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Which US President Played the Most Golf?

Sep 2
10 minutes

President of the United States is undeniably the most stressful job on the planet. Gas prices going up? Foreign powers flexing their military muscle? Something completely out of your control that you’re being blamed for? You have to be on top of it all. Yet through the difficulties of government, red tape, and societal ills, U.S. presidents sure spend a ton of time on the golf course. Despite the seeming disconnect between the two, golf and the presidency are forever linked — even if the activity draws the ire of opponents, fans, and constituents. So if you’ve ever wondered which president played the most golf, find out here.

Which President Played the Most Golf?: None Other Than Woodrow Wilson

US President Woodrow Wilson Throwing a Baseball

Presidents who have been opponents of mainstream media or who draw strong criticism from the American people are often cited as spending too much time on the course. But while The Donald and JFK seem to be remembered as the two most famous presidential golfers, they simply didn’t have enough time in office to hold the honor.

So which president played the most golf in reality? The answer is Woodrow Wilson. While Wilson remains a polarizing character in American history, he managed to play over 1,200 rounds of golf during his eight years in office from 1913 to 1921. That's nearly one round every 2 days!

Although he played a whopping 150 rounds of golf a year, Wilson is still credited as being one of the worst golfers ever to grace the White House. With most rounds over 100 and a handicap somewhere between 25 and 30, he wasn’t exactly a phenom. Perhaps that’s why he’s credited with this memorable quote that nearly every golfer can relate to:

“Golf is a game in which one endeavors to control a ball with implements ill-adapted for the purpose.” - Woodrow Wilson

Still, Wilson still managed some significant accomplishments during his tenure:

  • Becoming the first Democrat in 20 years to win reelection
  • Leading the U.S. to victory in WWI
  • Creating the modern income tax system
  • Supporting labor laws and organized labor

So if friends, family, or more importantly — the spouse — say you never get anything done because you’re constantly smacking around golf balls, you always have good, ol’ Woody Wilson as a reference to the productive balance between job and golf.

The Other Presidents Which Played the Most Golf

Bill Clinton with Gary Player

Though golf has been played since the 15th century, only 22 presidents have ever had the opportunity to play the game. Modern golf didn’t spread to the United States until the late 20th century, and former president William McKinley was the first president to swing a golf club in any capacity in 1897.

While some presidents have played golf more than others, perhaps there’s a subconscious link between the two. Even the often-inarticulate George W. Bush seems to have posited an interesting theory:

“The interesting thing about golf is that the presidency requires focus and discipline, and golf requires focus and discipline. It was a way to make sure that parts of my life were focused and disciplined.” - George W. Bush

Whether you love him or hate him, Bush may have a point with this thoughtful quip that bridges the gap between the putting green and the Oval Office.

That said, you may be wondering “which president played the most golf outside of Woodrow Wilson?” Well, here are the top 20 presidents who spent the most time on the links:

1. Donald Trump

One of the most polarizing figures in modern history was also one that spent arguably the most time on the golf course. Perhaps that’s because the former Republican president owns 16 Trump golf courses across the globe — including three near his Florida mansion, Mar-a-Lago.

But all that time on the course seems to have former President Donald Trump some good. According to The Sporting News, Trump has a golf handicap somewhere between 2 and 3, making him one of the best golfers in presidential history (just make sure to keep an eye on him when he's searching for his potentially OB ball).

2. Barack Obama

Former president Barack Obama also enjoyed his time on the links, even though he was probably more famous for adapting the presidential tennis court to a basketball court. He played hundreds of rounds of golf during his tenure with a respectable handicap of 13. Interestingly, he was and still is an impressive skeet shooter, meaning he may have wanted to shoot a rifle more than having a shotgun start.

3. Dwight D. Eisenhower

With a handicap that ranged between 14 and 18, Eisenhower wasn’t the best presidential golfer, but he definitely played as often as he could. After all, he wasn’t satisfied with practicing his putt indoors. In 1954, Eisenhower had a putting green installed on the South Lawn near the West Wing of the White House. He was also the only president to be an official member of Augusta National Golf Club.

For his contributions to the game, Eisenhower was even inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2009 — an achievement only matched by George H.W. Bush.

4. John F. Kennedy

Although JFK’s presidency was cut short after less than three years, America’s 35th president was known for his golf outings, albeit prior to the presidency. He played for the Harvard golf team, and despite a bad back, was lauded for his great driving ability. According to sources, his handicap hovered around 7.

During his first year on the job, he rarely played golf at all, opting to shed the image of a wealthy socialite in favor of a for-the-people president. He played more in subsequent years, but most of his golfing was spent prior to reaching the Oval Office.

5. Richard Nixon

Nixon played tons of golf prior to the presidency, but the commander-in-chief finally gave it up during his second term in office. He went even so far as to remove Eisenhower’s White House putting green to avoid the temptation to play. Throughout his golfing career, he was known to be above average, posting a respectable 12 handicap.

6. Bill Clinton

No one’s really sure how good of a golfer Bill Clinton was, but he was certainly an avid golfer. Known for playing up to 10 times a month, Clinton played a lot of golf. However, his 12 handicap is a source of debate, as he was known for taking mulligan after mulligan on his drive until he was satisfied with his shot.

7. George H.W. Bush

“It’s amazing how many people beat you at golf when you’re no longer president.” - George H.W. Bush

Perhaps this quote says it all. But Bush could still swing the stick — a hobby which he kept well into his later years. He reportedly had a handicap of around 11 and was around the game whenever possible. Along with Eisenhower, he became a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, being enshrined in 2011.

8. Gerald Ford

Gerald Ford was arguably the most athletic president ever, having been a quarterback at the University of Michigan in his youth. This carried over into his relatively short presidency, but with amazing results.

Ford was the first president to join the USGA (United States Golf Association) and purportedly outdrove both Arnold Palmer and Gary Player during a friendly match. He also had a handicap of 12, which isn’t too shabby.

9. Joe Biden

Although Biden hasn’t played since his election victory, he’s a member of two Delaware golf clubs and has an impressive handicap between 6 and 7. He’s also known for famously having said, “I don’t know about you, but if you want to keep your handicap in golf, don’t run for president.”

10. George W. Bush

W. might just have the most famous golf-related quote in the history of the presidency after being hounded by reporters at a golf outing:

“Free nations don't develop weapons of mass destruction. I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers. Thank watch this drive."

He didn’t golf nearly as much as his father, but he did post a 15 handicap.

11. William Howard Taft

William Taft was the first president to truly embrace the game of golf. Although out of shape his entire presidency, Taft made every effort to go golfing when he could, posting a handicap of 20.

12. Warren G. Harding

Harding was another president who golfed rather frequently, often trying to make it out to the course two to three times a week. While he often had scores in the triple digits, aides, friends, and spectators state that it was perhaps his most favorite activity.

Presidents Who’d Rather Do Something Else

Ronald and Nancy Reagan on a plane.

Not every president was an avid golfer. Many loved other sports or had other activities they'd rather do. Not that there's anything wrong with that, especially when you're leading a nation.

Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, and Jimmy Carter

Contrary to popular belief, not every president played golf. Hoover, Truman, and Carter showed zero interest in the game, preferring other sports instead.

Carter enjoyed playing softball, playing whenever he could. Interestingly, Hoover and Truman weren’t avid sportsmen. The unathletic Hoover was only known to play Hooverball — a cross between volleyball and tennis created by his physician to keep the president fit. Finally, Truman’s poor eyesight kept him from the golf course or any other sport, instead developing a love for music and reading.

Ronald Reagan, Teddy Roosevelt, and William McKinley

These three presidents weren’t necessarily opposed to golf, they dind’t do it nearly as much as the others. Reagan reportedly had a smooth stroke but opted to devote his time to the presidency.

Roosevelt and McKinley were simply products of their time. During their time in office, golf was still in its infancy, transportation was somewhat limited, and they preferred doing their civic duties.

Interesting Presidential Golfing Tidbits

Golf ball on the green near the cup

Presidential trivia is always interesting. What’s better than learning about the strange habits and idiosyncracies of arguably the most powerful person on the planet? Throw golf into the mix, and you have even more intriguing facts to impress your friends and fellow golfers. Here are some of the most interesting tidbits about presidential golfing.

The Worst Presidential Golfers

Just because you’re one of the most powerful people on the planet doesn’t mean you can hit a golf ball in a straight line. Three presidential figures, in particular, share the dubious distinction of the worst golfers: Lyndon Johnson, Calvin Coolidge, and Spiro Agnew.

When asked about his handicap, Johnson simply responded, “I don’t have a handicap...I’m all handicap.” That’s quite the comment from a president who didn’t like to admit his faults. The Texan was arguably more famous for his bathroom chats than hitting a decent Texas wedge.

Calvin Coolidge had almost zero interest in the game and played out of obligation. According to Coolidge, “I did not see the sense in chasing a little white ball around a field.” His handicap was never recorded, but people on the links said he easily took double-digit strokes on each hole.

Vice President Spiro Agnew wasn’t much better. While no one’s quite sure what Nixon’s right-hand man shot on a regular basis, he hit numerous spectators with errant drives at the Bob Hope Desert Golf Classic in 1971.

The First Presidential Golfer

Although he wasn’t a fan of the game, William McKinley owns the honor of being the first president to golf and to take the first putt. No one knows if he sank it, but he’s still part of presidential golfing lore.

Sad But True

Although Truman had poor eyesight and Hoover was uninterested in the game, according to many reports, Franklin D. Roosevelt was an a pretty good golfer prior to the presidency. He even won a tournament at the now-closed Roosevelt Memorial Golf Course. However, a debilitating polio infection all but ended his playing days. Nevertheless, he remained a fan of the game of golf until his death.

The Link Between Work, Play, and Golf

Golf swinging a golf club.

Golf can certainly be a frustrating sport to the novice player, but the crisp outdoor air and the ability to compete against yourself and your mind can often do you some good. So while you may not find a golf playoff hole melting away the stress, even a few hits on the driving range can alleviate worry and anxiety and get your mind back on track.

At the very least, you don’t have to worry about the threat of nuclear war or where the economy is headed. Just hop on your golf cart, drink a beer, and get away from it all.

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