As our golfer in chief, President Dwight D. Eisenhower brought golf to the White House lawn and played nearly 800 rounds while in office. Not since Mary Queen of Scots has a head of state done so much to popularize the game. Fred Corcoran, the legendary golf promoter, once said Eisenhower’s devotion to golf was “the greatest thing that ever happened to the game.”
For being the game’s unofficial ambassador, Eisenhower was selected for induction to the World Golf Hall of Fame in the Lifetime Achievement Category. In a word, Eisenhower inspired. Together with Arnold Palmer, their charisma changed how Americans viewed golf and sparked the nation’s interest in the sport. Don Van Natta Jr., author of “First Off the Tee,” wrote that when Eisenhower assumed office in 1953, an estimated 3.2 million Americans played golf; by 1961, that number had doubled.
“Whatever remained to be done to remove the last traces of the average man’s carefully nurtured prejudice against a game originally linked with the wealthy and aloof was done by President Eisenhower,” historian Herbert Warren Wind, a Hall of Fame member, wrote.
“Probably few men in the long history of the game have ever been bitten by the golf bug as badly as the president.”
In 1925, Eisenhower played his first round while attending the Army’s Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. He had a putting green installed on the White House grounds. Near the end of most days, Eisenhower slipped on his golf spikes, grabbed his putter, wedge and 8-iron and marched to the South Lawn, cleats clacking.
Golfers could identify with Ike, “a congenital slicer” with an adequate short game and an unreliable putter.
Like a regular duffer, Ike loved the game no matter how badly he played and sneaked in a round whenever possible. He drew the line, however, when asked to divulge his score.
“If I don’t improve,” Eisenhower once said, “I’m going to pass a law that no one can ask me my golf score.”
The president’s preoccupation with the game became a national punch line. Democrats joked that Eisenhower put in a 36-hole workweek. That often was true. He played Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings at Burning Tree Country Club.
Of Eisenhower’s several course associations, he is most closely connected to Augusta National Golf Club. Eisenhower was a member there for 21 years and visited 29 times in his two terms, playing 210 rounds, according to presidential records.
With a handicap ranging between 14 and 18, Eisenhower broke 80 four times at Augusta in eight years. He might’ve achieved the feat more often if not for a loblolly pine tree located left-center of the 17th fairway, which gave him fits. At a meeting of the club’s governors, Eisenhower proposed chopping it down.
“I quickly adjourned the meeting to prevent a mutiny in the club’s ranks,” said the late Clifford Roberts, Augusta’s co-founder.
The Eisenhower Tree stands today.
Born Oct. 14, 1890 in Denison, Texas, Eisenhower was a soldier, politician and statesman. He graduated from West Point, rose to five-star general and commanded Allied Forces in Europe in World War II. Elected in 1952, Eisenhower served two terms as the 34th U.S. president.
After leaving office, Eisenhower was asked how life had changed since being president: “I don’t get as many short putts,” he answered.
Eisenhower died on March 28, 1969. Palmer, who had become a dear friend, will fete Eisenhower at the induction.
Said Palmer: “Other than my father, no man had a bigger impact on my life than President Dwight David Eisenhower . . . whose time with me I will always cherish.”
More 2009 Hall of Fame profiles:
• Dwight D. Eisenhower: Golf at the White House (by Adam Schupak)
• Christy O’Connor: A fluid swing forged by ‘Himself’ (by Alistair Tait)
• Jose Maria Olazabal: Dignified, determined and dazzling (by Alistair Tait)
• Lanny Wadkins: He didn’t know how to lay up (by Jeff Rude)