President George H.W. Bush loved his golf game - and he loved playing fast

George Bush Obit GolF Getty Images

President George H.W. Bush loved his golf game - and he loved playing fast

Golf

President George H.W. Bush loved his golf game - and he loved playing fast

President George H.W. Bush, who put off college to become the youngest U.S. Navy pilot in World War II, served eight years as vice president for Ronald Reagan and was the father to the nation’s 43rd president, died Friday night at his home in Houston.

The nation’s 41st president was 94.

Bush led the nation through the end of the Cold War after being elected as president in 1988, serving one term before being defeated in 1992 by Bill Clinton.

His wife of 73 years, Barbara Bush, died just eight months ago.

President George H.W. Bush suffered from Parkinson’s disease and has been hospitalized often in recent years.

Bush and his family were also major figures in the history and development of golf in the 20th century.

“Golf has meant a lot to me,” Bush said in 2007 upon receiving the Bobby Jones Award. “It means friendship, integrity and character. I grew up in a family that was lucky enough to have golf at the heart of it for a while. My father was a scratch player, and my mother was also a good golfer. It’s a very special game.”

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan and previous Commissioner Tim Finchem each issued statements following Bush’s passing.

“We are all saddened by the news of President Bush’s death,” Monahan said. “While I had the privilege of knowing him through various golf activities and initiatives that he supported, Tim Finchem worked very closely with President Bush during his tenure as PGA Tour Commissioner.”

“As we join the world in mourning President Bush’s passing, the PGA Tour and entire golf community share a deep appreciation for all that he meant to our sport,” Finchem said. “From his love of playing to his selfless dedication and support, golf held a special place for President Bush. …

“Add it all up, and we truly are fortunate to have had such an esteemed and compassionate individual serve as a strong advocate for golf and be so generous with his time and skills to promote the game he loved. We owe him a great debt for shaping what golf is all about today. President Bush will be greatly missed.”

The Commander in Chief in a hurry

“I’m always in a hurry,” the former president said in a brief conversation with Golfweek on Feb. 15, 1995. “The faster, the better. It’s my personality. I like to get a lot of things done during the day, so standing around on a golf course doesn’t suit me.”

On that winter day in 1995 at La Quinta, Calif., Bush joined then-President Bill Clinton and another former president, Gerald Ford, and entertainer Bob Hope for an 18-hole exhibition round at Indian Wells Country Club, one of the sites for that week’s Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. Scott Hoch, the tournament’s defending champion, also played with the group.

It proved to be an eclectic pairing of American golf royalty: Clinton was deliberate, Ford was wildly inaccurate and Hope was chatty while Hoch provided a steadying influence amid all the wayward shots and one-liners. The fivesome was painfully slow as it inched around the Indian Wells layout.

Finally, on the par-5 14th hole, Bush could no longer take it. Like an unharnessed racehorse, he leaped out of his golf cart and began to rapidly whack his golf ball in the direction of the green. He quickly arrived at the putting surface, holed out and stared back at his playing partners with a bemused look.

The other four were still 200 yards from the green, Clinton looking for his ball as Hoch assisted, Ford fighting a slice that he continually referred to as a “banana ball” and Hope telling stories.

Bush sat on the turf behind the green and began chatting with a Golfweek reporter, who had a credential that allowed him to walk with the players.

“The guys I like to play golf with would finish 18 holes before he could finish nine,” Bush said, nodding toward Clinton, the Democrat who in the 1992 election had ended the Republican Bush’s tenure at one term in the White House. “It makes you wonder how a man can be so decisive in politics and so indecisive in golf.”

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 23: Former United States President George H.W. Bush talks with U.S. Captain Jack Nicklaus during the second round of The Presidents Cup at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Prince William County, Virginia on September 23, 2005. (Photo by Stan Badz/PGA)

Former United States President George H.W. Bush talks with U.S. Captain Jack Nicklaus during the second round of The Presidents Cup in 2005. (Stan Badz/PGA)

George Herbert Walker Bush was inducted into golf’s shrine in 2011 in the Lifetime Achievement category. His father and grandfather were former presidents of the U.S. Golf Association. George Herbert Walker, Bush’s maternal grandfather, created the Walker Cup, a biennial match between the top amateurs in the U.S. and U.K. Bush’s father, Prescott Bush, headed the USGA before being elected to the U.S. Senate and was a frequent golf companion of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s.

The 41st president amassed a number of golf awards in addition to his Hall of Fame induction: PGA of America’s 1997 Distinguished Service Award, the USGA’s 2008 Bob Jones Award and the PGA Tour’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. In 1996, he served as honorary chairman of the inaugural Presidents Cup, a biennial match pitting U.S. and International professionals.

However, Bush’s enduring contribution to the game might be his commitment to fast play.

“You put your track shoes on when you’re playing with him,” said Hale Irwin, a Hall of Fame member, in an interview with the hall.

Added the late Arnold Palmer, another Hall member: “I am a great believer in moving pretty fast around a golf course. Well, President Bush made sure that happened.”

However, even a former president has limited executive powers in a group such as the one that trudged the California desert fairways back in 1995.

“It took forever at Indian Wells,” Hoch said recently, recalling a round that distinguishes him as one of a very small number of golfers to play with three U.S. presidents. “Easy course. It was killing Bush because he likes to play fast. Clinton was a pretty good player; he took his time. Ford was all over. I said after the round, it was like ‘The Longest Day.’ ”

A lifetime of service to the nation

Bush, a naval aviator who was shot down over the Pacific in World War II, founded his own oil company in Texas before entering public service. A Republican, he served two terms in the U.S. House, was ambassador to the United Nations and director of the CIA, among other positions. He became Ronald Reagan’s vice president for two terms in the 1980s before winning the 1988 presidential election. Bush directed the liberation of Kuwait against Iraqi forces in the Gulf War in 1991 before losing the 1992 election to Bill Clinton. Among Bush’s six children, two would rise to political prominence: George W. as 43rd president and Jeb as Florida governor.

Hoch, who recalls having played three rounds with Bush 41, remembered the former president as “a joy to play with; very entertaining,” adding: “He liked to joke around.”

A dinner during the 1996 Presidents Cup, in which Bush served as honorary chairman, stands out in Hoch’s memory for Bush’s frank discussion.

“He said, ‘Ask whatever you want to,’ ” Hoch said. “I asked him specifically, right after Desert Storm, I asked him about why didn’t we finish off (former Iraqi dictator Saddam) Hussein (in 1991, in the days after Kuwait had been liberated by the U.S.-led coalition). “We would have liked to,” Hoch said Bush responded, “but we would have been by ourselves.”

Instructor Randy Smith, who met Bush at the first Presidents Cup, in 1994 in Gainesville, Va., remembered a playful side, citing Bush’s skydiving adventures on three birthdays since leaving the White House.

“Anyone who jumps out of a plane in his 80s is a cool dude,” Smith said. “He’s a quality gentleman, and I don’t say that because I’m a Texan.”

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