Historian Catherine Lewis devoted an entire book to President Eisenhower’s passion for golf. In “Don’t Ask What I Shot,” he talks not only about Eisenhower’s terrible pine, but also about how the president made golf a sport for the middle class. At least in the United States. Indeed, it was his love of sports that turned it into entertainment for everyone, not just the rich. How did all this happen?
From golf courses to newspapers
Eisenhower had learned to play golf in the 1920s, during the war, while he was a young officer in the U.S. Army. Once back home, he had continued to play until another war had broken out. He had then left and, despite the critical situation, had continued to play golf whenever he had thechance. To date, we have photos of him in uniform playing.
In short, by the time he became president in 1952, Eisenhower was already a golf addict with flair, and he wasn’t afraid to show it.
Previous presidents had always been rather shy on the golf course. Those who played had not allowed themselves to be photographed frequently. On the contrary, they had always treated their passion as something confidential, to be kept away from prying eyes. For Eisenhower the story was very different.
Golf courses and politics: a strange mix?
In the common imagination, the golf course is also a place to do business and talk. Indeed, the relaxed atmosphere-when there are no trees in the way-and the downtime allow for talking about futile as well as important things. Eisenhower knew this well, so much so that he used the golf course as a hall for some of the most important meetings of his term.
It is said that he wrote his State of the Union Address in the hall of Augusta National, even.
For him, golf was undoubtedly a way to de-escalate the tension and de-escalate the tension of interlocutors. Nevertheless, it was mostly a passion that was difficult to hide, even if one wanted to. In in 8 years of his presidency, Eisenhower played about 800 rounds: one round every 3-4 days or so. Even when he couldn’t play a full round, he aimed to make at least a few swings every day. He went so far as to have a test field installed at the White House.
Of course, the frequency with which he trod the golf courses gave plenty of opportunities to photograph him in play. He, for his part, asked only that his scores not be published. Soon, then, newspapers were filled with photos of the president playing golf.
How the President blew up The Masters
Picture after picture, Americans began to become familiar with the game of golf. Eisenhower was a beloved president, which made anything he did a state affair, or nearly so. Golf was no exception: more and more ordinary citizens decided to imitate the president, giving a chance to the game they had always seen as the stuff of the rich.
The new passion of the Americans also had consequences for tournaments and, in particular, for The Masters.
Eisenhower had been a member ofAugusta National Golf Club since before he became president and loved it, except for the infamous tree. Many of the photos of him on the green were thus taken there, turning the golf club into an almost familiar place for millions of Americans. This also put the spotlight on The Masters, the major tournament that was held-and is held-there.
The1953 edition of the tournament was a success among the public: thousands and thousands of people poured into the club, surpassing the previous year’s 15,000. Success only grew as the president became more famous, until he became the golf milestone he is today.