The Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, which is taking place this week, always brings to mind the Eisenhower Tree on the 17th hole. 

President Dwight Eisenhower hit the 65-foot-tall loblolly pine with so many tee shots that in 1954, as a member of Augusta National Golf Club, he asked that it be removed.  

His request was politely tabled and never acted upon. It wasn’t until 60 years later that an ice storm brought down the tree. For those six decades, the tree stood as evidence that no golfer, not even a president of the United States, was above the rules of golf.   

Two of my favorite books are “First Off the Tee” by Don Van Natta Jr., published in 2003, and “Presidential Lies” by Shepherd Campbell and Perter Landau, published in 1996. 

According to the authors, only three U.S. presidents since 1900 – Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter – did not play golf.

Our first two ball strikers in chief were William McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt, but neither played much and pretty much quit the game before they started. 

Roosevelt’s successor, William Howard Taft, was a serious golfer with 15 years of experience when he entered the White House. The 350-pound Taft loved chasing little white balls around courses that were little more than pastures. He shot in the high 90s with a controversial mallet-head putter, which he refused to part with even after it was ruled illegal. 

Woodrow Wilson followed Taft and took up golf on the advice of his doctor, with whom Wilson played on most reasonable days and many that weren’t. Wilson frequently quit when his score reached 100. He was so bad that he once recorded 26 strokes on a par 4 hole, including 15 putts. Wilson often golfed every day except Sunday and is believed to have played nearly 1,200 rounds, the most of any president. 

His successor, Warren Harding, was a better golfer than Wilson, but not as good as Taft. Harding was also an all-weather player and struggled to break 100. He died in office in 1923. His vice president, Calvin Coolidge, played his first round of golf on his honeymoon in 1905, but never warmed to the game. Coolidge once took 11 strokes to reach a par 3 hole and is usually ranked as the worst presidential golfer.

Polio prevented Franklin Roosevelt from golfing while president; before the illness, he typically scored in the high 80s.

Eisenhower, who installed a putting green at the White House, did much to popularize the game during his eight years in office, including using Department of Agriculture development funds to build courses in many rural areas, including throughout Iowa. 

John Kennedy had back problems and rarely played 18 holes, but he “often shot 40 or less for nine holes,” according to “Presidential Lies,” which reported Lyndon Johnson was as bad at golf as Kennedy was good

Most people assume Richard Nixon cheated at golf, and he did. But not always. “He cheated in the beginning, then spent years trying to stop but failed,” according to “First Off the Tee.”

Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were golf fanatics. Reagan’s and Bush’s games suffered once they assumed the burdens of the Oval Office; Ford’s did not.

George W. Bush and Barack Obama are avid golfers. Both were criticized for playing too much as president. Bush quit the game completely during the second Gulf War but defended Obama’s play as “a great stress reliever.”

The golfing resumes of Bill Clinton and Donald Trump have two things in common. Both played a lot, and neither was a reliable scorekeeper. 

Clinton was famous for taking mulligans (do-over shots). Trump could not be trusted to play his ball without improving its position when he hit into woods or other hazards.  

Eisenhower would have frowned on both.  ν