The Loop

Did Obama and Clinton find common ground on the golf course?

September 04, 2012

By Sam Weinman

We have heard often during President Obama's tumultuous first term how he has sought refuge on the golf course, with his frequent rounds at Andrews Air Force Base a popular target of his Republican opponents. Imagine what those critics must think knowing Obama uses golf for political gain as well.


Obama beat Clinton "fair and square" when they played together last September. In the process, a partnership was forged. Photo by Getty Images.

First there was the well-documented "Golf Summit" between Obama and House Speaker John Boehner in June 2011. But even more intriguing is a round Obama played with former President Bill Clinton last September that has repercussions still felt today. In a story in the Sept. 10 issue of The New Yorker about the complicated partnership between Clinton and Obama, political correspondent Ryan Lizza describes the pivotal role a round at Andrews played in bringing the two Presidents together. This is particularly appropriate this week with Clinton set to give a major address on Obama's behalf at the Democratic National Convention Wednesday night.

As Lizza writes, it took a golf invitation from Obama that helped the two men move past a bitter 2008 Democratic primary battle between Obama and Clinton's wife, Hillary, and turn their attention to winning the 2012 election:

"The reconciliation began in earnest late last summer. Patrick Gaspard, the former White House political director, who has moved to the Democratic National Committee, approached Douglas Band, Clinton's closest political adviser and longtime gatekeeper, with some suggestions about how the former President might help with Obama's 2012 reelection campaign. Band, who, by reputation, has an acute sense for moments of political advantage, tried to explain that you don't just call up Bill Clinton and tell him to raise money and campaign for you. Band recommended that the two Presidents begin by playing golf. The next day, Obama phoned Clinton and invited him out for a round. Several Clinton associates say that this was the moment they realized that Obama truly wanted to win in 2012. Why else would he spend hours on a golf course being lectured by Clinton?

"The Presidential round was played at Andrews Air Force Base on September 24, 2011, and since then Clinton has become a visible and vigorous champion of Obama's reelection."

As part of an interview with Thomas L. Friedman for last February's Golf Digest, Clinton discussed the round with the President, saying that though he should be a few strokes better than Obama (Clinton is believed to about a 15-handicap), "he beat me fair and square that day."

It appears now that wasn't the only victory Obama had in mind.