved to participate in the pro-am events preceding major tournaments, and large galleries turned out to watch him play. He was famous for terrorizing spectators with errant drives. He said at one point, “I must be getting better — I’m hitting fewer spectators.”
Clinton is regarded as a congenial playing partner, free-spirited and garrulous, liberal of mulligans and gimmes. At times the best lie he encounters on the course is on his scorecard.
JFK, despite a bad back from the war, was a good golfer, with a nice swing, though he too played clandestine golf, fearing class envy.
The Presidents Bush have a true golfing legacy: the grandfather of George Herbert Walker Bush, our 41st President, and great-grandfather of “W,” was George Herbert Walker, President of the USGA (United States Golf Association) in 1920. The Walker Cup, a popular biennial competition between the top amateur golfers in the U.S. and Great Britain/Ireland, is named after him.
I’m not president of anything, nor have been, but I have been playing a couple times a week this summer at the college course after many years away from the game. I just play nine holes — it’s good exercise. I don’t worry about class envy.
My friends and I walk, carrying our own bags. Whenever I am tempted to curse or throw a club, I just look up at the beautiful verdant landscape surrounding me, and I am composed and grateful.
In his wonderful essay “Walking,” Thoreau wrote: “I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day … sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.”
Henry David sounds like a golfer to me. 

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