Putting in the Oval Office: The 5 best golfing presidents

The ultimate golfing president, 28th President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson played a reported 1,200 rounds of golf during his eight years in office. Any discussion of the amount of golf (or lack thereof) played by a sitting U.S. President must begin with this fact as a point of reference.

Wilson guided the United States of America through World War I and suffered a stroke that left him unable to golf for the last two years of his presidency. And he still managed to tee it up more times than the golf-mad Dwight D. Eisenhower! Let the president golf, people.

President Donald Trump continues a tradition of the First Golfer. No other president, however, has cut such a figure in the game. No other president has owned golf courses all over the world (The Trump Organization owns and operates 17). But, of course, this doesn’t necessarily make Donald Trump the best golfing president. That honor belongs to the man with the lowest handicap.

Let’s talk a look at the best golfers among Oval Office inhabitants.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Eisenhower wasn’t keen on sharing his scores, but he was a reported 14-to-18 handicap during his presidency. Ike famously installed a putting green on the White House lawn. He was also a member of Augusta National (where he had a tree named after him) where he put a peg in the ground countless times in his later years. While Eisenhower wasn’t the most skilled golfing president, his unapologetic embrace of the game remains vital in the history of golf in America.

Barack Obama

Obama told David Feherty he’s “an honest 13” handicap. The POTUS’ golf was a hot topic during his presidency, with none other than Donald Trump curiously stoking the fire of a perceived excess of presidential leisure time. The final tally, however, showed Barack Obama (306 rounds) well behind Woodrow Wilson and Dwight Eisenhower (~800).

George W. Bush

One of the most curious moments of George W. Bush’s presidency came on the golf course, when he decided to issue a statement decrying terrorism in 2002, and the famously added, “Now watch this drive!” (video above). He has an athletic action and has gotten his handicap into the single digests after toiling in the 10-15 range during his presidency.

John F. Kennedy

Reportedly a single-digit handicap, JFK hid his passion for golf nearly as adeptly as he hid his passion for women who were not his wife. A chronic back-pain sufferer (compounded by botched operations), Kennedy certainly didn’t play as much golf as he would have liked. The PGA’s official historian, Bob Denney writes:

“The late PGA President Max Elbin was among those who witnessed Kennedy’s golf passion up close. Elbin served for more than 50 years as PGA head professional at Burning Tree Club in Bethesda, Md., where he also was a coach for six U.S. Presidents: Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard M. Nixon, Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush.”

“According to Elbin’s son, Kelly, the PGA Director of Communications and Publications, “Dad said that Kennedy was, by far, the most athletic golfer among the many U.S. Presidents who played at Burning Tree Club. He said that Kennedy rarely played what would constitute a “round” of golf, but would typically jump from No. 1 green to No. 8 tee, then play through No. 10, then jump over to No. 13 and so forth.”’

Donald Trump

A three handicap, Trump is reportedly a 19-time club champion. While some have cast doubt on Trump’s, shall we say, cavalier approach to the Rules of Golf, he is undoubtedly the best golfing president in the history of the office. No contest.

Golf Digest’s Jaime Diaz offered this anecdote about golfing with Trump.

“Trump was 67 when I played with him in 2013 at his course outside Charlotte and in early 2014 at Doral, but he still possessed a significant remnant of big-man athleticism. He was not particularly long off the tee—averaging about 230 yards—but a big reason was a steep downswing that produced a low fade and was better suited to good iron play. Trump had clearly made a calculation that being exceedingly straight—he was rarely in the rough and never in chip-out or penalty trouble—works better than long and (too often) wrong.”

“When I asked Trump about this, he said he hadn’t given it a lot of thought. He’s basically self-taught, never consistently working with an instructor. “I think of golf as a very natural game,” he said. “I never really wanted to know a lot about my technique. I really trust instinct a lot, in golf and a lot of things.”

Alan Shipnuck of Sports Illustrated offered this interesting morsel on what it’s like to golf with the Donald.

“I spoke with numerous people who have teed it up with Trump over the years and all report that he doesn’t play a round of golf so much as narrate it, his commentary peppered with hyperbole. “Is this not the most beautiful asphalt you’ve ever seen in your life?” he’ll say of an ordinary cart path. At the turn he’ll ask, “Have you ever had a better burger?” Years ago Trump was mid-round when he took a long call from Mark Burnett, the producer of The Apprentice. He put down his phone just long enough to play his shots, at one point saying, “Wait one second here while I blast this 250-yard 3-wood.”

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