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Obama's Golf Rarely Idled by World Events

Saturday, 13 Sep 2014 09:29 AM

At this month’s NATO meeting in Wales, President Barack Obama spent two days tantalizingly close to one of the planet’s great golf courses.

The president could only gaze through the windows of conference rooms, limousines and helicopters at the fairways at Celtic Manor Resort, where he was meeting with leaders from the alliance. His schedule never allowed a swing on the storied landscape that hosted the Ryder Cup in 2010.

His first day back in Washington, Obama grabbed his clubs and spent four hours playing at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, a favorite haunt where he golfed the previous weekend as well.

While on vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, last month Obama, 53, golfed on nine of his 14 days. That includes the two days he drew criticism for scooting out to play right after giving nationally televised statements responding to unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, and the beheading of a U.S. journalist by Islamic State extremists.

He has become, like many leaders in business and government, something of a golf fanatic.

“When you look at some of the research on leisure, and there isn’t a lot of it, there is this view of work hard-play hard,” Brigid Schulte, author of “Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has The Time,” said in an interview. “Sometimes people who are the most driven and work the hardest also play the hardest.”

Missing Rounds

Obama doesn’t always get his fix.

On Labor Day weekend, Obama was scheduled to attend a fundraiser and stay overnight in Westchester County, New York, before attending the wedding of the first family’s personal chef, Sam Kass, and MSNBC host Alex Wagner.

Westchester is home to four of the top-20 golf courses in the state, according to Golf Digest. The schedule conveniently would have left time for at least nine holes.

He instead returned to Washington for the night. New York’s WNBC-TV, citing sources it didn’t identify, said several courses declined to give him a tee time because it would disrupt reservations of their members. The White House staff said Obama came back to the White House because he had work to do.

At the start of his term in 2009, Obama favored pick-up basketball games with his buddies, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan. He’s now almost completely switched to the more leisurely sport.

The president has golfed 38 times so far this year and 195 times since taking office in 2009, according to Mark Knoller of CBS News, who keeps detailed records of presidential activities.

Presidential Golf

The pace doesn’t put Obama anywhere near other golf- addicted presidents.

Woodrow Wilson, president during World War I, played about 1,200 rounds, according to biographer A. Scott Berg. Dwight Eisenhower, who made the game popular in the U.S. and had a putting green installed on the White House’s South Lawn, clocked in at about 800 rounds in his eight years in office, according to the U.S. Golf Association.

It’s a hobby that’s long been fodder for critics.

Obama’s immediate predecessor and another regular golfer, George W. Bush, came in for criticism in 2002 when he delivered a denunciation of terrorism while at a golf course and then followed up by telling reporters, “Now watch this drive,” before teeing off.

He gave up the game in 2003 because, he said later, playing while the U.S. was at war in Iraq sent the wrong message. He took up mountain biking as an alternate activity to get away on weekends.

Obama Undeterred

Obama plays on, undeterred by criticism from commentators and political opponents.

The president has a small circle of regular golfing buddies that includes White House aides, athletes and political donors - - all sworn not to reveal his handicap. He typically spends four to five hours playing 18 holes. It’s time he’s away from the prying eyes of the press, who accompany him to the courses -- usually on military bases near Washington -- but are holed up sitting in vehicles or a base lounge.

Obama doesn’t forget about the rest of his job while on the golf course, former deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton said in an article last month.

“We should all be able to appreciate the fact that he is taking the opportunity to be a dad, a husband and even a leader of the free world who can clear his head on the golf course,” Burton wrote in a piece published Aug. 25 in Politico.

Golf Compulsions

While it’s possible to have a so-called process addiction, or a compulsion to do something repeatedly, five hours a week hardly rises to that level, said Stacey Rosenfeld, a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in eating disorders and addictions.

“I don’t think it’s the amount of time that designates whether or not it’s a problem,” said Rosenfeld, who is licensed to practice in New York and California. “It’s like alcohol. It’s more your relationship to the behavior.”

Golf or any other activity would become a problem if it interfered with family or work, causing a person to lose control of what they want or need to do, said Anne Fletcher, author of “Inside Rehab” about addiction treatment.

“There’s no question that people can suffer from compulsive engagement in other kinds of behaviors other than drug and alcohol use,” she said. “The characteristic of addiction is loss of control.”

That doesn’t appear to be the case with Obama, who is juggling conflicts in Syria and Iraq and Ukraine and racial and immigration-related tensions at home.

“I don’t see any evidence that our president is failing to meet his obligations,” Fletcher said.

Obama’s golf failures in Wales and in Westchester are exceptions. He’s sampled many great courses.

On Martha’s Vineyard, he played at Vineyard Golf Club and Farm Neck Golf Club. Vineyard, in Edgartown, bills itself as the only “organic” golf course in the U.S., using no synthetic pesticides, fertilizers or herbicides. Farm Neck, in Oak Bluffs, borders the sea and was also a choice of President Bill Clinton.

What Obama missed in Westchester include Winged Foot West in Mamaroneck, rated no. 2 in New York by Golf Digest and designed by golf course architect A. W. Tillinghast, or Quaker Ridge Golf Club in Scarsdale, rated no. 10 and built on land George Washington traversed during the Revolutionary War.

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At this month's NATO meeting in Wales, President Barack Obama spent two days tantalizingly close to one of the planet's great golf courses.
Obama, golf
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2014-29-13
Saturday, 13 Sep 2014 09:29 AM
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