Museum Moment: Former President Bill Clinton Donates Club to USGA Museum

Aug 19, 2010

By Rhonda Glenn

It’s a 3-wood, acquisition #2010.32, and it came to the USGA Museum from one of the most well-known golfers in the world: Bill Clinton, United States president, 1993-2001.

Clinton’s 3-wood became part of the Museum’s collections on June 11 and is now part of one of the Museum’s most popular assemblies of artifacts, the Presidential Clubs. The USGA acquired its first Presidential Club, William Howard Taft’s “Fish Pole Driver” in 1939. In the 71 years since, the Museum has acquired clubs from United States Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, George H.W. Bush, Clinton and George W. Bush.

Clinton’s club is a Millennium Tour 13 SK model, a strong 3-wood with a graphite shaft, and its titanium head bears the president’s signature.

Of all U.S. presidents, perhaps only Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush loved the game as much Clinton. Numerous journalists have testified to the 42nd president’s affection for golf.

In an interview with Thomas L. Friedman for the November 2000 issue of Golf Digest, Clinton summarized golf’s great lure: “Golf is like life in a lot of ways: The most important competition is the one against yourself. All the biggest wounds are self-inflicted. And you get a lot of breaks you don’t deserve – both ways.”

While in office, Clinton made time to play golf three times a month, five times a month in the summer. One reason he loved it was the escape from the pressures of the Oval Office. Not that golf was ever far away: Ike’s old practice putting green a few steps from the Oval Office door was replaced by an artificial putting surface during George H.W. Bush’s term. Clinton, thanks to private donations, had the surface replaced with grass on the base of the Eisenhower green.

Clinton began playing at the age of 12 and played until he was 17, then resumed golf when he was a young adult. Observers say he was one of the few U.S. presidents whose game actually improved while he was in office, which Clinton attributed to all of the tips he received from the nation’s top golfers, including Greg Norman, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Amy Alcott.

“Of all the perks that come with being president of the United States, the best one is being able to play 18 holes of golf with Arnold Palmer,” Clinton once said.

“And when he won the White House, Clinton brought with him a zest for golf that has placed him among the most fervent of presidential players, although not among the best of them,” wrote Shepherd Campbell and Peter Landau in the book Presidential Lies: The Illustrated History of White House Golf.

On Clinton’s first full day of vacation in 1995, he played 37 holes in Jackson Hole, Wyo. – two 18-hole rounds and one extra hole for good measure. Later that year, Golf Digest named Clinton “Man of the Year.”

Campbell and Landau wrote that people who played golf with Clinton enjoyed the round. “He looked for everyone’s golf balls. At the turn, he asked, ‘What can I get you to drink?’” they wrote.

One of Clinton’s more famous rounds was with former U.S. Presidents Ford and George H.W. Bush when the three played with Bob Hope and defending champion Scott Hoch as part of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic 1995 pro-am. The golf, by all accounts, wasn’t very good.

“We were nervous as cats,” Clinton said.

While presidential golf scores are usually top secret, observes said Clinton usually shot in the high 80s and had a few rounds in the 70s, quite an accomplishment for a golfer followed by golf carts of Secret Service agents, a police sniper, a White House photographer, assorted aides and a man bearing America’s nuclear codes in case of a missile attack. Clearing your head, Clinton said, was the most difficult thing about playing golf while he was president.

During his 12 years as governor of Arkansas, Clinton hit the greatest shot of his life, a 175-yard 3-iron shot from off of a root under overhanging tree limbs. He holed it for an eagle-2. Like all golfers, he remembered the shot for years, recalling that he played the ball off of his back foot and hit a punch shot. Ironically, he was playing hooky from the governor’s office. Stressed out, he had cancelled two appointments and claimed that he wasn’t feeling well, and then headed for the golf course where he paired up with a local doctor.

“I had an eagle, and I couldn’t tell anybody,” Clinton told Friedman in the Golf Digest interview. “It was like a minister who plays on a Sunday morning. I couldn’t tell a soul.”

Clinton is famous for generating a good time with his playing companions. Chomping on a golf tee or an unlit cigar, he chats, tells jokes, pats backs, and the most he’ll wager is a round of soft drinks or beers.

Clinton, of course, had access to many private courses, but one Clinton friend said, “… he has the soul of a public-links player.”

With the acquisition of Clinton’s 3-wood, visitors to the USGA Museum can now enjoy it as part of the Presidential Clubs collection, a collection that attests to the continuing allure of the game for people of all walks of life.

Rhonda Glenn is a USGA manager of communications. E-mail her with questions or comments at rglenn@usga.org.

It’s a 3-wood, acquisition #2010.32, and it came to the USGA Museum from one of the most well-known golfers in the world: Bill Clinton, United States president, 1993-2001. (USGA Museum)