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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Explained: Donald Trump’s presidency, reflected in his golf

It is no secret that Donald Trump consistently sought refuge in golf. The grass was always greener on that side.

Written by Shivani Naik | Mumbai |
Updated: January 27, 2021 9:01:24 am
President Donald Trump plays golf at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va., Nov. 21, 2020. (The New York Times: Al Drago)

It won’t quite make the second impeachment dossier amid the litany of other offences. But caddies can testify that outgoing President Donald Trump killed trees on a golf course.

He would carry a can of red spray paint in his golf cart. “Whenever his ball hit a tree that he didn’t think was fair, he’d go up and paint a big X on it,” Rick Reilly writes in Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump in 2019. “The next day the tree was gone,” a caddy told Reilly of Trump;s whims on the golf course, which turned out to be a microcosm of his presidency.

When the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) of America revoked hosting rights of the 2022 PGA championship of the Bedminster golf course he owned, Trump was said to be furious. Talk of impeachment had already incensed him, but after the PGA’s dumping, he is said to have worked up an altogether different level of frenzy.

It is no secret that Trump consistently sought refuge in golf. The grass was always greener on that side. Though, when it wasn’t — like at Pinehurst one year — he raged about turtlebacks on the course: “Disgraceful… ugly… burnt… just to save water.”

“I would make golf aspirational, instead of trying to bring everybody into golf, people that are never gonna be able to be there anyway.”

Obama shouldn’t play

When trying to win the presidency in 2016, Trump got stuck into incumbent Barack Obama;s golfing, tweeting about it 27 times between 2011 and 2016, SB Nation counted. “Can you believe that, with all of the problems and difficulties facing the US, President Obama spent the day playing golf. Worse than Carter,” he said in 2014.

If elected, he promised, he’d have no time for a round. But in his first year itself, Trump made between 87 and 94 trips to the golf course. His Mar-a-Lago golf property in Florida became the ‘Winter White House’. Bedminster was White House for summers.

In 2017, Newsweek reported that a giant white box truck blocked camera views of photographers who would click the identifiable red cap from behind hedges. This was Golfgate. The US Secret Service had to release a statement saying: “The USSS is in the business of protection and investigations not in commissioning vehicles to block the media’s view of the President’s golf swing.”

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Golf and diplomacy

Trump’s presidency had milked the property at Bedminster by doubling the initiation fee to $200,000 (which went up to $450,000 by 2019). A press detail always accompanied him to his properties; POTUS would even plug his properties in UN speeches. And the Secret Service spent $150,000 in golf cart rentals (their largest spending) to tail and protect Trump, USA Today reported in 2018.

Lobbyists had figured that the President could be easily accessed (and flattered) with a casual membership of his club — where they could “run into” him.

But it was the company of the pros that Trump sought — from Tiger Woods to Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau. Annika Sorenstam and Gary Player were receiving Presidential Medals of Freedom a day after the January 6 storming of the Capitol.

Trump hosted heads of state such as the Chinese premier and Japanese former PM Shinzo Abe at Mar-a-Lago. The then Australian PM had to lean in on golf legend Greg Norman for Trump’s cell number, while the New Zealand premier was asked by Trump to pass on a fanboy-message and request a meeting with the 1963 British Open champ Bob Charles, 80, who quipped that he might be a rare New Zealander Trump actually knew, solely on account of golf.

But diplomacy took a sinister turn when a couple of former Presidents of Colombia turned up at Trump’s Florida golf club and met him unofficially, persuading him that a peace process underway with rebels back home would best be scuttled, according to a report by mcclatchydc.com.

Trump’s golf diplomacy emboldened Republican fundraiser Elliot Broidy to try and set up a “golf date” with Trump for a former Malaysian PM to lobby for resolving corruption charges that would help Broidy’s financial interests in 2017. Though the outing never happened, Broidy, who pleaded guilty to undisclosed lobbying later, received one of the 74 Presidential pardons announced on Tuesday.

His eccentricities

While acquiring a Scottish golf course (one of 18 he owns on either side of the Atlantic, Dubai and Indonesia), intending to rebuild it, Trump declared the surrounding wind farms “stupid” because they spoilt his view. But his cheating on the course filled up an entire Reilly book. He could bump up scores because they “sounded better” to those he gloated to later, he tampered with them when writing, blamed an opponent for distracting, made rules as he went along and moved the ball to mask his wretched chipping game. Caddies would call him ‘Pele’ for kicking the ball into fairways out of bunkers. And he rationalised cheating: “Opponent cheats. So one needs to cheat to beat them. If it’s all the same and everybody’s cheating, then it’s no cheating at all.”

He claims his handicap is 3; caddies say it could be 8 or 9 — including a few who cheated on his behalf. “He’s always got four balls in his pocket. He foozles [botches] his ball on every hole. All 18. I promise you. Every hole,” Rilley was told by caddies. At times, he simply self-improved scores from 78 to 72 as the day wore on, gloating to different people.

Just like his “club championships” had bulged to 18. “Whenever I open a new golf course,” Rilley quotes him, “I play the official opening round and then I just call that the first club championship.”

“I’m a winner,” he would crow about his golf titles, at Presidential campaigns in 2016. A lie that bookended his term, as it turned out.

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