Book ReviewNovember 7, 2015

New Bush biography sprinkles in family love affair with golf

1991 AP

Jon Meacham’s much vaunted book about George Herbert Walker Bush, Destiny and Power, has a few mentions of golf, we’re pleased to report. Only fitting for the biography of America’s most beloved living president who played the game.

The surprise is that the first page of Chapter One starts with a golf story about his paternal grandfather, Samuel Prescott Bush, who is standing on the top of the Hotel Traymore on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City and holding a golf club.

"A prominent Midwestern industrialist, Bush was at the Jersey Shore in the early summer of 1915 to take part in what was described as ‘the highest golf driving contest ever held in the history of the great Scotch game,’ ” Meacham writes. “Facing the Atlantic, in a long-sleeved dress shirt and formal trousers, Bush, driver in hand, took his stance and swung smoothly. He connected just the way he wanted to—cleanly and perfectly. The ball rose rapidly, a tiny spinning meteor. Bush’s shot streaked out over the sea, soaring over the white-capped waves before disappearing deep in the distance, the sound of its splash lost in the wind and turf.

“Bush won, of course. Though his opponents did what they could, they failed to surpass Bush’s dramatic drive. It was not the most serious of competitions, but that did not matter. The New York Times reported Bush’s triumph. A contest was a contest.”

Meacham is no Bernard Darwin, but like Darwin, he writes about an emerging elite who earned success on their accomplishments, not simply as a birthright. You get a few references to the Bush Dynasty’s historical connection to golf—donating the Walker Cup, two ancestors serving as USGA presidents—but clearly there’s a family passion for all outdoor sports.

What little there is about golf we probably have heard, with a rare nugget: “Eisenhower loved golf, and Prescott Bush (GHWB’s father) was the best—and perhaps the most discreet—golfer in the Senate. The president often invited Bush to play with him, confident that Bush would keep the details of the round and any business they might discuss confidential.”

My favorite morsel was about the time Sam Snead came to the White House and gave George H.W. Bush a lesson with the sand wedge. Meacham writes: “Practicing a shot, the president, as he put it, nearly drilled his photographer, David Valdez, ‘in the testicles with a screaming shank.’ "

Dan Jenkins gets a call in reference to Bush reading his book Life Its Ownself while trying to decide if he were going to make a run for the presidency. Make of that what you will.

But I liked the simple note from the summer of 1991 when Gorbachev resigned amid a Russian coup, which caused the president to cancel a round of golf with the Boston Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens. Knowing the disappointment cut both ways, Bush called in the morning and said: “Not playing golf, but you are welcome to come over and have some blueberry muffins.”

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