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President Dwight Eisenhowers Political Use Of Golf History Essay

Dwight D. Eisenhower, the thirty-fourth president of the United States of America, is widely known for popularizing golf from a sport dominated by wealthy white men to a sport embraced by middle-class families. President Eisenhower

In this study, I examine the political ways in which Dwight D. Eisenhower used golf during his presidency. I first provide background on Eisenhower’s association with golf and its growth in popularity, which first aroused my interest in the subject. I then present the socio-political context of the period of his presidency, ranging from the Cold War with the Soviet Union and the international rise of Communism to the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement in America. I take a three-way approach to President Eisenhower’s political use of golf: first as an image of composure and optimism in the face of hysteria, then as a means of relieving political tensions, and finally as a way to relieve the stresses of presidency.

In my research, I attempted to draw from multiple sources with differing perspectives in order to formulate an accurate and comprehensive study on President Eisenhower’s political use of golf. I used Eisenhower’s personal speeches, commentary by friends and acquaintances, and various biographies to create a diverse mix of sources on which to base my paper. Through my research, I discovered that when looked at superficially, President Eisenhower played golf to enjoy himself and to relieve stress from his demanding job. However, when critically analyzed, Eisenhower also utilized golf to form political relationships and to reassure the American people of safety and stability.

Word Count: 258

Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th president of the United States of America, was inseparable from golf. He is often considered the man who helped to create the surge in golf’s popularity in America during the 1960’s. Arnold Palmer, one of the greatest legacies in golf history, stated that it would be difficult to find “any single person who did more to popularize the game of golf, not only in the United States but throughout the world, than President Eisenhower” (“President Eisenhower Named to…”). Traditionally seen as an elitist, snobbish sport of the white, aristocratic man, golf became more popular among the general public through Eisenhower. He worked “hard to dispel the myth that golf was undemocratic” (Lewis 83). He promoted the sport as one in which the “whole American family can participate-fathers and mothers, sons and daughters alike” (Lewis 83). At the same time, President Eisenhower’s tendencies to golf were criticized immensely, as Democratic members of Congress complained about his tendency to prefer golf to politics. Even Cuba’s leader, Fidel Castro, denounced Eisenhower’s choice of golf as a “game of the idle rich and exploiter of the people” (Lewis viii). However, thanks to his efforts, golf is now widely played by the middle class worker. Although still considered to be a sport of the more privileged classes, golf is enjoyed by diverse groups of Americans. However, Eisenhower’s love of golf and his wish to popularize the sport in America was not his only motive behind avidly playing it. During his presidency in the mid-1900’s, President Eisenhower used golf for political gain as much as he did for personal enjoyment.

Although there are many possible ways in which to approach President Eisenhower’s use of golf and its significance, I chose to target his political use of golf because it ties together the two aspects that he is best known for: his love of golf as a favorite pastime and his leadership during the crises following World War II. As Newt Gringrich one stated, “President Eisenhower led this country, dominated the planet, contained the Soviet Union, solved all sorts of problems and played golf” (Sowell 3). Once I chose the topic of his political use of golf, I was naturally led to question how exactly he utilized golf, a mere sport played for relaxation, in politics. Further research led me to learn that during the 1950’s, President Eisenhower used golf for national image, personal enjoyment, and political relations.

President Eisenhower utilized golf’s calm and composed connotations as a means of portraying an image of optimism and tranquility even during times of panic and confusion. Because the president was under such scrutiny, as “virtually his every move, decision, habit, friendship, and action were observed and reported” (“President Eisenhower Named…”), it was crucial that he reassure the American people in times of crisis. As president in the aftermath of World War II, the most destructing and devastating war that the world had experienced thus far, President Eisenhower was leading a disillusioned American people. With the onset of the Cold War with the Soviet Union at the end of World War II, the nation was immersed in a period of fear and suspicion. The Soviet Union’s testing of its “first true thermonuclear weapon” aroused fear, as there was “now almost no limit on the size of an explosion either superpower could create” (“The Cold War.”). The looming fear of nuclear attack and espionage by the Soviet Union only added to the already shattered lives of the Americans in the mid-1900’s. During this time of hysteria and anxiety, Eisenhower continually played golf to reassure the American people that there was no serious threat.

Eisenhower played golf nearly every day, practicing his shots and short game when he could not fit in a full round. At the same time, he ran the White House during the crises of the 1950’s and 1960’s. The turbulent 1950’s were characterized by the rise of the American Civil Rights Movement at home, causing tension within the country itself. Meanwhile, foreign affairs posed threats to the post World War II policies of containment, as Castro took over and promoted Communism in Cuba (Ganzel). Furthermore, the French had been defeated in Indochina and had begun to pull out as the Americans began to increase their controversial involvement in Vietnam (Ganzel). However, in the midst of the tensions and troubles of the mid twentieth century, Eisenhower was able to maintain popularity with the American people because of his great leadership qualities.

He was a symbol of great leadership and stability, both as a general during World War II and as the president of the United States. Even before his presidency, as a general in the Allied invasion of Normandy, Eisenhower portrayed a calm image of composure. After the invasion, he chose to stay at the Guez Golf Course clubhouse, practicing a few holes when he had the time (“Ike and Golf.”). By showing that he was able to enjoy a hobby like golf after such a huge battle, Eisenhower had reassured the Americans, as well as the allies, that there was nothing to worry about. He was able to utilize golf’s usual connotation as a carefree and calm hobby to his advantage, as he reassured the public that he did not even doubt that the Allies would win victorious.

President Eisenhower utilized this tactic similarly as President of the United States during turbulent and fear-stricken times. He was frequently seen playing golf, and is widely known for having many pictures taken of him on the golf course. By playing golf during times of crisis, President Eisenhower hoped to convince the American people to be calm and composed. By providing the example of being able to focus on leisure activities, he hoped to portray a public image of optimism. “If the president could relax then perhaps the people could too” (“Ike and Golf.”). Even during the Soviet launching of Sputnik, though the “media and much of the populace panicked about communist missile development, Ike left the White House for a two day golfing outing at Gettysburg” (“Ike and Golf.”). President Eisenhower decided to golf during the launching of the Sputnik because he wished to give an image of a carefree and optimistic leader. He wanted to reassure the American public that they were being afraid prematurely. He hoped that if America saw its president play a leisurely game like golf during a time of perceived crisis, they would perceive the event as less threatening and frightening.

Dwight Eisenhower used golf in his personal life both because as an enjoyable hobby and a means of coping with the political stresses of the presidency. He had a passion for the game of golf, evident though his impressive feat of over 1,000 days of golf during his eight years in the presidential position (“1,000+ Reasons…”). He played nearly 800 rounds of golf during this period, golfing at the most well known courses in golf including Augusta National and Turnberry (“1,000+ Reasons...”). President Eisenhower rarely missed a day of practice except for the times he was physically unable to play, such as when he had a “heart attack, intestinal surgery, elbow problems, bursitis, and a stroke” (Sowell 3). He even played alongside national golf champions such as Arnold Palmer, Byron Nelson, Bobby Jones, and Ben Hogan, becoming close personal friends with many famous professional golfers. He showed immense support for the sport as he gave speeches at different golfing events (“Remarks to Representatives…”). He played so often and was so well known by the staff that a button was made for him that read, “Don’t Ask What I Shot” after he complained that there “ought to be a law against asking a person what he shot” (Lewis 162). His many rounds of golf and his impressive familiarity with golf professionals and prestigious golf clubs reveal his great love for golf as a favorite hobby.

At the same time, President Eisenhower used golf as a way to cope with the hardships of his presidency. In a letter to the sponsors of the PGA Championship, he stated that “golf obviously provides one of our best forms of healthful exercises, accompanied by good fellowship and companionship…. It offers healthy respite from daily toil, refreshment of body and mind” (Lewis 83). As did other presidents such as William Howard Taft, Calvin Coolidge, and Woodrow Wilson, President Dwight Eisenhower played golf to relax himself after frustrations in the White House (“First Off the Tee.”). Golf offered him the opportunity to leave the Oval Office, with all its worries and frustrations, for the outdoors. It allowed him to deal with the immense pressure he faced in leading a country filled with suspicion and fear in the disillusioned aftermath of World War II. He was able to find an escape from the immense pressure of the presidency, as he was the first president faced with the possibility of nuclear war (“Ike and the Sputnik Crisis”). When playing golf, he was able to become an American citizen, not the president of the United States. Augusta National Golf Club, the prestigious golf club in Augusta, Georgia, became “a place where the Eisenhowers could feel a sense of normalcy” (Lewis 151). Eisenhower did play golf as “a form of relaxation. But it was more than that. Golf constantly tested Ike’s composure and helped him endure numerous crises during his two terms in office” (Lewis 28). While enjoying the sport as a favorite hobby, President Eisenhower was able to utilize golf to rid himself of the pressures and hardships of office.

Golf was also used by President Eisenhower for political networking and decisions, as he often played golf with other nation’s leaders. He often invited world leaders to a round of golf before the meeting began in order to get to know him better. Golf gave political leaders a way to break the ice in a natural way. It allowed these men to relieve tensions and uneasiness, as the men were able to converse informally about personal matters. Furthermore, the four-hour game of golf would allow the men to learn about each other. Like steel king Andrew Carnegie, Eisenhower saw that golf “tended ‘to make men dearer friends than ever’” (Lewis 5). By playing a round of golf before an important meeting or conference, President Eisenhower could create a better relationship with that person. Once a friendly relationship had been formed, it would be easier to negotiate or cooperate with another leader, as the two would feel more intimate and friendly than they had before. Furthermore, as Claire Blair Macdonald stated, “no game brings out more unerringly the true character of a man [than golf]” (Lewis 5). By playing a game of golf with a political leader, Eisenhower could calculate what type of person the leader was and how to best negotiate with him or her.

In a speech to the representatives of World Amateur Golf Team, Eisenhower stated that golf can help to “bring together more often and more intimately peoples of [different] countries…to solve the difficulties and tensions that this poor old world seems nowadays to so much endure“ (“Remarks to Representatives…”). Out of his own positive experiences with golf, President Eisenhower truly believed that golf was a way to ease tensions between conflicting people and nations because golf created a friendly environment between even competitors. Eisenhower had been able to cope with great frustrations and stresses that came with the role of president through golf. As stated earlier, Eisenhower found golf to be a healthy way to channel frustrations and interact with family and friends in a friendly environment. Therefore, he believed that if other international leaders played golf, together they would be able to negotiate in a friendly manner. Furthermore, there would be less tension between different people as golf would enforce a healthy release of anger and frustration.

Throughout both terms of President Eisenhower’s administration, golf was used politically to portray optimism and to reassure, to relieve the stresses of political office, and to create political relationships. President Eisenhower used the positive connotations of golf as being the sport of the carefree and calm to help reassure the American people that there was no need to panic about world affairs. He used himself as a model of being content and optimistic in fearful times so that other Americans would follow his lead. President Eisenhower also used golf to relieve the stresses and frustrations that came with holding political office during a time marked by hysteria and fear. As a president faced with immense pressure from the possibility of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union or a civil war over segregation, Dwight D. Eisenhower used golf as a healthy outlet for his struggles. Finally, President Eisenhower used golf to form political relationships with other leaders to relieve the tensions that hung over the international community during the Cold War era.

As this study reveals, President Eisenhower utilized golf extensively as a political tool. He attempted to shape public opinion through both his love of and association with golf. He continually played golf, despite criticism from rival parties that accused him of wasting too much time on this favorite pastime rather than working as an effective national leader, to promote the image of a calm and collected president who did not fear for America’s future. Whether or not his attempts to use golf in politics actually greatly influenced the politics of mid-1900’s America is debatable, but it is undeniable that he was associated with golf and was one of the most influential in increasing its popularity among Americans.

WORKS CITED

“1,000+ Reasons to Like Ike.” GolfDigest. Golf Digest, April 2008. Web. 19 February 2010. <.http://www.golfdigest.com/golf-tours-news/2008-04/ike>.

“‘First Off the Tee’: White House Golf Tales.” NPR. NPR, May 1, 2003. Web. 22 February 2010. < http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1246185>.

Ganzel, Bill. “World Events During the 1950s and 1960s.” Farming in the 1950s and 1960s. Wessels Living History Farm, 2007. Web. 22 February 2010. <http://www.livinghistoryfarm.org/farminginthe50s/worldevents_01.html>.

“Ike and Golf.” Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission. Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission, 2004. Web. 19 February 2010. <http://www.eisenhowermemorial.org/stories/Ike-Golf.htm>.

“Ike and the Sputnik Crisis.” Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission. Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission, n.d. Web. 19 February 2010. <http://www.eisenhowermemorial.org/stories/sputnik-crisis.htm>.

Lewis, Catherine M. Don’t Ask What I Shot: How Eisenhower’s Love of Golf Helped Shape 1950s America. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007. Print.

“President Eisenhower Named to World Golf Hall of Fame.” PGA Tour. PGA Tour, Inc., 26 June 2009. Web. 19 February 2010. <http://www.pgatour.com/2009/r/06/26/wghof_eisenhower/index.html>.

“Remarks to Representatives of World Amateur Golf Team Championship Conference.” Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission. Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission, 2 May 1958. Web. 19 February 2010. <http://www.eisenhowermemorial.org/speeches/19580502%20World%20Amateur%20Golf%20Team%20Championship%20Conference.htm>.

Sowell, David. Eisenhower and Golf: A President at Play. North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2007. Print.

“The Cold War.” The Manhattan Project: An Interactive History. U.S. Department of Energy: Office of History & Heritage Resources, 2003. Web. 19 February 2010. <http://www.cfo.doe.gov/me70/manhattan/cold_war.htm>.

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