60th Anniversary

60 Most Famous Golfers

These icons, avid golfers all, found fame (and infamy) off the course. On it, they searched for solace

March 2010

For our 60th birthday, we wanted to present an all-time list of the world's 60 most well-known people who were also golfers -- those who managed to squeeze the game into lives that were remarkable and replete.

It was a daunting task. Who to include -- and who to leave out? Almost everybody who's anybody has played golf. Fifteen of the last 18 presidents of the United States were golfers -- do they all get into our exclusive club? Just Sinatra -- or the whole Rat Pack? How about double acts: Hepburn and Tracy? Laurel and Hardy? Gates and Buffett? Is one tennis player enough -- or too many? At Golf Digest Towers, the debates ranged long into the night.

Our final 60, from Astaire to Zaharias (the only pro golfer on the list -- she first found fame away from the game), from Mary Queen of Scots (born 1542) to Justin Timberlake (born 1981), includes the loved and the loathed. Eighteen movie stars, eight sports legends, six presidents, five writers, five tycoons, five singers, two monarchs, two aviators, two inmates and an eclectic assortment of others: an evangelist, a statesman, a radio ranter, a stunt rider, a cartoonist, an astronaut, a gangster. Meet the GD 60.

1. Fred Astaire | 1899-1987
The multi-talented dancer, singer and actor learned to play golf as a boy during a 1914 vacation in Delaware Water Gap, Pa. "I was so crazy about golf I couldn't sleep nights," he later wrote in material for his autobiography. "I had a terrific desire to be a golf pro." In his 1938 movie "Carefree" -- with fellow golfer Ginger Rogers -- Astaire hit balls while tap-dancing, an incredible routine (it's on YouTube, click here to view) that he devised on the first tee at Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles, where he played to a 10-handicap, and where he made an ace at the 13th.

2. Humphrey Bogart | 1899-1957
The sensitive tough guy was a single-digit player at the Lakeside Golf Club, not far from the Warner Brothers Studios in Los Angeles, and he would often cycle over between takes to squeeze in a quick game. Bogie was a frequent spectator at the Los Angeles Open at Riviera, watching from under a tree by the 12th green, wearing a trench coat and a fedora, quaffing bourbon from a thermos.

3. George Bush Sr. | 1924 -
"41" and his son, George W. Bush (aka "43," a 15-handicapper) come from a golf dynasty that includes two past presidents of the United States Golf Association. George Herbert Walker, maternal grandfather to Bush Sr., was USGA president in 1920 and donated the Walker Cup for which the international team matches are named. Prescott Bush, 41's father, was the USGA president in 1935 and a scratch golfer. Dan Jenkins described his first round with 41 in a 1990 Golf Digest article: "He had a good swing. A natural left-hander who plays right-handed -- like Ben Hogan. ... By my scoring, the president shot a three-mulligan 86 or a two-mulligan 88."
• READ MORE: Jenkins: The Bush Golf Dynasty| Ranking the Golfing Presidents

4. Al Capone | 1899-1947
The most famous gangster in U.S. history wasn't much of an athlete, but he loved to play golf, sometimes twice a week at Burnham Woods, then a nine-hole course on Chicago's South Side. He favored a white silk shirt, monogrammed. Gray plus fours. Diamond belt buckle. Whiskey flask on his hip, clinking between drinks. "Capone had 20, 25 guys walking around the course with him," PGA pro Harry Pezzullo told Golf Digest in 2003. "Decent player, shot in the 80s." Perhaps Pezzullo was being kind.

In a 1972 story for Sports Illustrated, Tim Sullivan, who as a 12-year-old caddied for Capone, wrote, "I don't think he broke 60 for the nine holes. He could drive the ball half a mile, but he always hooked it, and he couldn't putt for beans."

5. Andrew Carnegie | 1835-1919
It was over a chilly round at St. Andrew's in Yonkers, N.Y., in late January 1901, and afterward over drinks at Carnegie's cottage on the course, that Charles M. Schwab, president of the Carnegie Steel Company, mooted J.P. Morgan's offer to buy out Carnegie: $480 million, with $225,639,000 going to Carnegie, making him the world's richest man. He spent his retirement disbursing the money, mostly to fund libraries and schools. (Famous quote: "The man who dies thus rich dies disgraced.") His home away from home was Skibo Castle, Scotland, which he bought in 1898, refurbished, and had a golf course laid out on the grounds. Carnegie once said: "I never found my business anything more than mere play. Golf is the only serious business of life."

6. Winston Churchill | 1874-1965
Churchill's never-say-die bulldog spirit during World War II defines Britain's national psyche. Less known is that the half-American master politician, war hero, orator, writer and painter was once a keen golfer. In the run-up to World War I, Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, was a regular at Walton Heath Golf Club, outside London, and a frequent playing companion of then-Prime Minister H.H. Asquith. Violet Bonham Carter, Asquith's daughter, recalled that discussion of weighty matters on the course would often put Churchill off his game -- much to Asquith's delight. Churchill played on his travels; in 1913, he was photographed during a round in Cannes, France, with close friend Maxine Elliott, the American actress. A caption to one of these photos in a book by Churchill's son, Randolph, says: "He fails to keep his head down and foozles his drive. Mr. Churchill had little aptitude for golf, and so he abandoned it."

7. Bill Clinton | 1946-
America's 42nd president played as a teenager growing up in Arkansas, quit at 17, then picked up his clubs again a decade later, playing with Hillary's brothers. Clinton recalls that once, as governor of Arkansas, feeling stressed, he canceled his appointments, played hooky and went to the golf course. "There was a 435-yard par 4," he told Golf Digest in 2000, "and I hit a drive to 175 yards -- about 260 yards, I guess -- but I was under a tree. I hit a 3-iron off my back foot into the hole. I had an eagle, and I couldn't tell anybody. It was like the minister who plays on Sunday morning. I couldn't tell a soul." Famous for his liberal use of mulligans, Clinton nevertheless is a decent 12-ish handicap. "Golf is like life in a lot of ways," he concluded. "The most important competition is the one against yourself. All the biggest wounds are self-inflicted."
• READ MORE: Interview with Bill Clinton | Ranking the Golfing Presidents | George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush

8. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle | 1859-1930
"The creator of Sherlock Holmes was a jock," Charles McGrath wrote in Golf Digest in 2006. "He was a boxer, a soccer and rugby player, an excellent cricketer (who once scored a hundred runs in a semi-pro match at Lord's), a pioneering skier, a hot-air balloonist and a very serious golfer."

A single-digit man, Conan Doyle played all over the world -- in Canada, America, South Africa, Egypt and throughout Europe. Once, while his sick wife was being treated at a spa in Switzerland, he laid out a golf course on the grounds. One of his best works was hatched during a winter-weekend golf trip at Royal Cromer, on England's east coast, in 1901 -- Conan Doyle had killed off Holmes eight years earlier; The Hound of the Baskervilles saw him rise again. Conan Doyle later became the club captain at Crowborough Beacon. By now a firm believer in spiritualism, fairies and the afterlife, he made a deal with his son, Kingsley, who was leaving to fight in World War I: If anything should happen to him, they would meet again on the fourth green. Kingsley died in battle; for years afterward, the lonely figure of Conan Doyle could be seen there, waiting.

9. Sir Sean Connery | 1930-
The man best known for playing James Bond, aka 007, was well into his 30s when he took his first golf lesson, on a course near Pinewood Studios, outside London, as preparation for the golf scene in the classic, third Bond film, "Goldfinger." It was the start of a lifelong love affair with the game. "Soon," he wrote in a recent autobiography, "it would nearly take over my life." Connery visited golf courses all over the world while filming and became an R&A member. He won an Oscar for "The Untouchables" in 1987 but insisted that winning the Silver Jubilee event at St. Andrews that year gave him more pleasure.
• READ MORE: Hollywood's Top 100 Golfers | Photos: Hollywood's Top Golfers | Photos: Connery teeing it up

10. Bing Crosby | 1903-'77
Nothing brought America's favorite crooner more peace than golf. He told Golf Digest in 1971, "In the battle against par or against your opponent, you can't think about much else, and the result, for me at least, is good therapy. For me, golf has been a kind of passport to relaxation and happiness." No casual player, however, Crosby won the club championship at celebrity-rich Lakeside Golf Club in Los Angeles five times and played in the U.S. and British Amateurs. Crosby started an annual golf get-together for pros and entertainer friends that came to be known as the Crosby Clambake. A television staple starting in 1958, it would serve as the template for all the celebrity pro-ams that followed.

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