Simpler TimesNovember 4, 2016

Once upon a time, when Bill Clinton needed a golf haven, he turned to Donald Trump

BRIARCLIFF MANOR, NY - JULY 14: (L-R) Rudolph W. Giuliani, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, and Billy Crystal attend the 2008 Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation Golf Classic at Trump National Golf Club on July 14, 2008 in Briarcliff Manor, New York. (Photo by Rick Odell/Getty Images)
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BRIARCLIFF MANOR, NY - JULY 14: (L-R) Rudolph W. Giuliani, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, and Billy Crystal attend the 2008 Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation Golf Classic at Trump National Golf Club on July 14, 2008 in Briarcliff Manor, New York. (Photo by Rick Odell/Getty Images)

In 2000, when Hillary and Bill Clinton were looking to relocate from Washington, D.C. to Westchester County in New York, I was the local golf writer for Westchester's daily newspaper. At some point fairly early it was apparent there was an important golf angle to consider: President Clinton loved golf. He would soon have more free time on his hands. And Westchester had a lot of great golf courses.

I spent several days canvassing the area and reaching out to various clubs, often in vain. Private country clubs are notoriously reticent talking about prospective members, especially when you're talking about a guy who would be trailed by a Secret Service detail every time he'd want to play a morning four-ball.

Plus, Clinton was a complicated golfer. He was believed to be a good player, but was widely known to be cavalier about giving himself a mulligan or four. It was apparent even in off-the-record conversations with members at various prestigious clubs that the president's casual interpretation of the rules was a sufficient turn-off.

Then there was just the hassle involved. Westchester is home to a lot of Type-A people, CEOs and hedge-fund managers, none of whom would have much interest in showing up to play golf and realizing a block of tee-times were being cordoned off just so Clinton's group could play in isolation. The Blind Brook Club in Purchase had once boasted former presidents Eisenhower and Nixon as members, but that was an earlier, simpler time. And they were both Republicans.

"I'm proud to have him," Donald Trump said upon Bill Clinton joining his club. "He's a great gentleman, a good golfer and a wonderful guy."

It wasn't until Clinton was out of office for two years that he finally locked in a new golf home, and at the time, the union made perfect sense. Clinton would join Trump National Golf Club in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., located just five minutes from the Clinton home in Chappaqua, and where the owner and course namesake was never one to shy from publicity.

"I'm proud to have him," Donald Trump said upon Clinton joining in May 2003. "He's a great gentleman, a good golfer and a wonderful guy."

Those words jump out now, of course, considering that Trump and Hillary Clinton -- and by extension, Bill -- are in the final throes of the nastiest presidential race on record. But it is a reminder that at one point the two families were something other than adversaries, and could even be described as friends.

Related: How Republicans and Democrats differ . . . on the golf course

When the writer Maureen Dowd sought to revisit the less-contentious period in the Clinton-Trump relationship for a story in this week's New York Times Magazine, she, too, honed in on the fact that Trump and Bill Clinton found common ground on the golf course.

"Trump realized that golf was his entree if he wanted to pal around with Bill Clinton, whom he considered a kindred spirit in some ways — a great man who attracted jealous haters," Dowd writes.

In the story, Dowd recalls a conversation with Trump in which the real-estate magnate told her that he built Trump National in part "because he knew Bill Clinton would need a place to play."

At the very least, Trump's course has been a haven for the former president, and occasionally his family. In a 2012 interview in Golf Digest, Clinton said part of his 65th birthday present from his family was a round of golf at Trump National that included Hillary and daughter Chelsea.

AFP/Getty Images

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton playing golf during family vacation. (Photo by Dirck Halstead/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

'They said, 'You always want us to play golf. Here it is: We're your birthday present.' And the Trump people were great: They organized all their tee times so we wouldn't delay anybody," Bill Clinton told Thomas Friedman. "We schlepped around nine holes together. [Hillary] said, 'We think you need to feel like you're the best golfer in the world, and the only way you can is if all you've got to compare yourself to is us.' "

Four years later, one might think Clinton would be leery of venturing into Trump territory. That might be true. But even as recently as June, according to New York radio host Boomer Esiason, Clinton still had a locker at Trump's club.


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