Golf with the Boss
In celebration of Golf Digest's 70th anniversary, we’re revisiting the best literature and journalism we’ve ever published. Each entry includes an introduction that celebrates the author or puts in context the story. Catch up on earlier installments.
Ronald Reagan once excoriated a Dan Jenkins book (tongue firmly in cheek) as “such disgusting rubbish that the author rather than the book should be burned. And by golly, I’ll throw out the first match.” Over the years, Jenkins met six U.S. presidents, but his closest relationship was with George H.W. Bush, who first invited him to the opening of a horseshoe pit at the White House in 1989.
“The prez was relaxed and friendly,” Jenkins recalled. “I managed to keep a grip on my nonchalance when 41 began to quote passages from my novels, laughing as they came to mind. He asked who certain characters were based on. So began a friendship.” Many golf invitations followed—they played at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville, Va.; at Jupiter Hills in Tequesta, Fla.; at Marsh Landing in Ponte Vedra Beach; at Cape Arundel in Kennebunkport, Maine; and they hit balls at Camp David. A collection of correspondence between them “fills a three-inch-thick loose-leaf notebook,” Jenkins said.
This cover story for Golf Digest was based on a round played in the summer of 1990 and was published in September. The president subsequently wrote to Jenkins: “I thought ‘Mr. Smooth’ had a little better swing than the one that showed up in the magazine, but I know the camera never lies.”
The most poignant exchange was on a notecard with the presidential seal and the post-election date Nov. 10, 1992, at the top. It started with the typewritten words: “Dear Dan, I loved your letter. Frankly, I have been hurt some because I don’t like not finishing. I’m like the runner from Kenya or Ghana”—it was actually John Stephen Akhwari from Tanzania in the 1968 Olympics—“who limped across the finish line 45 minutes after the others had finished, and said my country sent me here not to start the race, but to finish it.”
The two remained pen pals and friends till the end. The president died at age 94 in November 2018; Jenkins, the following March, at 90. —Jerry Tarde
It became clear to me recently that Mr. George Bush of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C., is the best thing that's happened to golf since Teddy Roosevelt ran up San Juan Hill with a mashie niblick in his fist; since Dwight Eisenhower whistled a spoon onto Omaha Beach, a tough par 4 over water; in fact, since Gerald Ford ate the all-weather grip on a putter, believing it to be a tamale husk.
Why is President Bush the best thing that's happened to golf lately? I'll tell you why.
One, he is the only president of the United States who has ever known my name. Two, he is the only president of the United States who has ever confessed to reading my stuff. Three, he is the only president of the United States who has ever invited me to play a round of golf with him.
I ask you: Did Woody Wilson or Cal Coolidge ever ask Grantland Rice, for instance, to whap it around with him? I daresay not.
Am I comparing myself to Grantland Rice? Get real. I could never write anything as gripping as, "Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the 4-wood hooked again."
What I might be doing, however, is jeopardizing President Bush's chances for re-election by squealing to the public that he knows me. On the other hand, you could say it's a testimony to his courage that he went a full 18 with me when my dart hook alone could have taken out three Secret Service carts. I should explain right here that the president and I became friends because he has immaculate taste in literature. On the bookshelves of his private office at Camp David, you will find the usual heavy stuff, such as Semi-Panama Its Ownself, by Manuel Noriega, and Dead Solid Broke, by Mikhail Gorbachev, but you will also find my complete works: Farewell to Pars, The Old Man and the 7-Wood, Tender Is the Wedge, Moby Grooves and The Divot Also Rises.
Photo by Dom Furore
This is how we got to know one another. President Bush follows sports with a keen interest when he’s not helping shove Communism into an unplayable lie. He enjoys watching sports on TV, talking sports and reading about sports.
Thus, me being a sports guy, my wife and daughter and I found ourselves receiving invitations to a White House lawn party several months ago. That day on the White House lawn, while a Navy combo in dress blue was playing good country music, while Millie, First Dog, was brought out to frolic, while horseshoes were pitched, and while a lot of deficit-worriers were hitting the food line, I had a few occasions to chat with the president on a variety of subjects, one of which was golf.
“How good a golfer are you, Mr. President?”
I had always thought that if I ever met a president of the United States, I would address him as “Mr. President” rather than “Yo, babe,” the greeting often used by athletes who visit the White House, or “Boss,” a word favored by certain congressmen and uttered with affection in casual settings.
That afternoon, the president said he had once been a tolerable golfer, years ago when he lived in Midland in west Texas, but that he wasn’t too hot anymore, although he loved to “hack” at the game when he could find the time.
I said, “In your job, I guess it’s better if you don’t have a real low handicap.”
He laughed. Not convulsively, but enough that I didn’t get kicked out of the joint.
Later on in the afternoon, the president said, “The problem with golf is, I have to deal with a humiliation factor.”
There were ways around that, I said. White tees only, roll it over everywhere, mulligans were free.
“Can’t take a mulligan,” he said. “Too much pride.”
I said, “Mr. President, let me tell you something. I’ve been around the game a long time. Par doesn’t give a damn about pride. I’ve seen par wring pride’s neck.”
We discussed the possibility of a golf game in the future.
A few months later, I got a self-typed note from him saying he had been working on his game a little and he was finally seeing the light at the end of the short-game tunnel. A long putter, the Pole Kat 2, had paved the way. He wasn’t sinking any putts, but the club had given him confidence, and he was avoiding the automatic four-putt green.
President Bush, incidentally, is an inspiration to anybody who yearns to give up ice-cream sundaes. He’s 66 but can pass for 20 years younger, a vigorous, athletic, flat-bellied man who not only likes golf, he likes baseball and thinks the national pastime deserves a president’s respect, likes football, plays tennis, dabbles in wallyball, pitches horseshoes with the best. He works out on cycles, Stairmasters, treadmills. Three times a week he jobs two miles, averaging about nine minutes a mile. He wishes his schedulers could scare up more time for him to go bonefishing and quail hunting.
You could argue that he’s an inspiration in another way, a man who has served his country in more different jobs than perhaps anybody in history—decorated Navy fighter pilot in World War II, U.S. congressman, U.N. ambassador, C.I.A. director, vice president, and now as the Boss. Try that on for a résumé.
I missed the first opportunity to play golf with him. He called me at home in Ponte Vedra Beach, to ask if I could come up to Washington and unleash my snap hook on a couple of Democrats in the Senate. I had to beg off because I had just been let out of the hospital suffering what my wife said was a heart attack but what I knew was a fake heart attack brought on by the fast bent greens at Marsh Landing Golf Club, my home course in Ponte Vedra, and a layout I put in my Top 25 whether the Golf Digest panel agrees with me or not.
The President said get well, we would re-schedule, but of course such trifling things as summits kept intruding on his golf.
Then one day last June I got another phone call, one that caused some merriment among friends, seeing as how it came to the pressroom at Medinah when Hale Irwin and Mike Donald were on the last two holes of their playoff for the U.S. Open.
I had been out on the course on the front nine of the playoff, but now I was watching it on TV in the press lounge with a couple of old comrades, Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times and Blackie Sherrod of the Dallas Morning News. We were all nearing a tight deadline. Besides, the press lounge was air-conditioned. Somebody came up and told me I had a long-distance call at the front desk.
“Radio,” said Murray.
“Yeah,” I said. “Some nitwit wants to know what I think of Cameroon going into the Southeastern Conference.”
I refused to budge, except to get coffee. But two minutes later, one of the Medinah press volunteers rushed up and said, “You may want to take the call. It’s from the White House!”
Murray and Sherrod glanced at each other, and Blackie said, “He knew to look for you indoors.”
I power-walked to the phone at the front desk.
“Dan, where did they find you?” a voice said.
“I’m in the pressroom at Medinah, Mr. President. I’m at the U.S. Open.”
“Well, of course you are,” said the president. “I’m watching it. Listen, I won’t keep you, but I flew over this course the other day. It looks pretty interesting. Can you come up next Friday? We’ll play 18, go to a minor-league baseball game and spend the night at Camp David.”
Want to talk about an offer you can’t refuse?
Five days later, I discovered myself milling around the Oval Office with the Boss and the other two invitees who would complete our foursome: Walter Payton, the retired Chicago Bears running back who has settled into immortaldom, and U.S. Congressman Marty Russo, a severely low-handicap Democrat from Illinois.
The Oval Office looks like a neat place to go to work every day. Paintings, Western sculptures, windows on two sides through which you can see where Ike’s putting green used to be, and some trees Andrew Jackson planted. The door stood open to the outer office, and there was laughter out there—a happy staff. The president showed us some objets d’art, gathered everybody around for a photograph, and said, “Let’s go to lunch.”
I knew we wouldn’t be eating at McDonald’s, but I hadn’t expected to go up to the dining room of the private residence of the White House. We walked down a hall, got on an elevator and stepped off near the Lincoln Bedroom. The president then led us on a tour of the residence, pointing out things of interest with great pride and enjoyment. I was reminded of some American history I hadn’t retained from Paschal High and Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.
We lunched on a light pasta, green salad, homemade peach ice cream. We made Gorbachev talk, S&L bailout talk and golf talk. The president said he thought he had learned something from Raymond Floyd’s videotape on how to improve your short game. (You’re welcome, Raymond. Anytime.)
Just after lunch, a pleasant-looking gentleman stepped off the private elevator, as if he had access to the president whenever he chose. I was delighted to learn that he does. It was Gen. Brent Scowcroft, the national security advisor. He was accompanied by two other gentlemen.
“Excuse me, I better for talk to these guys,” the president said. They all went into the living room and sat down.
I wandered back into the Lincoln Bedroom and out onto the balcony and gazed out at the Washington Monument in the distance and down at Marine One, the dark green chopper sitting on the White House lawn. I watched my golf bag being loaded.
Coming back out of the Lincoln Bedroom and leaving behind the Emancipation Proclamation that was displayed under glass, I noticed an oil painting on the wall. It was a golf hole at Shinnecock Hills that had been presented to a prior occupant.
The president’s confab with the national security advisor lasted only a few minutes.
“No big deal?” I uttered inquisitively, as we were going down on the elevator.
“No big deal,” he said, smiling.
Good. The golf game was still on.
I couldn’t help thinking back to a morning when I was on the set of the “Today” show with Tom Brokaw, who was then the host. Tom had been kind enough to have me on the show to plug a book that badly needed plugging. But during a commercial break, Brokaw took a call from a phone by his side.
Stunned, he turned to me and said, “Anwar Sadat’s been shot.” So much for the book plug.
What’s the point? Most writers are selfish, desperate swine who always expect the worst.
Down on the ground floor now, we were heading toward the door leading out to the chopper when the president said, “Wait a second. Let’s go have some fun.”
He walked past two guards and around a tall screen where a White House tour was in progress. Hordes of tourists were crammed into a corridor and up a staircase. Shocked and overwhelmed to see the president his ownself, when it was the last thing they had expected, they burst into whoops and applause.
He went over to shake hands, do high fives, exchange pleasantries. Returning to our group, he said, “Heck it’s their house and their president. They deserve to see the guy.”
I must tell you that Marine One is a nice way to travel. Forward in the cushiony, comfortable, remarkably quiet chopper were the president, the congressman, myself, Walter Payton, and Walter’s 9-year-old son Jarrett, who would have some tales to tell when he went back to school. Seated behind us were a handful of staff and Secret Service personnel, the earpiece and talk-box brigade.
There was no décor on Marine One except for the presidential seal on the door to the flight deck and a small painting of the Boss’ house in Maine. Out the window, I think I might have noticed some other choppers flying escort.
We landed somewhere in the Maryland hills and got into a limo with the president. Then in a 15-vehicle motorcade that included a SWAT van, we rode through the countryside. When a president goes to play golf, it involves a bit more than donning the old cleats.
For security reasons, the Holly Hills Country Club in Ijamsville, Md. (the “j” is silent), had not been given much warning about “Guess who’s coming to play golf today?” But word had quickly circulated to about 200 members and friends, and when we got there, they had already been frisked and told their dos and don’ts by the Secret Service.
The president shook a lot of hands and autographed a lot of golf caps, and we all suited up in the locker room and hit a few practice balls and took a few putts. From Marlin Fitzwater, the White House press secretary, I had been informed that the pool of press photographers and writers would only be allowed to show up on the first tee, the ninth green, the 10th tee and the 18th green. Otherwise, we would have the course to ourselves.
Along with having your own jet, your own helicopter and your own song, I marked this as being one of the great perks of being president. No creepers and crawlers to play through on a golf course.
The owner of Holly Hills Country Club, a lady named Ann Grimm, was on hand to greet us and answer some of my questions.
The club was 14 years old. She had owned it for the past three but was in the process of taking it equity. It had an upper middle-class membership. The course had been designed by an architect named Robert Russell, who was said to be a “local fellow.” The layout was generally ranked among the 10 best in the Mid-Atlantic PGA section.
“You’re being discovered,” I said.
“Isn’t it wonderful?” she replied.
“Where am I?” I asked.
Travel note: If I had been driving, I was a little under an hour from D.C. Take 270 west to 75 to 144 and look for the Holly Hills Country Club sign, or the red-brick, two-story clubhouse.
In the golf shop, the president swapped his Texas Rangers baseball cap for a Holly Hills cap, to go along with his red golf shirt, khaki slacks, and brown DryJoys.
While he gave his Pole Kat 2 a workout on the putting green, I peeked into his red-and-black leather bag to see what weapons he would be using today. He was going with a Yonex driver with a gold graphite shaft. The Yonex is that fat thing that looks like a black puppy curled up in a knot. He was carrying three Muirfield metal woods. His irons had no cavity backs or boxed grooves. They were your normal Jack Nicklaus MacGregors. (You’re welcome, Jack. Anytime.)
On the first tree, the president slipped on an old white glove that was turning to rust. It looked like it had been worn by a tree-planter a decade earlier.
“Hey, whoa,” I said, getting a new Hogan glove out of my bag and handing it to him. “Don’t embarrass me.”
“I never turn down a free glove,” he said.
Glancing at the old one again, I said, “I guess you don’t get many offers.”
The Holly Hills course plays to 6,800 yards from the blues, par 72, but looking out on all the deep valleys and swollen hills to confront us, I suggested we play from the whites, a journey of about 6,500 yards. Nobody protested.
I also put the hit-till-you’re-happy rule into effect for the cameras on the first tee. The president didn’t actually approve of this until his first drive was a grounder, then he liked the idea.
He has a good swing. He’s a natural left-hander who plays right-handed like Ben Hogan, I told him. He doesn’t take it all the way back to horizontal, but he follows through nicely, and when he catches it on the screws, it goes. His mulligan was a beauty. People applauded.
In the lusty tradition of most sportswriters, I sky-hooked one about 215 yards. Walter Payton swung a little better than the usual ex-running back. With a long-iron, he smacked a towering slice that must have carried 300 yards. If he had hit the ball with one of his bulging forearms, it might have carried 500 yards. Marty Russo, the congressman, had to take only one stylish, powerful swing for me to see why he had been the congressional golf champion for 10 of the past 14 years.
Anyhow, we were away.
In our entourage of golf carts were Secret Service guys, a medical doctor, a White House photographer, an aide or two, and a fellow carrying a black briefcase, who would often be seen strolling along by himself in the rough. A convivial Secret Service agent named Lou would never be more than a few feet from the president at all times. I gathered it would be Lou’s job to hurl his body in front of the president in case I shanked a 5-iron.
Throughout the round I would take a club out of the bag and start to line up a shot but would be distracted by the sight of a golf cart on a distant hilltop. Up there, two men would be peering through huge pairs of binoculars at—I don’t know—Pennsylvania or something.
I looked through the binoculars once. I won’t say they’re powerful, but if I had been facing a window of the White House, 70 miles away, I could have read Abe’s signature on the Emancipation Proclamation in the Lincoln Bedroom.
On the first three holes, the president encountered some trouble with his pitching and chipping, mainly because he was rushing his swing. He plays fast, I am happy to report, and likes to play fast, and doesn’t understand why anybody would play slowly.
He could do mankind a wonderful service, I suggested, if he signed into law the death penalty for slow-play golfers.
I tried to give the president a tip on his pitching and chipping, although I am 0-for-instruction books. He was addressing the ball too far back on his right foot and not getting the clubhead through, what with his speedy takeaway. The result was often a slapped grounder, followed by a plaintive sigh. I suggested he move it forward a little, and simply face the ball, and take it back more slowly.
I’ve never had a golf lesson,” he confided.
“That’s a natural swing—really?”
“Yep. For better or worse.”
It was for the better. And it got him his first par on the 500-yard fourth hole, an up-and-over par 5 with a dogleg to the right. Good drive, good fairway wood, good pitch, two putts.
“Way to go, Boss,” the congressman said as the president holed a five-foot second putt for his par.
It was after the president had made a par that I felt at ease in nodding toward the man with the briefcase, and saying, “Is that what I think it is?”
“Yeah, the situation phone,” he said.
I stared at the briefcase off and on for the rest of the day. The phone never rang. Knowing there’s a situation phone around doesn’t make golf any easier, if I may say so.
As a longtime captive of the game, I am a collector of memorable stretches of golf holes. Things like Amen Corner at the Augusta National, the 11th 12thh and 13th. The 16th 17th and 18th at Merion—the Quarry Holes. Eight, nine and 10 at Pebble Beach—Abalone Cove. All 18 at Pine Valley—Crump’s Folly. The 16th, 17thand 18th at TPC Sawgrass—Deane’s Bad Dream, or whatever you want to call it.
To this list I would almost be tempted to add the sixth, seventh and eighth at Holly Hills. Rugged, scenic, beguiling. The No. 1 and No. 3 handicap holes, par 4s, sandwiching a par 3 of 180 yards over water.
More or less ignorant of the dangers on these holes, I’m sure we got through them better than we would have if we ever played them again.
The sixth, a 480-yard par 4, sharp dogleg left, might be the toughest hole in Western civilization. You have two choices off the tee box. Drive it straight and go out-of-bounds over a little fence, or hit a soaring hook up and over the tall trees and pray that the ball stays out of the forest. If you take a lesser club than a driver off the tee to stay in the narrow fairway, you can’t get home.
Me and the Boss and Walter Payton ricocheted our way to bogeys at the sixth, and Marty Russo parred it only because he happened to sink a downhill, 20-foot putt over the slick bentgrass green.
The president hit his best shot of the day at the seventh. He nailed a 3-iron that cleared the water and bunkers and left him an 18-foot birdie putt. As destiny would have it, I hit one of my best shots of the day here, a 7-wood that stopped three feet behind the flag.
“You dog!” said the president. “What did you hit?”
“The trusty 7-wood,” I said.
“A 7-wood? What’s that?”
I said, “Some people say it’s a 3-iron/4-iron, but I say it’s the secret to a happy life.”
As if to inspect the legality of it, the president fondled my wood, custom-made 7-wood, or 7-Silly, as it is known in some circles.
The eighth hole is a 400-yard par 4 that requires a good drive to reach the crest of a hill or else, we were alarmed to discover, you are faced with a blind second shot to a green with an entrance that was barely wide enough to walk through and is surrounded on the other three sides by water. It is essentially an island green. Even if you can see this green, the second shot would put a squirrel in your stomach.
Luckily, I hit my best shot of the day at the eighth. I had heeled the drive and had about 175 yards, blind, to the green. All I could do was aim at a house on a faraway ridge and slash at the trusty 7-wood and hope I didn’t over-pure it and root for the ball to self-correct. Somehow, the ball wound up on the green, only 20 feet from the cup.
Along the way to the green, the president was offered a mulligan after an inconvenient pitch, but he said, “No, too much pride.” He doggedly played to a double bogey.
Meanwhile, Marty Russo, after an uncharacteristic drive into the rough and a so-so second shot, stiffed it out of a front bunker to save his par, showing us yet another shot from his repertoire.
“I hope everybody realizes we’ve just seen three astounding golf holes,” I announced to the group.
“Yes, we have,” the president agreed.
On reflection, I’ve decided that this stretch of holes at Holly Hills deserves a name for posterity. I hereby name it The President’s Loop, and I can hear conversations of the future.
“How’d you do at The President’s Loop?
“Oh, same old six over.”
The ninth hole is a par 5 that goes back uphill to the clubhouse, where the cameras would be waiting. For the cameras, I half-bladed a 9-iron third shot and then three-putted for a disgusting bogey on what was an easy hole, but it was an eventful hole for the congressman. He rolled in a 25-footer for a birdie and had a momentary out-of-body experience.
Shouting and hopping around, he yelled, “Can you believe it? This is the greatest minute of my life! I’m with the president and I birdie the hole for CNN!”
Calmly, I said. “Marty, do you really want your constituents to know how well you play golf?”
Incidentally, if it’s a fact that a man reveals his true character on a golf course, I can only attest that the president was easier to be around than any captain of industry I’ve ever been paired with in a pro-am. He seemed also to take himself far less seriously than any CEO of any plastics company I’ve ever encountered. He was the friendliest and most relaxed person in every room, and on every fairway.
He frequently walked to the green from 100 yards in, and bummed rides on everybody’s golf cart. Thanks to my incessant questioning between shots, he spoke of many things other than golf: of food, or travel, of other sports, of Gorbachev’s sense of humor. “He told me a lot of jokes when we weren’t working,” the president said. “And he asks more questions than you do—what does that car cost, what does a house like that cost?”
We all did ourselves proud for the cameras at the 10th tee. A downhill par 4 with plenty of room, we could jump at our drivers. I thought I had seriously hurt my tee ball until the president made a good pass and fired it past me.
Down the steep hill, we found his ball five yards ahead of mine in the fairway. I didn’t see how this had been possible, him with the funny Yonex and a Titleist and me with my secret weapons, a Mizuno and an Ultra.
“You killed that one, Boss,” the congressman said. “I clock it at 280.”
“I don’t know how,” the president said.
“You made a good swing,” I explained.
“Well, it comes and goes,” he shrugged. “If I can just get rid of the humiliation factor … ”
The president made three pars on the back side and would have made two others if he hadn’t three-putted. He played better as the day wore on.
The 12th hole, 145 yards, is worth recalling. Here, the president seemed to be woefully underclubbing himself with a 9-iron, but we let him go with it, and he struck it crisply onto the front of the green, about 12 feet from the pin. Good eyesight. He had judged correctly that the hole was playing only 130 yards.
The 12th was also where a cluster of club members sneaked onto the course and were permitted to gallery and playfully holler at us after being shook down by the Secret Service.
“How do you like the course, Mr. President?”
“How’s your game?”
Another laugh came at the 12th when Russo hit a rare poor shot, a timid chip from the edge of the green that left him 10 feet short of the hole.
This performance drew a remark from a wit in the gallery. He said loudly, “Does your husband play golf, too?
Chuckling, the president said, “I hadn’t heard that one.”
Then the congressman had the last laugh. He sank his putt.
I was finally able to demonstrate to the president that I was capable of making a birdie in my declining years. At the par-5 14th, I managed to keep a driver in play, a 3-wood in play, get a 9-iron on the green and sink a 10-foot putt. But this only inspired Marty Russo to drop two more birdie putts at the 16th and 17th holes. The president parred the 14th and 18th to finish with a flourish. Walter Payton finished one hole behind us. He was frequently one hole behind us, always back there laughing and talking to Secret Service guys, or looking for the 300-yard sand wedge he had hit.
By my scoring, the president shot a three-mulligan 86 or a two-mulligan 88. “Sweetness” Payton shot a three-mulligan 85. I shot a three-mulligan 78 or a two-mulligan 80. And Marty Russo shot a one-mulligan 68, which put him at a shocking four under par as well as under arrest.
Frankly, it would take a sequel to this piece, something on the order of “Golffather II”—oops, incoming!—to describe everything I was privileged to see and do before and after the round at Holly Hills, thanks to the president, but I am compelled to touch on some personal highlights.
We showered and changed in the Holly Hills locker room and motorcaded to dinner at the Jug Bridge seafood restaurant in Frederick, Md., a tasty roadhouse the Secret Service had selected. The president didn’t need to use the overlapping grip on a mallet as he birdied about seven jumbo crabs.
After dinner, we motorcaded to Hagerstown, Md., and to the amazed elation of 3,500 people trooped into a Class AA baseball park to watch Hagerstown beat Harrisburg, 6-3. We sat just past the third-base line, and the president waved and chatted with the faces of America, and admired the rich natural turf, and gazed at the old factory rising above the right-field wall, and smiled at the Moose Lodge sign out in center, and looked up at the little press box that might barely accommodate a dozen brethren—the game as we all remembered it from our youth. “This is great!” he said.
We stayed for six innings as joyous Americans tossed him baseballs to autograph and toss back. He made some good one-handed catches.
I have checked with various historians. Nobody can remember the last time a president of the United States went to a minor-league baseball game, or if one ever did. It was something the old Yale baseball captain had been wanting to do.
On to Camp David, then, to spend the night. As resorts go, you take Palm Springs or Kapalua, and I’ll take Camp David.
Run by the Navy, these lush and leafy 200 acres in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland have been special to every president since Franklin D. Roosevelt chose the property in 1942 as a place where the Commander in Chief could go to relax, revitalize himself and get some work done away from the microscope of the press and the often ceremonial Oval Office.
FDR originally called the retreat “Shangri-la.” It was Ike who changed the name to Camp David, for his grandson. Consisting of a number of rustic but comfortably furnished cabins scattered among the trees, of heavily shaded pathways, and of every conceivable type of recreational facility, the grounds are at your complete disposal once you’re inside the compound as the Boss’ guest.
In my cabin, I could have picked up the phone and asked an officer serving under Commander Mike Berry to send over any one of 300 movies in the film library for my VCR, or I could have lit a fire and explored all of the available beverages, or I could have gone for a midnight ride on all the bicycles outside my cabin door—and apparently without getting shot.
Instead, I fell to sleep in a large cozy bed that, having a sense of history, I hoped had been slept in by such high-handicappers as Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Gorbachev, Maggie Thatcher or Menachem Begin.
I was up early the next morning to throw the switch on the coffee machine and read the Washington Post and The New York Times that had been delivered to my cabin door. As suggested by the president the night before, I strolled down to have breakfast at Laurel Lodge, which is where everybody dines at every meal, including the president. It is also where his office is located.
I was foolishly standing around among the umbrellas and tables on the veranda of Laurel, wondering where the entrance was, when a voice through a sliding-glass door summoned me to come in. The president, in a windbreaker, golf shirt, khakis and Topsiders, was in his office alone, clacking away on a typewriter. He said he had been at work since 6:30.
His rather small workplace at Camp David has more interesting memorabilia than most offices. There was a large painting of the fighter plane he flew in World War II, and a model of it on his desk. He opened a tiny wood box. Inside was the little leather-band wristwatch Gorbachev had given him. Framed on a wall was a cardboard target with “Bush” scrawled on it and Noriega’s bullet holes riddled in it—a souvenir brought back to him by the Panama invasion troops.
After I had finished breakfast and he had stopped typing, at least for a while, we got in a golf cart, and he took me on a tour of the retreat.
Each president does something to improve Camp David. A new chapel, badly needed, is under construction, and a golf practice range, which had always been missing, has already been installed, not that golf was higher on the list than You Know Who.
There was something I had to so. Just for a moment, I had to sit on the same porch of Holly Cabin where FDR and Winston Churchill had sat when they planned the D-Day invasion.
We laughed again about something we had heard at the baseball game. A fan had managed to get the Boss’ attention, give him a thumbs-up sign, and holler, “I know what you’re going through, Mr. President. I’m president of my city council back home!”
In a golf cart, he drove me down to the sedan parked at Aspen Cabin, the presidential residence, from where an Army sergeant would transport me to Washington National. How could I thank the president for the whole outing, other than to say I would vote for him five or six times in ’92? I did tell him to try to keep taking it back slowly on those pitch shots.
As the car pulled away, I looked across a beautiful lawn, and my eyes lingered on the well-manicured green of Ike’s par-3 hole, located very near the Aspen Cabin. The pin was up front today. A 7-wood might be too much club.