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American Presidents – Golf Handicaps and Obsessions with Golf

Barack Obama, 2014. UPI/Matthew Healey/Pool

A number of American Presidents have had a love/hate relationship with golf. Perhaps the allure of the game and the competition appeals to them, or maybe they are just happy to get away from the stress of the Presidency, Congress, and the Public for a few hours. Regardless, there have been a number of Presidents who have loved golf, some to the point of obsession:

William Howard Taft
“Golf is in the interest of good health and good manners.”
“I know that there is nothing more democratic than golf”
“There is nothing which furnishes a greater test of character and self-restraint, nothing which puts one more on an equality with one’s fellows, or, I may say, puts one lower than one’s fellows, than the game of golf.”

William Howard Taft, 1909

Woodrow Wilson
“Golf is a game in which one endeavors to put a small ball into an even smaller hole with implements ill-adapted for the purpose.”
Approximate Handicap: 30
Fast Facts:
– Over Wilson’s two terms in office, he played over 1,200 rounds of golf
– During snow days where he would play with black painted golf balls
– Wilson rarely broke 100 and once reportedly took 15 putts to finish a hole

Lyndon B. Johnson
Famous Golf Quotes:
– “I don’t have a handicap…I’m all handicap.”
Approximate Handicap: None
Fast Facts:
– It is rumored that LBJ once shot over 400 in a round of golf!

Lyndon B Johnson, 1968

Warren G. Harding
Harding was able to get out on the course twice a week, but often scored in the triple digits. Skill isn’t equivalent to accomplishment though as he and Wilson have courses named after them at Griffith Park Golf Club in Los Angeles, CA.

Dwight D. Eisenhower
“I suggest you take up golf which, after all, is the best game of all of them.”
Friend of Arnold Palmer and member of Augusta National, Eisenhower played every Wednesday in D.C. and even had a putting green installed on the White House lawn.

Dwight Eisenhower, 1956

George W. Bush
“Golf teaches you honesty. It teaches you discipline. It gives you a strong appreciation of nature. And personal responsibility, something that lacks in our society at times. I mean, it’s only your fault, you can’t blame anyone else when you shank it. Or pick the wrong club.”

Bush didn’t play as much during his presidency as he gave up the game two years into his first term when the Iraq war began. After office, he established the Warrior Open to honor servicemen and at age 72, got his first hole-in-one in 2019.

George W. Bush, 2002

John F. Kennedy
JFK loved the game but kept his golf outings hidden from the media. Also a proponent of fast play, he often skipped around to different holes and rarely played a full round.

John F. Kennedy, 1963

Donald Trump
“The interesting thing is that everyone in golf is just nice. You learn a lot about people playing golf: their integrity, how they play under pressure.”

Donald Trump, 2018

Barack Obama
Barack Obama was the first left-hander in the White House to play golf and played about 333 rounds during his eight years as president.

Barack Obama, 2009

Richard Nixon
While he did build a 3-hole course at his own house, he ultimately gave up the game in his second term and even removed the putting green that Eisenhower installed at the White House.

Richard Nixon, 1968

Gerald Ford
“I know I am getting better at golf because I am hitting fewer spectators.”
Ford was the first president to join the United States Golf Association (USGA) and was the honorary chairman of the first President’s Cup

Gerald Ford, 1975

Bill Clinton
“I actually improved my handicap when I was in office. I was a probably a 16 when I came into the White House and a 12 when I left.”
Clinton reinstalled the putting green that Nixon removed at the White House, hosted PGA Tour’s Humana Challenge in Palm Springs, and joined H.W. Bush, Bob Hope, and Ford in the Presidential Pro-Am.

Bill Clinton, 1993

George H.W. Bush
“It’s amazing how many people beat you at golf now that you’re no longer president”

George H. W. Bush, 1989

Franklin D. Roosevelt
Although he didn’t play during his presidency, his golf highlights include a Club Champion title at his golf club in New Brunswick. FDR made a national impact on the game too as he funded public works projects which included the development of 300 municipal golf courses.

Joe Biden
“I don’t know about you, but if you want to keep your handicap in golf, don’t run for president.”

Joe Biden, 2023. Photo by Ting Shen/UPI

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