Barack Obama dedicated to the sport of presidents

Fifteen of the past 18 US presidents have played the game of golf

US president Barack Obama at the Mid-Pacific Country Club, in Kailua, Hawaii, on his recent vacation.

US president Barack Obama at the Mid-Pacific Country Club, in Kailua, Hawaii, on his recent vacation.

Fri, Jan 3, 2014, 01:00

No one should ever question US president Barack Obama’s passion for golf. He has played some of the United States’s most picturesque courses, held a debt-limit “golf summit” with House Speaker John A Boehner, taken on Tiger Woods and found time to steal away for a round in political good times and bad.

The extent of Obama’s love of golf has been on display during his winter vacation in Hawaii, where he has played seven out of his 12 days, for as much as six hours at a time. On one outing, he played so slowly he could get in only 17 holes before it became too dark to continue.

“I don’t know how he can play so much freaking golf, man,” said Howard Dashefsky, the director of sales and communications at Pacific Links Hawaii. “My back would fall off.” Obama’s dedication has not gone unnoticed by Republicans in the US, who have taken advantage politically. In its gimmicky list of recommended New Year resolutions for Obama, the Republican National Committee offered this one: “I resolve to spend less time on the golf course.”

On the putting green
Historically, Obama is hardly alone on the putting green. If horse racing is the “sport of kings,” golf is the sport of US presidents. Fifteen of the past 18 of them have played, and their approach to the game has often illustrated their character in office.

According to Don Van Natta Jr, author of First Off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers, and Cheaters From Taft to Bush, Dwight D Eisenhower, famous for his vacations and delegating White House business to aides, played 36 holes a week. Richard Nixon was awkward on the course, and a cheat. Bill Clinton was famous for his mulligans, or do-overs. The two George Bushes were quick to take action.

Obama is known for his slow, deliberative play.

On the 18th hole at the Mid Pacific Country Club on Oahu last week, Obama crouched to survey his final shot, took several practice swings and then putted, with the ball stopping just short of the hole. By the time he had finished, roughly five hours had elapsed since his arrival. (The PGA frowns on slow play, threatening penalties.)

“Six hours is an especially long round of golf, and five is on the long side, too,” said Van Natta, a former New York Times correspondent.

“He strives to be a bogey-a-hole golfer; that’s a handicap of 18,” Van Natta added, explaining how Obama aims to finish one-over par on every hole. “That’s still pretty respectable.”

In Hawaii, Obama has tackled the courses at Mid Pacific (a 1926 course by designer Seth Raynor), the Ko’olau Golf Club (“one of the country’s most punishing layouts,” according to Golf.com and surrounded by stunning volcanic peaks) and the Royal Hawaiian Golf Club (known to locals as Jurassic Park for its lush tropical surroundings.). He has also played the course at Marine Corps Base Hawaii several times.

Obama’s methodical style of play has its defenders. Dashefsky called it the “way it’s supposed to be played”.

Escape the demands
The president’s long hours on the course are one of his few chances to escape the demands of the White House and relax, said people familiar with his game.

His golf partners here are a familiar cast of characters: White House aides (Sam Kass, the Obamas’ chef, and Marvin Nicholson, the trip director); two longtime Chicago friends (Marty Nesbitt and Eric Whitaker); and buddies from his time in high school here (Mike Ramos and Bobby Titcomb).

Obama’s style is in contrast to the way both Bushes approached the game. They were famous for their speed, routinely playing 18 holes in less than three hours, in what was sometimes called “aerobic golf” or “polo golf”. George H W Bush had a personal best of an hour and 24 minutes for 18 holes.

“We weren’t trying to break a record,” said Ken Raynor, a longtime golf partner for Bush family members who is the head golf pro at Coral Creek Club in Placida, Florida, and a pro at Cape Arundel Golf Club in Kennebunkport, Maine. “The activity level was just at that pace.”

The president most dedicated to golf may have been Eisenhower, who played nearly 800 rounds during his eight years in office. He became known as the “golfer in chief” and – given his fondness for playing 18 holes on Wednesdays and Sundays – as the inventor of the “36-hole work week.”

In comparison, according to records kept by the CBS News correspondent Mark Knoller, Obama has played 158 rounds.
New York Times

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