Golf and politics have had a strong connection for more than a century, dating back to 1909 when William Howard Taft became the first president to play the game. With the 111th U.S. Open Championship taking place at Congressional Country Club in the Washington, D.C., area, the rich history of golf and politics is once again in the spotlight.
While most people know of Dwight Eisenhower and Gerald Ford’s affinity for the game, some may not be aware that Franklin D. Roosevelt was one of the best and most passionate golfers among presidents. (Click here to view video)
As a 12-year-old boy, Roosevelt discovered golf when a dense fog spoiled his sailing plans for a day near the family's summer home on Campobello Island in New Brunswick, Canada. Roosevelt and some friends cleared a patch of land on the family's four-acre estate to make room for a nine-hole golf course. At Campobello Golf Club, Roosevelt served as secretary and treasurer at age 17 and won the club championship five years later.
Roosevelt’s powerful swing led him to bet Harvard classmates that he could drive the ball more than 300 yards. One day in the dead of winter, Roosevelt took his friends out to a golf course and skidded his drive off a frozen pond – well over 300 yards – to win the wager.
Polio may have later prevented Roosevelt from playing the game he loved, but even as president he always kept a lighter in the shape of a golf ball on his desk in the Oval Office. One of his enduring golf legacies was the public works program that led to the construction of more than 300 municipal golf courses with federal money, making the game more accessible to Americans.
To learn more about Franklin D. Roosevelt and other politicians’ connections to the game, visit the USGA Museum’s new online exhibit, “The Power Game: Golf and American Politics,” which provides viewers with an interactive experience where they can learn about a century of golf history through historical landmarks in the Washington, D.C., area. Visitors can view hundreds of photos, videos and artifacts of dozens of government officials, including presidents, cabinet members and Supreme Court justices. Exclusive interviews with President George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Tom Ridge and Arnold Palmer have been incorporated to add first-hand accounts of why politicians play golf and the life lessons that they have learned from the game. The exhibit can be found at: http://www.usga.org/powergame/.
Michael Trostel is the curator/historian for the USGA Museum. Email questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.