Bob Bestler

This new book chronicles presidents playing golf, including Donald Trump’s shenanigans

President Donald Trump plays golf at one of his resorts in this file image. Trump's net worth slipped to $2.8 billion, a decline of $100 million over the past year. (Andrew Milligan/PA Wire/Zuma Press/TNS)
President Donald Trump plays golf at one of his resorts in this file image. Trump's net worth slipped to $2.8 billion, a decline of $100 million over the past year. (Andrew Milligan/PA Wire/Zuma Press/TNS) TNS

Golf originated in Scotland sometime around the 15th century, but Americans didn’t get serious about the game until the early 20th century.

And one of the people who helped popularize the game here was President William Howard Taft.

The portly president carried a 20 handicap and played in several exhibitions, in which he would often urge fellow citizens to take up the game for their health and relaxation.

As much as he loved to play, Taft he was a piker next to his successor, Woodrow Wilson.

Wilson was ordered by his doctor to play golf to relieve indigestion caused by the stress of the office, then became addicted. Wilson played as many as 1,600 rounds during his eight years in office, always first thing in the morning.

The affection these and other presidents have had for golf was told in a new book by Rick Reilly, “Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump.” The title sort of explains itself, but Reilly prefaces Trump’s on-course shenanigans by examining the games of some of his predecessors.

Warren G. Harding played golf, but his was mostly party golf, with an occasional nip or two between green and tee. “He was great fun on the course,” Reilly wrote. TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, site of next year’s PGA Championship, is named after Harding. Who knew?

Calvin Coolidge didn’t play much — when he left the White House he left his clubs behind — but Franklin Roosevelt, according to Reilly, was “our most talented golfing president, by far.” He won several golf medals as a teen and at 18 won the men’s championship at Canada’s Campobello Golf Club. Polio struck at age 39 and he never played again.

Harry Truman preferred poker to golf, but Dwight Eisenhower “loved it like dogs love bones,” Reilly wrote. “He’d stroll the halls of the White House with an iron, taking half-swings while he pondered what to do about the post-war world.”

John F. Kennedy played on the freshman team at Harvard and had an elegant swing, but a back injury from football limited his ability. Unlike Ike, JFK did not like to talk about his golf and mostly played away from cameras.

Gerald Ford loved golf, but it did not love him. “Ford hit far more people with golf balls than ever voted for him for president,” Reilly said. Well, not quite but you get the picture.

George H.W. Bush was an accomplished golfer who came with a pedigree. His grandfather, George Walker Bush, was president of the U.S. Golf Association and founder of the Walker Cup (amateur equivalent of the Ryder Cup); his father, Prescott, was also president of the USGA.

George W. enjoyed golf but quit playing in 2003 in “solidarity” with soldiers fighting in Iraq.

Bill Clinton is considered a notorious cheater, but he only took a lot of mulligans (or Billigans as the press called them). He was fun to play with and never wanted a round to end. “A six-hour round was delirium for Clinton: more cigars, more laughing, less Bosnia.”

Barack Obama, an avid sports fan, loved to play with sportswriters — including Reilly. “You could have put Obama’s golf on a USGA poster — no cheating, no mulligans, no do-overs.”

So what about Trump? Reilly says that at 72 he’s a good golfer, about a 10 or 12 handicap. But he is such a serial cheater, often to the amusement of fellow players, that one could write a book about it. Oh, wait. One did.

Contact Bob Bestler at bestler6@tds.net.

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