Golf & Politics
Washington's Top 150 Golfers
Golf Digest Political Ranking
Golfers have to applaud—don't we?—when in contentious times the president, vice president and House speaker share a love for golf. President Barack Obama has been criticized (and defended) for playing more than 60 rounds of golf during the first half of his four-year term, yet VP Joe Biden and Speaker John Boehner probably play even more.
Obama (17-handicap) finds time for golf with friends while vacationing and with aides at the Army Navy Country Club courses in Arlington, Va. Boehner is more apt to be spotted with supporters of his Freedom Project PAC at venues such as Tiburón Golf Club in Naples, Fla., and Bighorn in Palm Desert, Calif., both of which attracted bipartisan groups of lobbyists earlier this year to play with Boehner (7.9 Index) and other participating members of Congress.
It was at Tiburón that T-Mobile VP Tony Russo (plus-2.3), our No. 1 in Golf Digest's third ranking of the best and most avid golfers in Washington, D.C., played in a foursome that included No. 4 Alex Urrea (0.7), who lobbies in Washington from his home in Pittsburgh, where he's a board member at The Club at Nevillewood. Urrea says he beat our returning No. 1 that day, but Russo recalls a less-competitive round in which he was testing drivers. "I wasn't thinking of it as a match," Russo says.
Regardless, we relied first on USGA Handicap Indexes but also on estimates from reliable sources to compile this ranking of Washington's elected officials, White House staffers and senior-level lobbyists.
Russo plays frequently with Biden (6.3) and says he has never seen his former boss hit the ball better than he has this year. Perhaps he's been practicing in his back yard.
Although it's too early to discuss a match between 2012 presidential opponents, Obama would have a hard time taking down former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a self-professed 12, on the golf course. Although Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour doesn't play, his son Reeves, a lobbyist with BGR Group (1.1), is the top newcomer to our list. The younger Barbour made two holes-in-one in a round during a 2009 Ryder Cup-format match at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, his Gainesville, Va., home course. Barbour is also leading boss Ed Rogers (4.6), group chairman of BGR Group, in their regular indoor chipping and putting competition that uses office furniture as targets.
Only because he was frustrated by 6½-hour rounds at public courses did Barbour join a club, a decision many on our list have not made, thus accounting for their estimated handicaps. A few play at RTJ Golf Club (Rogers among them) and some, like Russo, belong to Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., or Boehner's D.C.-area course, Burning Tree. But most play at Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Md., and the old Lowes Island, now Trump National Golf Club, Washington, D.C., in Sterling, Va., the choice of FBI Director Bob Mueller (13.6).
Top-ranked among elected officials--after considering reports from multiple sources and a shortage of posted rounds by him or his closest contenders--is Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), a widely acknowledged 2-handicapper. (Udall was the leading proponent of the novel bipartisan seating arrangement at this year's State of the Union address.) He earns the honor over Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.). Yarmuth, the former publisher of Kentucky Golfer, has a +0.4 Index but says he's closer to a 3. Corker, who told us in 2008 he'd have a hard time playing to his then-4.7 Index, has improved to a 2.1—as noteworthy as Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) improving from a 14 in 2008 to a 7.5.
Although the U.S. Congress' freshman class of 2010 includes a wave of doctors, there are few golfers among them. The notable exception is ophthalmologist and Tea Party favorite Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has an 11.6 Index at his hometown Bowling Green Country Club. Best of the newbies is Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), a former federal prosecutor and circuit solicitor who previously played to a plus-1 but now says he's a 4.
As we've learned with many Golf Digest rankings, not all golfers are willing to share handicap information for public consumption. Even when golf is an admitted passion of the most visible politicians in Washington, some prefer to keep their games to themselves. — Lisa Furlong
Don't expect any of these Washington, D.C. elite to be playing in the 111th U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club, but there's no question most of them will be on a Beltway golf course once or twice in June. After a careful look into the skills of the top power brokers in D.C., here's our ranking of the best and most avid golfers among members of Congress, federal officials and White House staffers. We've also included dozens of senior-level lobbyists who play the game.
NOTES: Handicaps were determined in a number of ways: the U.S. Golf Association's Golf Handicap and Information network, state associations, the politicians, lobbyists, friends and playing partners. Handicaps without a decimal point are estimates.
Washington's Top 150
|1.||Tony Russo||VP, Federal Legislative Affairs, T-Mobile||+2.3|
|2.||Bob Okun||VP, NBC Universal, Washington||+0.2|
|3.||Fred Eames||Partner, Hunton & Williams||0.2|
|4.||Alex Urrea||President, CSA Strategies||0.7|
|5.||Chris Lamond||Partner, Thorn Run Partners||1.0|
|6.||Reeves Barbour||VP, BGR Group||1.1|
|7.||Linda Divall||Pres./CEO, American Viewpoint||1.2|
|8.||Michael Williams||Senior Director, Greenberg Traurig||1.6|
|9.||Arthur Mason||Executive VP, Cassidy & Associates||1.7|
|10.||David Katz||Special Asst., Dept. of Energy||1.8|
|13.||Chris Cox||Senior Principal, Navigators Global||2.8|
|15.||Eric Rizzo||AVP, Govt. Affairs, Farmers Insurance||3.2|
|16.||Don Nickles||Chairman/CEO, The Nickles Group||3.4|
|17.||Geoff Gonella||Pres., Cornerstone Govt. Affairs||3.6|
|18.||Dan Tate Sr.||Founder, Dan Tate LLC||3.8|
|19.||Trey Gowdy||Rep.-South Carolina||4|
|T-21.||Brent Blackwelder||President Emeritus, Friends of the Earth||4.6|
|T-21.||Ed Rogers||Group Chairman, BGR Group||4.6|
|T-23.||Robert Dibblee||SVP, Govt. Relations, Natl. Assn. Real Estate Investment Trusts||5.3|
|T-23.||John Haddow||Partner, Upstream Consulting||5.3|
|T-23.||John Sununu||Senior Policy Advisor, Akin Gump||5.3|
|26.||Evan Tracey||COO/Founder, Campaign Media Analysis Group||5.4|
|27.||Christopher Chapel||VP, Govt. Relations, Nextera Energy||5.5|
|28.||Kent Wells||VP, Federal Relations, AT&T||6.1|
|29.||Joe Biden||Vice President||6.3|
|30.||Bryan Anderson||VP, Governmental Affairs, Southern Company||6.7|
|31.||Stewart Verdery||Partner/Founder, Monument Policy Group||6.8|
|T-32.||Ben Finkenbinder||Assoc. Director of Press Advance, White House||7|
|T-32.||Robert Fisher||VP, Fed. Govt. Relations, Verizon||7.0|
|34.||Jim McCool||Dir., Fed. Legislative Affairs, Southern Company||7.1|
|Gary Lytle||Co-Founder, Clark Lytle & Geduldig||7.2|
|T-35.||Steve Watson||VP, Govt. & External Affairs, Loews Corp.||7.2|
|38.||Richard Burr||Sen.-North Carolina||7.5|
|T-39.||Trey Hardin||Sr. VP, Vox Global||7.6|
|T-39.||Jim Langdon Jr.||Sr. Exec. Partner, Akin Gump||7.6|
|T-39.||Dave McCurdy||Pres./CEO, American Gas Assn.||7.6|
|T-43.||John Boehner||Rep.-Ohio, Speaker of the House||7.9|
|T-43.||Jean Statler||Co-Founder, Statler Nagle LLC||7.9|
|T-45.||Marvin Nicholson||White House Trip Dir.||8|
|47.||Mike Oxley||Of Counsel, Baker Hostetler||8.2|
|48.||Joe Stanton||Senior VP, Govt. Affairs, Natl. Assn. of Home Builders||8.4|
|49.||Scott Pastrick||Pres./CEO, Prime Policy Group||8.5|
|50.||John Tanner||Vice Chairman, Prime Policy Group||8.7|