Putting and politics: The public golf courses where U.S. Presidents have played

Pinehurst. Ballybunion. Shadow Creek. Pebble Beach.

Over the years, U.S. Presidents from William Howard Taft (in office from 1909-1913) to Donald Trump (2016-present) have chased a little white ball around the world's best golf courses. Taft was the first President to truly enjoy the game. Only three Presidents since -- Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter -- reportedly didn't tee it up while in the Oval Office.

They have played everywhere from Augusta National, where Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961) was a member, to the unassuming Cape Arundel Golf Club, a public course in Kennebunkport, Maine, where the Bush family hosts a charity tournament every summer.

Bill Clinton (1993-2001) and Trump seem to have played more top 100-caliber courses than any other U.S. President. Based on accounts from industry sources, Clinton is the only President to have teed it up at both PGA Tour stops in south Florida -- the Champions Course at the PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens and the Blue Monster at Trump National Doral Miami, which lost its Tour event in 2016. He's also played the Pinnacle Course at the Troon North Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz.; Cascata near Las Vegas; the South Course at Mauna Lani Resort on Hawaii island and the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Grand Cayman. Both he and George W. Bush (2001-2009) have played at Reynolds Plantation in Georgia.

George H.W. Bush (1989-93) -- a World Golf Hall of Fame inductee whose father, Prescott Bush, and grandfather, George Herbert Walker, were former USGA presidents -- got around in his younger days, too. He played in the 1998 grand opening of the Straits Course at Whistling Straits Golf Club in Kohler, Wis., and is a founding member at the Traditions Club, a private club in Bryan, Texas, that allows some public access.

Considering all these great places, it begs the question: Do Presidents chase bucket-list courses? Absolutely, according to Don Van Natta Jr., an investigative reporter for ESPN who published his first book "First Off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers and Cheaters from Taft to Bush" in 2003.

"Reagan was that way," Van Natta Jr. says. "He wanted to play the best courses. I did a piece on Obama. I quoted one of his buddies that his goal is to play all those (top) courses. He is a total bucket-list chaser. He hasn't tried to do that (yet), but his goal is to do that. Clinton is also that way. He was a public-course hacker (growing up), but he was into playing as many of the great private courses as you could. He played quite a few of the nice courses."

For the record, multiple Presidents have played at Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina, but a spokesman for the five-star joint wouldn't divulge who or when.

The Trump organization also declined comment for this story in 2016 before Donald Trump was elected POTUS. Trump, who claims multiple club championships in his lifetime, has obviously played all the great public and private courses he owns, notably the reborn Ailsa course at Trump Turnberry and Trump International Golf Links Scotland and Trump International Golf Links Ireland. Trump tees it up in office somewhat regularly, but the ironic thing is, he used his Twitter account to bash Barack Obama whenever he played golf.

Other public courses Trump played before being elected remain a mystery. Maybe that information will leak someday. Most public courses are happy to trumpet a presidential tee time after the fact. The Secret Service might jam up the course for a day, but the notoriety lasts for generations.

Golf Advisor has rounded up some of the other top public-access courses that have hosted America's Commander-in-Chief. This is by no means a definitive list because these guys love their golf.

The Omni Homestead Resort, Hot Springs, Va.

No public course hosted more Presidents (seven) than the historic Old Course at The Homestead. William McKinley (1897-1901) became the first sitting President to play, teeing off on the Old Course in 1899. It was such a newsworthy event that the Boston Evening Record surveyed its readers to determine their views. Results were evenly divided, but McKinley was not concerned, saying, "The game requires study, and I have too many other subjects to study."

Taft was a regular on the Old Course, but President Calvin Coolidge (1923-29) only played a single round. Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) played every morning with his second wife, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, while on their honeymoon.

Richard Nixon (1969-1974) stayed and played at The Homestead in 1958 when he was a senator and in 1960 when he was Vice President. Gerald Ford (1974-1977) favored the Cascades Course. George W. Bush played both courses in May 2015.

Old Course at Ballybunion Golf Club, Ballybunion, Ireland

Clinton became synonymous with this course in southwest Ireland when the town erected a statue of him near the city center. His first visit, which celebrated the Northern Ireland peace accords in September 1998, included a foursome with Irish legend Christy O'Connor.

When Golf Digest asked Clinton the question "When you go to heaven, if there are three courses ... which three?" he responded:

"I'd like it to be the Old Course at St. Andrews. I'd like it to be the Old Course at Ballybunion. And I would like it to be one of a half a dozen great Hawaiian courses because I feel better on the golf course in Hawaii than any place on earth."

Old Course at St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland

Clinton has played at the Home of Golf at least twice -- in 2001, a visit chronicled by David R. Holland at ScotlandGolf.com, and again in 2013. His 2001 round started on a sour note when he hit his second shot into the burn near the first green, but he finished the round with a solid 86.

Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, Calif.

Both Ford and George H.W. Bush participated in multiple Bing Crosby Pro-Ams (now the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am) with rounds at Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill Golf Course and Poppy Hills Golf Course.

Ford had to skip the first round in 1977 due to Carter's inauguration and joined partner Arnold Palmer the next day. Ford would eventually partner up with Palmer four times and Jack Nicklaus three times in the event. He caused a stir when he hit a woman in the head with an errant shot on the 15th hole at Spyglass Hill in 1984. An article from the New York Times noted the 17-handicap was known for beaning spectators, writing: "Mr. Ford struck a man with a golf shot in the pro-am preceding the San Diego Open nine days ago. He has hit spectators a number of times in the past as he draws big galleries."

Bush played with Hale Irwin in 1993, mere days after leaving the White House, and again in 1994. Clinton played Pebble Beach in 1995 but not during the tournament.

Shadow Creek Golf Club, North Las Vegas, Nev.

The stipulations to play Shadow Creek are so strict -- a $500 green fee and a stay at an MGM Resorts International property -- that the swanky club has rejected a President (George W. Bush) and a Canadian Prime Minister because they weren't staying with MGM.

Both Bushes, Clinton and Obama have still found their way on, according to the Las Vegas papers. Bush played just days after Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011. George H.W. Bush reportedly keeps a fishing pole above his locker so he can fish in the course ponds. Obama played a round with New York Yankees legend Derek Jeter in 2014.

The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

Four Presidents have played golf at The Greenbrier. In 1914, Wilson played the recently opened Charles Blair Macdonald design that would eventually become the Old White TPC course, host of the PGA Tour's Greenbrier Classic today.

Nixon played golf on several occasions with Sam Snead, the resort's emeritus pro, during the 1950s when he was Vice President. Nixon broke 100 for the first time on the Old White course.

Eisenhower played on a chilly day with Snead in March 1956 before hosting the North American Summit Conference with the President of Mexico and the Prime Minister of Canada. Ford played golf here a number of times when he was minority leader of the House of Representatives.

Wailea Golf Club, Maui, Hawaii

Rusty Hathaway, the former director of golf operations at Wailea Golf Club's Gold Course and Emerald Course, played with George H.W. Bush and Mrs. Barbara Bush in May 1997. Wailea's Blue Course was packed that day.

"I asked our starter to please clear the first tee, so we would be able to tee off as soon as we got there, but I could immediately see that the course in front of us was wall-to-wall people," Hathaway recalled. "When we arrived at the second tee, however, the group in front of us was standing almost at attention, and they graciously said to please play through. The third tee was the same, and the fourth, and every hole all the way through the round."

Hathaway found out later that the Secret Service had paved the way for a round in less than four hours. He still has the scorecard (Bush shot 89), a picture and a thank-you note framed on the wall.

Pinehurst Resort, Pinehurst, N.C.

Caddie Willie McRae has carried bags for at least three Presidents at Pinehurst -- Ford, Nixon and Eisenhower. Ford's most famous round started when he outdrove Arnold Palmer and Gary Player (but not Nicklaus) on Pinehurst No. 2 during an exhibition match that dedicated the PGA/World Golf Hall of Fame in September 1974. George H.W. Bush played Pinehurst No. 2 twice in September 2003 while staying in a suite at the Holly Inn.

Torrey Pines Golf Club, La Jolla, Calif.

Obama inadvertently crashed a wedding in October 2015 after his round on Torrey Pines' South Course, host of the PGA Tour's Farmers Insurance Open. He stopped near the 18th green to pose for photos with Brian and Stephanie Tobe, who were about to start their ceremony at the nearby Lodge at Torrey Pines.

"It was just really nice, totally unexpected," Stephanie told GolfChannel.com. "I never thought we'd have a chance in the world to meet him."

Harborside International Golf Center, Chicago

Clinton says he played his best golf in 2001 after leaving office. In September, he aced the 145-yard sixth hole on the Port Course with a 9 iron. A signed scorecard (he shot 82) and plaque still hang in the clubhouse.

"The hole was behind the hump, so I didn't get to see the ball go in," Clinton told PGATour.com in 2012. "But I've only hit one hole-in-one. I left one on the rim when I was 15, and I got down and blew on it, and it still didn't go in."

Sea Island (Ga.) Resort

Ford, George H.W. Bush and Clinton have all played at Sea Island. Clinton and Bush have planted commemorative oaks on property.

Mr. and Mrs. Bush honeymooned at The Cloister in 1945 (although there is no record of whether or not they played golf). They returned in 1991 while Bush was in office. He played twice with several residents, including former Attorney General Griffin Bell, architect Rees Jones, Bill Jones III and Davis Love III.

Omni Barton Creek Resort, Austin, Texas

The Bushes -- better known for their speedy rounds than their skills -- played Barton Creek's Fazio Foothills Course in January 1999 while hosting the President of Argentina.

Turtle Bay Resort, Oahu, Hawaii

With a vacation home in Kailua, Obama regularly plays golf on Oahu during annual winter vacations. He's played a number of the island's courses, but the best has to be Turtle Bay's Arnold Palmer Course, which is ranked among the top 50 public courses in the country by Golf Channel travel expert Matt Ginella.

Omni Grove Park Inn, Asheville, N.C.

Obama first visited the resort in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains in 2008, but he didn't get to play the Omni Grove Park Inn golf course, classic Donald Ross design, until 2010. In appreciation, he presented the resort with a set of clubs, now showcased in the Presidents Lounge that honors the 10 U.S. Presidents who have stayed on property.

Cape Arundel Golf Club, Kennebunkport, Maine

This old-school Walter Travis design, very near the Bush family's oceanfront Walker's Point home, hosts the George H.W. Bush Cape Arundel Celebrity Golf Classic every June. Clinton has played in the event as well.

Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, Ojai, Calif.

Ronald Reagan (1981-89) and his wife, Nancy, considered the Inn one of their favorite getaways, first visiting in the 1950s. Located 90 miles north of Los Angeles, the Ojai Valley golf course is a classic George C. Thomas Jr. design surrounded by beautiful rolling hills.

Omni La Costa Resort & Spa, Carlsbad, Calif.

Over the years, the popular resort halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles has hosted several Presidents and Vice Presidents. Nixon played in a tournament at La Costa in 1975, a round Van Natta Jr. called "notorious" since his playing partner was a teamster who was a suspect in the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa.

The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs, Colo.

This five-star retreat has hosted nine Presidents over the years. Not all of them played golf, but Eisenhower and Ford did quite often.

TPC Stadium Course at PGA West, La Quinta, Calif.

Ford played in the Bob Hope Classic several times over the years but only once did he tee it up on a public course. In the 1987 tournament, Ford played the feared TPC Stadium Course at PGA West with pro Miller Barber, former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill, and Hope.

Arizona Biltmore Golf Club, Phoenix

Nixon, Ford, Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-69) and George W. Bush have played at this 36-hole club, but like the Broadmoor, many more Presidents (almost all since Hoover) have stayed at the Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort but not played.

Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu Golf Club, Charlevoix, Quebec, Canada

Taft, who spent his summers in the great region of Pointe-au-Pic, inaugurated Le Manoir Richelieu's golf course on June 18, 1925.

Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort, Amelia Island, Fla.

Ford played at Amelia Island in a member-guest tournament in the 1980s.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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Putting and politics: The public golf courses where U.S. Presidents have played
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