American Presidents like golf. Whether they’re skilled golfers, like John F. Kennedy, or can barely hit the ball, like William Howard Taft, American Commanders in Chief love to swing the sticks. Bill Littlefield talks to Sports Illustrated‘s Jack McCallum about the role that golf has played in the White House, and McCallum makes predictions about the upcoming “golf summit” between President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner.
McCallum begins by discussing William Howard Taft’s pioneer effort to bring golf to the White House.
“Taft looks like he never missed the meal at the ninth hole…stood very very far away from the ball and just kinda chopped at it. But he really really really enjoyed it. He was probably the first guy to increase the identity of golf and popularize it even though he wasn’t a great player.”
While Taft was among the first to incorporate golf into his presidential lifestyle, Dwight D. Eisenhower made golf a part of his daily life. Over the course of his 8 years in the Oval Office, Eisenhower spent approximately 1,000 days playing or practicing golf. Eisenhower was criticized for the hobby, but McCallum says he didn’t seem to mind, “Perhaps because he was a general he really didn’t care.”
Someone who did care was John F. Kennedy, who, McCallum points out, tired to keep his avid golfer status under wraps:
“Kennedy started a ball toward a par three hole and it looked like the possibility was going to exist that he was gonna get a hole in one. He started screaming at the ball not to go in the hole so he would not have to report [it publicly].”
These past presidents have had their ways with the sticks, and now it’s Barack Obama’s turn. This weekend’s golf summit promises to be interesting. As McCallum puts it, “These guys are at each other’s throats 364 days a year.” But he hopes this round of golf will start to bridge the political gap that exists between Obama and Boehner. “To get out there where nobody is besides ten secret service men, something could get done in the order of ‘at least this is what we’re gonna be talking about in the next few weeks'”.
Jack McCallum’s article, “Politics of Golf” appears in this week’s SI Golf+ and is available online. Click the listen link above for the full interview with Bill Littlefield.