The Mean­ing of Golf

As Craig Mor­ri­son looks into most of the First Golfers of The United States of Amer­ica, from JFK to The Don­ald, golf, as we know, re­veals much about a man.

HK Golfer - - Contents - By Craig Mor­ri­son

Golf, as we know, re­veals much about a man. So as the Pres­i­dent of The United States of Amer­ica.

He loves to golf, does the Pres­i­dent of The United States of Amer­ica. It’s reck­oned Pres­i­dent Taft was the 1st First Golfer. His pre­de­ces­sor, Teddy Roo­sevelt, may have played the game too, but it was Taft who first came out, who first openly played it, who first ex­tolled it.

“You know my ten­dency to golf,” he once wrote, “my sym­pa­thy with any­body who wants to play it, and my de­sire to spread a love for the game when­ever I can. Golf is a splen­did recre­ation which can be en­joyed with profit by the young and the old. It is in the in­ter­est of good health and good man­ners. It pro­motes self-re­straint, and, as one of its devo­tees has well said, af­fords a chance to play the man and act the gen­tle­man. It is the game of all classes, not a mere play­thing for fad­dists, nor, as many sup­pose, a game for the rich man only.”

And with those words, he teed it up for count­less other com­man­ders-in-chief to walk the fair­ways.

Woodrow Wil­son, who fol­lowed him into The White House, was very keen but less than use­ful. His scores were high de­spite a ded­i­ca­tion to the sport that saw him notch up es­ti­mated 1,200 rounds while in of­fice. After him, Hard­ing played, al­most equally en­thu­si­as­ti­cally. In fact, War­ren G had Hard­ing Park in San Francisco named after him. Next up, Calvin Coolidge golfed. Then there was Her­bert Hoover: not a golfer. But FDR was use­ful be­fore he con­tracted po­lio. As a stu­dent, he won the club cham­pi­onship at Cam­po­bello Is­land Golf Club be­side his fam­ily’s sum­mer home in New Brunswick up in Canada. As Pres­i­dent, he brought in the great pub­lic works projects which in­cluded Beth­page Park in New York, home to some of the na­tion’s finest mu­nic­i­pal cour­ses. And there’s a course in his name in Philly too.

Tru­man didn’t play. But then came Eisen­hower who was fa­mously into golf. He had the putting green built at The White House, was a mem­ber at Au­gusta and, when back in Wash­ing­ton, played reg­u­larly on an­other Alis­ter Macken­zie course at The Burn­ing Tree Club in Bethesda, Mary­land.

JFK - one of the most skil­ful Pres­i­den­tial golfers - played at ‘The Tree’ too. So, did LBJ, Nixon and Ford. Carter wasn’t a golfer. But Rea­gan and then Ge­orge H.W. Bush played, of­ten at Burn­ing Tree. But that club didn’t do it for more re­cent Pres­i­dents, pre­sum­ably be­cause it ag­gres­sively ex­cludes women and the world has, mostly, changed.

Clin­ton golfed. Ge­orge W. as well, but in trou­bled times he learned to stay off the course as his crit­ics found it con­ve­nient am­mu­ni­tion against him. Post 9/11, fight­ing in Afghanista­n and Iraq, it just didn’t look good on him.

Next up, Barack Obama: the first person of colour to hold the great of­fice and - let’s hope his­to­ri­ans re­mem­ber this too - the first Pres­i­den­tial golfer to play left-handed (not the first left-handed Pres­i­dent). Barry played a lot. But he was cau­tious, to be­gin with. He didn’t play once dur­ing his first 100 days and, even as he got into the swing of things he rarely took ad­van­tage of the great cour­ses avail­able

to him, choos­ing in­stead, mostly, the mil­i­tary set-ups at Fort Belvoir and at An­drews Air Force base where the cost to the tax-payer was lower, and the ac­cu­sa­tions of pres­tige and priv­i­lege couldn’t be so eas­ily lev­elled against him. As a can­di­date, Barry played bas­ket­ball. As Pres­i­dent, he be­came a ded­i­cated golfer, play­ing 306 rounds in eight years in of­fice. But con­ser­va­tives were un­for­giv­ing. It has been ok for most US lead­ers through the 20th and 21st cen­turies to play golf, but they turned on Barry big-time, a jumped-up ne­gro cost­ing us money was the sub­text to their com­plaints.

And now, at time of writ­ing, we have Don­ald Trump, the sec­ond person of colour (spray-tan or­ange, ad­mit­tedly) to put his feet up on the Res­o­lute desk in the Oval Of­fice. Trump, de­spite his ad­vanced age and girth, is maybe the best of all Pres­i­den­tial golfers. He’s a mem­ber at Winged Foot and owner of 18 won­der­ful clubs, not a de­cent set of forged irons and a few spare hy­brids, but ac­tual clubs, with cour­ses and mem­bers and guests and ho­tels.

For The Don­ald, there is no dif­fer­ence be­tween de­sir­ing and do­ing. He just gets on. We can all learn from him, and golfers es­pe­cially can learn a lot from him. Vi­su­alise the shot and hit it. Of­ten it comes off. Pic­ture your dreams and re­alise them, no mat­ter how out­ra­geous (and, in Trump’s case, os­ten­ta­tious).

Un­like his pre­de­ces­sor, Pres­i­dent Trump has quickly thrown him­self into the role of First Golfer, play­ing six times dur­ing his first month in of­fice. (Your av­er­age golf writer doesn’t hit the course nearly as much.) Back when he was just a self-em­ployed real es­tate de­vel­oper with a side­line, in re­al­ity, tele­vi­sion per­haps golf out­ings were racked with guilt, but now with a steady job he can get out there on the course again, not a care in the world.

He has a funny old putting stroke yet is use­ful on the greens. His swing is idio­syn­cratic too, sweep­ing and swerv­ing around his im­mense back­side and waist. But Tiger Woods has been im­pressed at “how far he hits the ball at 70 years old,” adding, “he takes a pretty good lash.”

And yet his hands are small, the sub­ject of much mean­ness but here the sub­ject of a se­ri­ous point: al­most all the really good golfers I’ve met have big hands. Yet Trump who raised his lit­tle paws aloft at a rally and an­nounced he could hit a golf ball 285 with them - gets away with it. So, he is a man who can over­come short­com­ings.

De­spite those diminu­tive dig­its, he is clearly a man of ex­cel­lent tim­ing, some strength, some skill and supreme con­fi­dence, the ideal can­di­date to lead the free world.

Or not? Golf, we know, re­veals much about a man. It un­dresses him, re­veals his true char­ac­ter. We hear this con­stantly be­cause there’s much truth in it.

In the P.G. Wode­house short story, Or­deal by Golf, Alexan­der Pater­son vis­its the nar­ra­tor, The Old­est Mem­ber, to ask his ad­vice about ap­point­ing a new trea­surer at the Pater­son Dye­ing and Re­fin­ing Com­pany. The Old­est Mem­ber, a comedic sage whose name is never re­vealed, dis­penses some sound think­ing, worth quot­ing in full:

“The only way of find­ing out a man’s true char­ac­ter is to play golf with him. In no other walk of life does the cloven hoof so quickly dis­play it­self. I em­ployed a lawyer for years un­til one day I saw him kick his ball out of a heel-mark. I re­moved my busi­ness from his charge the next morn­ing. He has not yet run off with any trust funds, but there is a nasty gleam in his eye, and I am con­vinced that it is only a ques­tion of time. Golf, my dear fel­low, is the in­fal­li­ble test. The man who can go into a patch of rough alone, with the knowl­edge that only God is watch­ing him, and play his ball where it lies, is the man who will serve you faith­fully and well. The man who can smile bravely when his putt is di­verted by one of those beastly worm­casts is pure gold right through. But the man who is hasty, un­bal­anced and vi­o­lent on the links will dis­play the same qual­i­ties in the wider field of everyday life. You don’t want an un­bal­anced trea­surer, do you?”

We don’t know that Amer­ica’s leader is hasty, un­bal­anced or vi­o­lent on the links. We hear, how­ever, from many sources, that he is not ex­actly a man to play it as it lies and is likely to lie as he plays. That God’s watch­ing him when he’s alone in a patch of rough mat­ters not to him, we might con­clude.

Sa­muel L Jack­son claims Trump cheats. Os­car de la Hoya claims Trump cheats. Alice Cooper claims Trump cheats. Sev­eral prom­i­nent me­dia com­men­ta­tors say the same. That’s ac­tors, box­ers, rock stars and jour­nal­ists. The next terms in the se­quence are buy-to-let in­vestors, se­rial killers and priests: the full rogue’s gallery of golf part­ners lin­ing up to make ac­cu­sa­tions.

News­pa­pers, nat­u­rally, have run their own in­ves­ti­ga­tions into Don­ald’s ru­moured dis­hon­esty on the course. They’ve found lots of smoke and a lit­tle less fire. Here’s what they’ve found: if a man flies you to a golf course and his name’s on the plane, and his name’s on the sign above the club­house and if it’s an ex­cel­lent lay­out, and he’s fun to be with, and the golf’s gratis and lunch is paid for, and if he mirac­u­lously finds his ball in the bushes, who’s com­plain­ing? Sure, the me­dia has some good solid sources, but it’s dis­missed speed­ily: fake news, Don­ald says.

Craig Mor­ri­son is the au­thor of 18 Great­est Scot­tish Golf Holes and 18 Great­est Ir­ish Golf Holes. He is a free­lance golf writer, a con­trib­u­tor to many internatio­nal ti­tles, in­clud­ing HK Golfer. An An­glo-Scot, he lives in Som­er­set, Eng­land. Dis­cover...

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