The Ike Spike

As First Golf Nut, Eisenhower ignited a postwar boom
April 08, 2007

When Dwight D.Eisenhower was elected president in 1952, golf's first golden age was a distantmemory, but the conditions in postwar America were ripe for the game'sresurgence, and Ike was just the commander in chief to lead the charge. Duringhis two terms in office Eisenhower played nearly 800 rounds. He befriended thegame's most beloved players, including Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer, and was thesubject of hundreds of golf jokes and cartoons. All an enterprising satiristneeded in the 1950s was a pencil and a respectable rendering of a golfball.

Ike was known forplaying at the most exclusive clubs in the U.S., notably Augusta National,which he joined in 1948 and where today a cabin, pond, tree and cracker-barrelare named for him. The day after Ike won the 1952 election, he got what heconsidered his real prize--a vacation at Augusta. At the beginning of his firstround there, one photographer quipped, "I hope your golf score is not ashigh as the vote you got." As the president stepped up to the tee, he shotback, "By golly, I hope you fellows carry insurance."

Having Ike on thegrounds posed serious challenges. To ensure his privacy and safety, guests werenot permitted. Secret Service agents carried golf bags outfitted with Thompsonsubmachine guns. One tense moment arose while Ike was playing a match withAugusta cofounder Clifford Roberts and head pro Ed Dudley. Ike's tee shot atthe 12th hole landed in a bunker short of the green. As the president steppedonto the sandy bank to play his second shot, he sank to his knees in wet muckthat was like quicksand before two agents charged in to rescue him.

Ike made 29 tripsto Augusta as president, but never attended the Masters. He loved thetournament but feared his presence would distract the players. Instead, hebegan a tradition of flying to Augusta the Monday after to play with membersand the new Masters champion.

Ike's obsessionwith golf provided easy fodder for critics who accused him of spending moretime rolling a little white ball down a fairway than attending to the affairsof state. Yet Eisenhower prevailed in the face of such criticism, enjoyingwidespread public support as he grappled with tough issues facing the countryin the tumultuous postwar period. Golf was a key tool for him.

Ike consideredAugusta National, and other clubs such as Burning Tree and Cherry Hills,extensions of the Oval Office, making country clubs his outposts of power. Heused the game as a practical way to build alliances, frequently inviting menfrom both sides of the aisle in Congress, especially those he was trying toinfluence, for a friendly game. Foreign leaders also were asked to tee it upwith the president. Little surprise, then, that in 1953 a Washington Postcolumnist asked for a list of Ike's golfing partners. He justified the requestby explaining, "Those who golf or visit with the President in Augusta or atBurning Tree Club in Washington can vitally influence national policy."

As a happy andexpanding nation looked on, it realized it too could use the golf course as aplace of business. In the coming years, thousands of fledgling businessmenwould make like Ike and take their deal-making onto the links. A second GoldenAge was dawning.

Don't Ask What IShot: How Eisenhower's Love of Golf Helped Shape 1950s America, by CatherineLewis, will be published in May by McGraw-Hill.

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PHOTOBETTMANN/CORBIS (EISENHOWER)PUTTER IN CHIEF Eisenhower played almost 800 rounds while president, many of them at Augusta National. SIX PHOTOS RONNIE WATTS COLLECTION/HISTORIC GOLF PHOTOS (CLIFFORD ROBERTS); CBS (LOGO); CORBIS (MUFFLER); JOHN BIEVER (JUSTIN VERLANDER); STAN BADZ/PGA TOUR/WIREIMAGE.COM (GARY MCCORD, FALDO)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)