Raising the Standard at UGA since 2013.

A Presidential Tradition

(Photo courtesy Ronald Reagan Presidential Library)

The game of golf has been connected with the United States presidency for many decades. Presidents have carried on the longstanding tradition of hitting the links during vacation days or practicing their swing in weekend scrambles with fellow diplomats, congressman and officials. Even trees on famous courses are named after presidents. Why has golf become the athletic symbol of the presidency?

Fifteen out of the last eighteen United States presidents have played golf in some form or fashion while in office — only presidents Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter did not play a round during their terms. Some presidents played the game more than others. For example, it was estimated that Woodrow Wilson played between 1,200 and 1,800 rounds of golf while in office, even though most claim he was not very good and struggled to break 100 on his scorecard. Some presidents were less public with their game and worked hard to keep their outings private, such as Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy.

No matter how many times a president hit the links, he was always under watch and widespread judgment for his game. Some presidents did not have to worry about being adjudicated harshly because they were majestic on the green. Gerald Ford, for instance, was arguably the best athlete to ever serve in the Oval Office, and it showed in his golf game.  It was said that at times he was even good enough to outdrive famous golfers Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, who he hit with occasionally while in office. Alongside Ford, Kennedy and Dwight Eisenhower, both said to be very good players, rank as some of the best golfers to ever take on the highest position in the land.

Not all presidents were so lucky.  It has been said that Richard Nixon was the worst golfer to ever hit the course as president. Though he enjoyed the game, his swing was ugly, his body too stiff, and he lacked the athleticism and hand-eye coordination essential to master in game. Barack Obama also ranks near the bottom. President Obama sports a home-made swing said to have a “chicken wing”-like follow through. Like Nixon, Obama’s love for the game is enduring — but perhaps he should work on fixing his health care website before fixing his golf swing.

MARK TWAIN: Golf is a good walk spoiled.

Golf is a game and should not be viewed with much scrutiny by the media or the public when watching the president tee up. Sometimes it is necessary for a president to step away from the stress of his day job to hit a few shots on the side.  Though many presidents try and fail to master the game, legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus once said, “Golf is not, and never has been, a fair game.” The same could be said for the presidency.

—Russell Dye is a junior studying political science and horticulture

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