We all know that golf has a huge appeal, not just to the tour pro and teaching pro and millions of amateurs that play across the globe. Some of the great and good from the political arena, film, sports and television have found the allure of golf too difficult to resist and in this first part of a series of articles, we look at famous politicians and leaders from around the globe, who away from their day jobs, find peace and quiet on the golf course.
George Bush Snr & Jnr – The 41st and 43rd president’s of the United States are both avid golfers, that herald from a family with a real professional golfing heritage – George Bush Snr’s grandfather, Prescott, was USGA president in 1935 and a scratch handicap player. Both have been seen supporting team USA in recent years at the Ryder Cup and play extensively in Texas.
Golf was also responsible for one of the more insensitive and crass moments of George W Bush Jnr’s time as president.
Winston Churchill – Most people think Churchill didn’t enjoy golf due to his observation that “Golf is a game whose aim it is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose.” In truth, he was a keen player in his younger years, playing regularly at Walton Heath outside London alongside Prime Minister Herbert Asquith in the run up to World War I.
Churchill however was never a great player, as his son Randolph observed: “He fails to keep his head down and foozles his drive.”
Bill Clinton – After a ten year break, Clinton picked up his clubs again as a 27 year old when he began playing with wife Hillary’s brothers. Clinton plays off a handicap of around 12 and once feigned illness to play on a course while governor of Arkansas and while playing holed his second shot at a par four. “I had an eagle and I couldn’t tell anybody,” he lamented to Golf Digest in 2000. “It was like the Minister who plays on Sunday morning, I couldn’t tell a soul”
Mary Queen of Scots – Mary learned about golf during her education in France and was a keen player along with her grandfather and son (both called James). Her love of the game however would play a key role in her downfall – she was spotted playing the game just a few days after the death of her husband (another keen golfer, Lord Darnley) when she was supposed to have been in mourning. This led directly to her arrest and death by beheading for treason at the hands of Elizabeth I.
Dwight D. Eisenhower – My far the most avid golfer of all American presidents, Eisenhower only took up the game in his 40s but more than made up for his late start by playing avidly whenever he could. From 1953 to 1961, when he was President, Eisenhower spent more than 1000 days playing golf. He played off a low handicap and was a member of several clubs, including Augusta National where he most famously had problems with a tree left of the 17th tee.
The ‘Eisenhower Tree’ remains in place to this day despite him lobbying to have it cut down, and the famous Eisenhower Cabin by the 10th fairway is where the president would spend most of his down time when not at home.
Kim Jong-il – According to his official biographer, the former leader of North Korea first picked up a club in 1994 and decided to play his first ever round of golf. According to official records, Jong-il shot a 38-under round (34) that included eleven holes in one. The leader, duly satisfied that he had mastered the game, immediately retired.
It is hard to verify the veracity of this story and there is the slight chance that the report may be a tiny bit inaccurate – as this wonderful tongue in cheek video hints at!
John F. Kennedy – Although encumbered by a chronic back problem that kept him away from the game for many years, Kennedy was an outstanding golfer who made the Harvard golf team while at university. As president, Kennedy continued to play but was wary of facing the same criticism’s as Eisenhower who openly played golf, which many people felt elitist. As a result, Kennedy used to play secretively, rarely completing 18 holes and often not teeing off from the first or tenth holes to avoid detection.
King Edward VIII – Most famous for abdicating the throne to take up with Wallis Simpson, Edward Windsor was also a very keen golfer who played off a single digit handicap. He was captain of the R&A in 1922 and was also captain of many other clubs around the UK. After abdicating and moving to the US, the former king found consolation playing golf.
Barack Obama – At the behest of his wife who suggested he take up the game again after playing it briefly in high school. Obama quickly fell in love with the game and within a year of picking up a club in earnest, had brought his handicap down to 24 and is now thought to be handicapped around the 18-mark.
Franklin D. Roosevelt – Perhaps the average American golfer owes more to Roosevelt than any other president. He was an excellent amateur golfer in his teens, winning the club Championship at Campobello, Canada. He also played regularly during WWI at the Chevy Chase club in Maryland and also played frequently at the St. Andrews club in New York. He was one of the longest driving political golfers and his legacy is that in his “New Deal” for America, part of that program included building more than 250 municipal courses around the country to allow for development of the game.
Mary Queen of Scots Image courtesy of Tuck DB Postcards