Throughout his career in government, John F. Kennedy put considerable effort into concealing his love of golf. In today's vernacular, you might say that playing the game was a politically incorrect thing for a Democrat to do in the 1950s and '60s. The party, after all, had complained for years that Dwight D. Eisenhower, JFK's Republican predecessor, spent far too much time on the golf course chumming with his country club pals when he should have been in the Oval Office tending to affairs of state. Now the cat is out of the bag: Kennedy not only enjoyed playing golf, but he also had the best game of any U.S. president.
Many had forgotten that JFK was a golfer until his equipment went up for bid last week during the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis estate auction at Sotheby's in New York City. The gear, which included woods, irons, a putter, bags, head covers and even a plastic score counter, fetched a whopping $1.29 million and sold at the most inflated prices of all the auction's 1,200 items.
The biggest premium was paid by Arnold Schwarzenegger, the husband of JFK's niece Maria Shriver. The Terminator ponied up a terminally insane $772,500—more than 800 times the $700-to-$900 value established by Sotheby's—for a set of five MacGregor Tourney woods and a leather bag inscribed "JFK Washington, D.C." Bob Farino, the owner of American Golf Classics in Newport News, Va., placed the value of those woods at no more than $275. Among the other items sold were a set of Ben Hogan Power Thrust irons in a black leather bag, also inscribed "JFK Washington, D.C." ($387,500); a MacGregor Krook putter ($65,750); a set of three monogrammed head covers ($34,500); and the stroke counter ($28,750). The putter, worth $14 new, would sell for no more than $50 today.
Testament to Kennedy's skill can be found in the soon-to-be-released book Presidential Lies, by Shepherd Campbell and Peter Landau (Macmillan). The book includes a chapter that chronicles JFK's passion for the game, going back to his stint with Harvard's 1937 freshman golf team, which, by the way, went 0-2-1. " Kennedy was beyond question the best golfer ever to inhabit the White House," write Campbell and Landau. "He was capable of consistently scoring in the high 70s or low 80s."
But Kennedy made it a point to keep his golfing activities in the closet, particularly during the 1960 presidential campaign. In Presidential Lies, Campbell and Landau write that JFK almost made a hole in one at Cypress Point during the stretch drive for the Democratic nomination. As his ball flew straight at the flag and his playing partner cheered it on, Kennedy stood with a look of horror on his face. The ball hit the pin and wound up six inches from the cup. A relieved JFK turned to his partner, Paul B. Fay Jr., who would later become undersecretary of the Navy, and said, "You're yelling for that damn ball to go in and I'm watching a promising political career coming to an end. If that ball had gone in, in less than an hour the word would be out that another golfer was trying to get in the White House."
According to Campbell and Landau, Kennedy's approach to golf mirrored his approach to life. A gambler, Kennedy rarely teed it up without a little something on the line. He often played for a $4 or $5 Nassau with a series of side bets, and he almost always won. In one match cited in the book, JFK and his military aide, Gen. Chester Clinton, lost a match on the last hole when Clinton left short a four-foot putt for a halve. Kennedy turned to Clinton and said, "Nice putt, Sergeant."
The Bomb Squad
Talk about a perfect couple: John Daly and Laura Davies, the biggest hitters on the men's and women's tours, will pair up on Dec. 5-8 in the JCPenney Classic at Innisbrook Hilton Resort in Tarpon Springs, Fla.
It won't be the first time Daly, who has led the Tour in driving distance four of the last five seasons, and Davies, the LPGA's longest hitter the last three, have played together. Earlier this year they competed with Peter Senior and Tom Watson in the Australian Skins Game ( Daly won 10 skins, Davies two), and last season they were in the same group during the Wendy's Three Tour Challenge.
Daly doesn't normally play the mixed team JCPenney, but he had a change of heart when Davies asked him to join her. Robert Gamez, who paired with Helen Alfredsson to come in second the last three years, helped sell him on the event. "It's the most fun I had all year," Gamez told Daly.