Would Donald Trump Be Our Best Golfer President?

April 27, 2011

"It's a great game, but there's a time to play, and a time not to play," Trump said. "When the U.S. is invading Libya, [the President] should not be out playing golf."

Around Palm Beach, Donald Trump has been telling friends he would play more golf than Dwight Eisenhower if he became President of the United States. Eisenhower played or practiced close to 200 times a year, so is this a case of Trump just being Trump? Partially. From his office in New York last week, Trump clarified himself.

"[Eisenhower] played quite a bit, but I have a big advantage," Trump said. "I've got a course 30 minutes from the White House that is absolutely fantastic, Trump National in D.C. What I did say was I'd be the best golfer of any President.


That would include the present occupant of the White House, Barack Obama, who is famous for playing in his cargo shorts, swinging from the left side (no surprise) and being better at the jumper in a half-court game than with the driver on a big golf course. Trump has had plenty of controversial things to say recently about Obama, but when I talked to the tycoon last week, he wanted to discuss Obama's golf game, and he was mostly positive.

"I've only seen his swing," Trump said. "He's a good natural athlete. It actually looks like he's got great potential as a golfer. I see Obama take some swings that some people say are bad, and I'll say, 'No, that's a great swing.' People are not going to believe it, but I say what I say."

How do the two potential Presidential rivals stack up as golfers? Trump claims a handicap in the 3-to-4 range, but some members at Winged Foot, where Trump started playing as a boy, say there would be an occasional "Bill Clinton," or mulligan, on his scorecards. Obama doesn't have a USGA Handicap Index, but those who have played with him in Washington and in Hawaii estimate his handicap to be between 16 and 24. Last August, Time reported Obama had played about 50 rounds since taking office. He is also known to write on the scorecard exactly what he makes on every hole, even if it's a 10 or an 11.

As President, how would Trump counter the perception among progressives that golf is a game of the rich? By talking up the fundraisers he hosts at his courses, the jobs he creates, the products he buys. If elected, he promises he would not bring in Tom Fazio to turn the Rose Garden into a par 3 with a $2 million waterfall; that would be in poor taste. But he also sounds sensitive about other aspects of golf's "image." As President, he says, he would follow the policy established by George W. Bush, who did not play the last few years of his presidency because he said doing so during the Iraq war would send the "wrong signal."

"It's a great game, but there's a time to play, and a time not to play," Trump said. "When the U.S. is invading Libya, [the President] should not be out playing golf."

But during our conversation, Trump said he would welcome the chance to tee it up with Obama -- and for considerably greater stakes than a five-dollar nassau. "I'd play him for the Presidency," says Trump. "I've won 14 club championships, you know."

*This column first appeared in the April 25, 2011 issue of Golf World Monday