What a resume! Supreme Allied Commander for the liberation of Europe in WorldWar II. One of the few ever five star generals. President of Columbia University. The first head of NATO. President of the United States. 18 handicap golfer.
Born in Denison, Texas in 1890, Dwight David Eisenhower – the man destined for great achievements – graduated from high school in Abilene, Kansas in 1909. With a strong family orientation, he took a job as a night foreman in a creamery to help support his brother Edgar’s college education. In 1911 he received an appointment to West Point where he graduated in the Class of 1915, known as “the class the stars fell on”, as 59 members became general officers. At West Point he played on the football team and once even managed to tackle the legendary Jim Thorpe.
“How has retirement affected my golf game? A lot more people beat me now.”
At the beginning of World War II, he landed under the Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall. It was there that Ike’s organizational and administrative abilities were recognized. After a series of increasingly important assignments Ike was named Supreme Allied Commander in Europe charged with overseeing Operation Overlord, the liberation of Europe and the invasion of Germany. Ike demonstrated his talent for leadership and diplomacy in managing the unique personalities in melding the Allied forces.
After the War, Ike served as the Army Chief of Staff and later as the President of Columbia University before running for the Presidency in 1952. As President, Ike presided over the cessation of hostilities in Korea, a tremendous expansion of the American economy, championed and signed into law the bill that made possible the interstate highway system, encouraged civil rights, began America’s entry into space and fought international communism. Overall, it was an era characterized mostly by prosperity and peace.
It was truly a lifetime of achievement.
So just why is this all-American hero with an 18 handicap being inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame?
Eisenhower played his first round of golf at age 35 and within a year had managed to shoot in the 80s.
After all, he never won a major. Or a professional golf tournament. Or a significant amateur event. Heck, he never even won a club championship – at any level.
Quite simply, Ike profoundly popularized and significantly helped grow the game as no one else since perhaps Francis Ouimet in 1913 and Bobby Jones in 1930.
Ike didn’t start playing the game until he was in his mid 30s and then, because of a knee injury, suffered from what was called a “congenital slice.” But once he did start playing, he became completely smitten. Upon his return from Europe, he joined Augusta National – and later Blind Brook Club in New York, Burning Tree just outside of Washington and El Dorado in Palm Springs. His handicap varied from a low of 14 to 18, but he did manage to break 80 on about a dozen occasions.
And boy did Ike love the game! He had a putting green installed on the White House lawn and would occasionally slip out of the Oval Office in the afternoon for a round. His 29 trips to Augusta during his Presidency were dutifully reported in the national press, sometimes derisively.
Of course, all that publicity shone a hot spotlight on the game and fueled continued interest in it.
At the same time, a young charismatic golf professional by the name of Arnold Palmer came out of western Pennsylvania hitching up his pants and winning golf tournaments. With Palmer’s win in the 1958 Masters shown on television, America fell hard for the game, just as their President had. And it didn’t hurt that the President and Palmer became fast friends and would play often at Augusta.
It was a combustible mixture – a President, a King, The Masters and the advent of golf on television, to catapult the game to dizzying heights of popularity.
And it was Dwight David Eisenhower – Ike to all of us – an inveterate everyman golfer, who was responsible for igniting America’s love affair with the game.