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Golf in the White House

Posted Monday, December 19, 2011, at 11:01 AM

Politics never ceases to amaze me. Last week Mitt Romney, Republican challenger for the office of President of the United States, launched a new fundraising site entitled "Fore More Years." He encourages voters to donate $18- or more- "to send President Obama on a permanent golfing vacation."

Romney is quick to point out that since 2009 Obama has played 1,584 holes of golf. Translated, this is 88 rounds in the past three years since Obama became the Commander in Chief. That would be 29 rounds of golf per year. The average round of golf takes four hours, but I would maintain that a Presidential round is like Moses parting the Red Sea when it comes to other players on the course and Obama spends less than 120 hours per year on the golf course.

"It's time to have a President whose idea of being hands on doesn't mean getting a better grip on the golf club," said Romney. These are interesting comments from a man who is an avid runner. In fact the Romney family conducts a family triathlon -- swimming, cycling and running -- at their lakeshore vacation home in New Hampshire each summer.

C'mon Mitt! Exercise is good for the body and soul whether it is golf or running.

Starting with William Howard Taft, 15 of the past 18 Presidents have played golf. Records would indicate that Taft played over 400 rounds while serving as President. He is by far the most active presidential golfer. Jimmy Carter would be the most recent exception as a non-golfer. In 2009, Golf Digest reported that John F. Kennedy was the most capable presidential golfer, followed by Dwight Eisenhower who actually had a putting green installed outside the Oval Office.

Eisenhower launched his presidential campaign from inside the grounds of Augusta National Golf Club. Many in his election committee were members at the famed venue which hosts The Masters each year. Eventually, the Eisenhower cabin was built at The National and it served as a frequent retreat for Ike when he was President, much to the dismay of many Augusta National members because of the interruption it caused the club from a security standpoint.

Hours after taking the oath of office, Kennedy was astonished to discover thousands of small cleat marks on the Oval Office's wooden floor, leading a pockmarked trail from behind the desk to the double doors that opened to the portico, the South Lawn, and Ike's famous putting green. For weeks afterward, Kennedy would show visitors the trail of spike marks. The old man's obsession with golf was worse than anyone had thought, Kennedy told friends. Ike had treated the Oval Office as a clubhouse locker room, leaving a duffer's trail in the floorboards of the most powerful office in the world.

One of Kennedy's first acts as president was removal of Dwight Eisenhower's beloved putting green, a bit of White House grounds keeping that was revealed at a press conference. The old golfing president was gone and the new, young president was determined not to play games. Kennedy pledged to the press that the new president would not play golf during working hours. In only a matter of weeks that promise was broken. More on JFK in a minute!

When Richard Nixon was elected in 1968 he was confronted with Ike's cleat marks in the Oval Office and he immediately asked his staff to replace that portion of the floor. They carved up the old spike marked floor and distributed many pieces to Eisenhower's old friends as souvenirs. Some were also given to wealthy Republicans who had opened their checkbooks to put Nixon in the White House.

Nixon always said that golf was Kennedy's "secret vice." There is no doubt that Kennedy was a closet golfer. Former PGA of America President Max Elbin often joked that Kennedy was the most unannounced presidential golfer in his long tenure at Burning Tree Club, Washington D.C.'s golfing home for generations of U.S. presidents.

"We never knew when Kennedy would pop in on us. He would drive out in a little car, step out and walk into the clubhouse. Many nights it was around 6 p.m. He would ask which nine had the least amount of people on it. It was not uncommon for him to take a golf cart and start on the 7th hole," recalled Elbin. "If he would have concentrated on it, he could have shot in the middle 70s."

Late in the summer of 1963, Kennedy hired Cecil Stoughton, the White House photographer, to take some 8-milimeter film of him as he played Hyannis Port. The film, broadcast in 2001 on the Golf Channel for the first time, shows the beauty of the President's full swing off the tee, as well as his putting stroke and smooth chipping stroke. Stoughton's camera also captured the Kennedy addressing the ball, stroking it, and then watching it, usually with a big smile.

The film was intended for Arnold Palmer, the professional golfer that Kennedy most admired. "He said he wanted to show it to someone like Arnie," Stoughton said. "It was natural -- you only go to the top to get that kind of critique."

President Kennedy had planned to invite Palmer to the White House late in 1963 to watch the film and help tinker with the mechanics of the presidential swing. The plans were to do it sometime in December after a quick trip to Texas.

Information published in a recent national economic report indicates that golf is a $76 billion industry with a total impact on the U.S. economy of $195 billion. Nationally, the golf industry provides 2 million jobs and total wage income of $61 billion -- more than the big three auto makers combined and more than the motion picture industry. Golf is responsible for contributing about $3.5 billion annually to charities across the country, more than any other sport. Eighty percent of golf in the U.S. is played on public courses with an average cost per round of $28.

Maybe Romney should take a mulligan and reconsider his remarks on Obama's golf. This was another example of an irresponsible and uneducated comment by a politician seeking a way to bash golf -- a sport where the players call penalties on themselves. C'mon Mitt...



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