February 27, 2008

Guilty Of Golf

Editor's Letter

This oil painting by President Eisenhower was given to Arnold Palmer on his 37th birthday as a gift from Ike. I asked Arnie, "In the event of a fire, of all your memorabilia, what's the one thing you'd grab?" This is it.

This oil painting by President Eisenhower was given to Arnold Palmer on his 37th birthday as a gift from Ike. I asked Arnie, "In the event of a fire, of all your memorabilia, what's the one thing you'd grab?" This is it.

Every president we've had in the last half-century played golf except for Jimmy Carter. JFK was probably the best. Bush the Elder was the fastest. But Ike was, far and away, the most avid. If you ever had any doubt, I refer you to his social calendar, which shows more than 1,000 golf days in his eight years in office. The natural reaction would be that President Eisenhower must have done a lot of business on the course, but no -- he prided himself on never talking world affairs or politics while playing. Golf was his retreat.

He did a lot of retreating at Augusta National, where the members built him a home named for his wife: Mamie's Cabin. I had the good fortune of staying there on a couple of occasions in the 1990s as the guest of then-chairman Hord Hardin. The Secret Service quarters were in the basement. Mamie and Ike lived on the second floor. I got to sleep in the president's Early American twin bed. And I mean to tell you, after walking 36 holes on the big course and 11 on the Par-3, there's no more welcome sight in golf than Ike's bed.

An alcove off his bedroom with a window catching the northeast light was where Ike painted. To my untrained eye, he was pretty good. Outside the bedroom, hung over the fireplace in the sitting room, there's a familiar Eisenhower painting of his young grandson, David, holding a golf club. On an opposite wall are 23 framed photographs of all the Eisenhower homes -- from the Manila Hotel in the Philippines, 1936-'39, through three homes in Gettysburg, Pa., to Fort Sam Houston and 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Mamie's Cabin has been restored to its original decor; it's like walking into a time capsule. And if you don't think times have changed, imagine George W. Bush having played golf 194 days as Ike did 50 years ago.

Hold that thought. The Eisenhower article is part of a package that ranks Washington's top-200 golfers today. When Contributing Editor Lisa Furlong last did this ranking in 2005, Chris Chocola, a Republican congressman from Indiana, at a plus-0.5 Handicap Index, was the best golfer elected to national office. Unlike Ike, he didn't get away with it. His opponent ran ads depicting him as a golfer. A life-size blowup of our photograph of Chocola was carried around to political rallies. In one radio ad, a Bush impersonator leaves Chocola a voice mail saying: "I know you're probably out playing golf ... "

Chocola doesn't blame us for losing the election. "I don't think the ad had that much bearing," he says. "If saying I'm a golfer is the worst thing people can say about me, I'm OK with that."

The good news is, Chocola is playing a lot more golf these days. "Golf is more civilized than politics," he says.

Then he added my favorite line: "If I hadn't been ranked, I'd have never made it into Golf Digest!"