How a study of golf and the US Presidency can determine election results, explain the passing of certain laws and reveal the true character of a man.
US Presidents play golf. Failed presidential candidates do not. That is the lesson of recent history.
Not since 1976 has a non-golfer beaten a golfer to the presidency. That year Jimmy Carter defeated incumbent president Gerald Ford.
Since then, starting from when golfer Ronald Reagan defeated non-golfer Jimmy Carter in 1980, nine of the ten most recent presidential elections have been between a golfer and a non-golfer. In every case the golfer has won.
Quite right, too.
The exception was the election of 1988 which pitted two golfers against each other, in George H. Bush and Bill Clinton.
From William Taft, the 27th President, to Donald Trump, the 45th, only three of these 19 men have not been golfers – Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman and Carter.
At just under six feet and 25 stone, Taft was unsuited to many sporting activities. But golf was possible and he became a keen, if limited golfer.
Golf and business has always mixed, with the course a place where business contacts can be developed and deals done. Thus has also been the case with golf and the US Presidency.
Lyndon Johnson, whose swing was described as ‘looking like someone trying to kill a rattlesnake‘, would invite difficult senators for a game of golf, to work on them to get his civil rights legislation passed.
Calvin Coolridge was aware of the importance of golf and the US Presidency and so he golfed. But he did so with limited enjoyment and ability, often recording double digit scores on holes. When he left the White House in 1929 he left his clubs behind for he had no further use for them.
George W. Bush gave up golf for a while, but in his case it was during his second term and he thought that the President playing golf when American soldiers were dying in battle was the wrong image.
Bush came from a golfing family. His father George H. Bush was known for playing rounds sometimes in less than two hours, and he viewed more than three hours as too long.
He would sometimes achieve a quick ‘18 holes’ by playing more than one ball on a hole. Thus three balls played on six holes would give him an 18-hole score whilst traversing only six physical holes.
The Walker Cup is named after George H Bush’s grandfather, George Herbert Walker, a president of the USGA. Bush’s father, Prescott Bush, was also a president of the USGA.
Another who would dash about the course and rarely play all 18 holes was John F. Kennedy. But in his case it was to avoid detection.
He was worried that, a Harvard graduate from a very rich family seeking to represent the working-class Democratic party, being known to play golf, seen as an elitist sport, would distance him from his political base.
So keen was he to avoid detection as a golfer, he would dart about the course and rarely played the 1st or 18th holes as these were the most visible.
Ironically in an effort not to appear elitist, Kennedy played his golf, when president, at the most elitist and private club in Washington, Burning Tree. This minimised the chance of him being spotted by the public playing golf.
Not only did this club exclude women from being members, it also barred them from the property – and this included presidential aides and secret service agents. However women were allowed in the pro shop; in December, by appointment, if buying a Christmas present for a husband who was a member.
Whether any first ladies have made use of this facility is not known – but past members have also included Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and George H Bush.