From William Howard Taft to Donald Trump – a golfing tradition at the White House

From William Howard Taft to Donald Trump – a golfing tradition at the White House
Jude Cooley
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Doesn’t playing golf suit a head of state? Successive US presidents prove that over the decades, this elite sport has become a White House tradition. 

The president on the golf course – can it work?

The history of golf at the White House dates back to the early 20th century, and Howard Taft is widely credited as the president who brought the sport to the highest levels of government. While his predecessor, William McKinley, may have played golf, it was Taft who publicly professed his love for the now elite sport. It is also worth noting that not everyone viewed the passion of the then president with a favorable eye. Among others, Taft’s mentor – Theodore Roosevelt, who warned him about the fatal consequences of this “dangerous” game, was against it. The president did not pay much attention to the warnings, and during his term of office golf became a permanent fixture in the White House, although the game was not considered appropriate. 

Golf and politics – a perfect combination?

As it turned out, Howard Taft’s love of golf was also passed on to his successors. Dwight D. Eisenhower is considered to be the best golfer among the previous presidents of the United States, and he also has the greatest credit for promoting the sport. The thirty-fourth U.S. president not only played at home, but also got involved in various events such as the Masters tournament. Eisenhower personally congratulated its winners, which definitely left its mark on the popularity of golf in the United States and in other parts of the world. George H. Bush and his son George W. Bush, whose father claims to be quite skilled, have also never made a secret of their interest in golf.

There is, however, another side to the coin, namely the use of golf to further political interests. Leading the way were Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon. The former, in particular, saw the golf course as more of an environment to convince senators of the rightness of his decisions than a place to play sports. While playing golf, Johnson, among other things, approved the Voting Rights Resolution of 1965. He is also the author of the phrase: “If you want a place in politics, you have to learn one thing – never win at golf with the president.”

Golf at the White House – history continues today

The last three US presidents have also enjoyed spending time playing the sport. Barack Obama – an avid basketball player – at one time followed his spouse’s urging to try his hand at a slightly quieter sport and boasted 330 rounds at the end of his term. Donald Trump, often accused of cheating during the game, spent a lot of time on the golf course. It’s unclear how much of it was passion and how much was business, but you can’t deny him continuing the tradition – 308 rounds played is more than a decent score. Joe Biden plays a little less, but he doesn’t shy away from golf either.

As many as 17 of the 20 presidents of the United States have, to a greater or lesser extent, hit balls into holes. From being a sport that should not be played by a head of state, golf has become a trademark of the White House and it seems that subsequent presidents will keep the tradition alive for different reasons.

main photo: Kittredge

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