By Victoria Student
Museum Moment: A New Presidential Pastime: “Fore! Ike is on the Tee”
Jun 02, 2011
With Memorial Day still fresh in our minds, we look back on the life of Dwight D. Eisenhower, a five-star general, the 34th president of the United States and an avid golfer. Eisenhower epitomizes the enduring relationship between politics, golf and the changing American culture of the 1950s.
Eisenhower’s time in office followed by just a few years an Allied victory overseas and a changing national lifestyle. New conveniences created by wartime methods of mass production and greater financial freedom due to economic prosperity allowed American families to have something they had never had much of before: leisure time. Eisenhower’s popularity and his love of golf, along with the newfound time to pursue extracurricular activities, allowed America to embrace golf along with Ike.
Eisenhower had little trouble popularizing golf in America. Newspapers of 1953 reported that Washington, D.C., was “seized with golfing fever like never before in history” just six months after Ike was elected. His love for golf, paired with his undeniable political appeal, dramatically increased interest in the game. The economic boom of postwar America created a boom for golf, as golfers doubled in number during Ike’s presidency.
During his time in office, he played more than 800 rounds of golf, leading one critic to say, “Eisenhower created the 36-hole work week.” Ike frequently hit practice shots into a net set up in the basement or used the White House lawn as a range. It is even said that he would take practice swings in the Oval Office with his favorite club, the 8-iron, while dictating letters to his secretary.
With television as the new medium of communication between the president and the American people in the 1950s, Eisenhower was known for having catchy tunes to promote his presidential campaigns. Songs such as “Fore! Ike is on the Tee” used his golf game as a metaphor for his success in office. The lyrics praised his veracity and perseverance on and off the course, proclaiming, “Our country’s strife can end, we’ve found a golfing friend… It’s only fairways and no traps for Ike is on the tee.” The White House took what could have been seen as a distraction from the duties of the presidency and portrayed it as a healthy means of relaxation and a demonstration of Eisenhower’s dedication to success in postwar America.
As for his golf game, Eisenhower was a competent and devoted player who usually shot in the mid-to-high 80s. Enthusiastic and determined, Eisenhower rarely took practice swings on the course, which worked fine for the majority of his game, but created some difficulty on the putting green. In 1954, Ike requested that a putting green be installed at the White House to aid him in his efforts. Spike marks in the wood floor leading from the president’s desk in the Oval Office to the patio doors were evidence of his frequent trips to practice during the day. Staff members were concerned about him practicing unguarded so close to the White House, but Ike, generally unafraid of such things, responded, “Point out one of those fellers to me and I’ll show you a direct hit at 250 yards.”
Despite Eisenhower’s claim of being a marksman with a club in his hand, security was the greatest precaution when he was on the course. He frequented the Burning Tree Club in Bethesda, Md., while in Washington, and Augusta National was a beloved vacation spot. Members were not allowed to bring guests on days that the president chose to play and the Secret Service made exhaustive inspections of the course and clubhouse prior to his arrival. Security guards flanked the fairways carrying hidden radios and submachine guns in their golf bags.
Not only did Eisenhower bring golf to the White House, but he brought the White House to the golf course. He used the course as a place to build political relationships, as the relaxed atmosphere increased his influence on politicians from both parties. Ike once wrote his State of the Union Address in the Augusta clubhouse. Eisenhower often played with celebrities, golf professionals, and high-ranking politicians. Some of his more famous playing partners included Bob Hope, Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and General Omar Bradley.
Eisenhower believed that golf was truly an American game, epitomizing an era of growing families and an emerging national culture. In 1953, he wrote, “It is a sport in which the whole family can participate… It offers healthy respite from daily toil, refreshment of body and mind.”
Ike saw the game as a great equalizer and although he was good-natured on the course, Augusta National head professional Ed Dudley said, “He takes every shot seriously. Let him blow one and he’ll be pretty sore at himself. That’s because he was such a competitor. But he has wonderful self-control. No cursing. No club-throwing.”
Eisenhower saw golf as a stress reliever, and used it to escape the constant strain of his presidential duties. His doctor was an adamant believer in the health benefits of the game for Ike, saying frequently, “Golf is a tonic for the president. It is good for his nerves and his muscle tone, and it takes his mind off the scores of anxieties that confront him daily.”
Eisenhower’s love for golf and his country stimulated a nationwide interest in the game, and even after a military and political career of extraordinary accomplishments, Ike still considered his first and only hole-in-one, at the age of 77, “the thrill of a lifetime.”
Victoria Student is a former intern at the USGA Museum. Student, a junior, is a member of the Williams College golf team. E-mail questions or comments to Victoria.R.Student@williams.edu.
Songs such as “Fore! Ike is on the Tee” used his golf game as a metaphor for his success in office. The lyrics praised his veracity and perseverance on and off the course, proclaiming, “Our country’s strife can end, we’ve found a golfing friend… It’s only fairways and no traps for Ike is on the tee.” (USGA Museum)
Eisenhower’s popularity and his love of golf, along with the newfound time to pursue extracurricular activities, allowed America to embrace golf along with Ike. (USGA Museum)
Eisenhower's love for golf, paired with his undeniable political appeal, dramatically increased interest in the game. (USGA Museum)