Golf 101
November 02, 2020

Did you know: This U.S. president played golf after voting on Election Day

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Paul Thompson/FPG

Warren G. Harding is seen playing golf at Piping Rock G.L. on Long Island not long into his term as the 29th U.S. President along side USGA president Howard F. Whitney, Percy H. Pyne and J. Leonard Replogle.

Want to unplug for a few hours from the enervating milieu of Election Day? The golf course—a preferred respite for many during most of this peculiar pandemic-plagued year—certainly seems like a terrific option. And maybe a round on Nov. 3 is that rare occasion when slow play is a blessing?

At least one presidential candidate decided that golf was a perfect escape on Election Day. That was 100 years ago—and almost to the day.

On Tuesday, Nov. 2, 1920, Ohio native Warren G. Harding, who would become the 29th President of the United States, played 18 holes at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio, the boyhood home of future golf great Jack Nicklaus.

Harding, of Marion, defeated fellow Ohioan (and fellow newspaper publisher) James M. Cox of Dayton in a landslide, winning 37 of 48 states and 404 electoral votes. A Republican Senator, Harding won the popular vote by a record 26.2 million votes over his Democrat rival. (Interestingly, Harding also turned 55 years old that day, becoming the only man elected president on his birthday.)

Amid an atmosphere that speaks to the quaintness of the times, Harding and his wife, Florence, cast their ballots early that morning at a precinct located just around the corner from their house and then, according to wire-service reports, lingered for some 30 minutes “chatting with neighbors as they crowded around him.”

Then Harding, as he promised himself, set out by automobile for the 49-mile trip to Scioto, which he had visited occasionally since its opening in 1916. Designed by Donald Ross, Scioto was founded by four Columbus friends, one of whom was Samuel P. Bush, the grandfather of George H.W. Bush and great-grandfather of George W. Bush, the 41st and 43rd U.S. Presidents, respectively. His son, Prescott Bush, became a senator and served as USGA president in 1935.

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New York Daily News

Harding frowned upon "gimmies" and rarely broke 100 when playing recreationally.

The weather was cool and damp, with temperatures falling into the 50s after rain the previous night and into the morning. But weather was not known to deter Harding, who was such a golf fanatic that “he vowed to play through a driving thunderstorm or even a snowstorm, and he often made good on the promise,” Don Van Natta, Jr., wrote in his book, First Off The Tee; Presidential Hackers, Duffers and Cheaters from Taft to Bush.

Harding, who frowned upon gimmes, even from a foot or two, and who seldom broke 100, played 18 holes with a Judge Henderson of Columbus, according to the Washington Post. A wire story reported that Harding “returned home in the early evening, his face flushed by the raw fall air and his spirits heightened by the tramp over the muddy golf links.” It was not known what he shot.

That evening, surrounded by family and friends at his Marion home, Harding enjoyed birthday cake and awaited news of election results that were delivered by the Associated Press. Harding took office March 4, 1921, succeeding Woodrow Wilson, but he served barely more than half a term, dying of a heart attack on Aug. 2, 1923, in San Francisco, not long after learning of brewing trouble over oil leases on naval lands in Wyoming, the onset of the Teapot Dome scandal. In his honor, San Francisco named a golf course after him; Harding Park, which earlier this year hosted the PGA Championship, was opened in 1925.

 

Just weeks before his death, Harding, suffering from fatigue from an undiagnosed heart condition, had been advised by his doctor to cut down on his golf (and his affinity for liquor). His Chief of Staff, Edmund Starling, suggested that the President curtail his rounds to nine holes. Harding thundered in reply, “Hell, if I can’t play 18 holes, I won’t play at all.”