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All the Golfing Presidents

Updated January 25, 2021 20.3k views16 items

Since the game of golf became popular in the early 1900s, most presidents have played - with levels ranging from apathetic to enthusiastic. In fact, only a couple of presidents haven't played, and they found their own ways of spending their leisure time. Golf and the presidency have been linked ever since William Howard Taft became a visible proponent of the game, talking up its health attributes. It became more and more important for presidents to project an image of physical fitness, while also appear athletic and graceful. Golf was a way to do this.

At the same time as presidents started enjoying golf, they started to be criticized for enjoying it. Despite having entire websites devoted just to counting how many rounds he's played, Barack Obama is far from the first president to draw the wrath of the media for his golf habit. Taft himself was criticized so much that he vowed to curtail his playing. Dwight Eisenhower, maybe the most enthusiastic golfer in the White House, was given no quarter, and his opponents delighted in calling him the "Duffer in Chief."

There have been plenty of presidential golfers and presidents who golfed are no rarity in American politics. Whoever the next president is, it's a sure bet that their leisure activities, be they golf or something else, will be pounced on by their opponents.

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  • Photo: Keystone View Company / Library of Congress / No known restrictions
    Taft was the first president to let the public know he enjoyed golf, as before that, it was seen as a sport for the rich upper-crust. He was an avid player both during and after his presidency, and sources claim that while he had a 20 handicap, he was routinely able to shoot under 90. Taft was also routinely jibed in the press for his habit, and vowed to play fewer rounds later in his term. He did not.

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    • Photo: Harris & Ewing / Wikimedia Commons / No known restrictions
      For the first half of the 20th Century, Wilson was THE golfing president. He's thought to have played at least 1,000 rounds while in office and presidential golf historian Don Van Natta claims the number is as high as 1,600. Wilson loved golf so much that legend has it he had specially painted black golf balls designed so he could hit them outside during the winter. It’s also generally accepted that Wilson wasn’t very good at the sport.

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      • Photo: Underwood & Underwood / Library of Congress / No known restrictions
        The affable and charming Harding wasn't an effective president, but he was a good golfer. Harding was the first POTUS to have a golf course named after him, and it was during a 1923 round of golf in Vancouver that Harding first displayed signs of the heart failure thought to have killed him.

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        • Photo: Notman Studio, Boston/Restoration by Adam Cuerden / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
          Coolidge was generally thought to be unathletic and clumsy, preferring to shoot clay pigeons than play golf. He did play a few times, but only out of obligation, and because the sport was enjoying a boom in popularity. Legend has it that when he vacated the White House, he left behind just one thing: his clubs.

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