The clubhouse at the Newport Country Club is a vague replica of the casino at Monte Carlo. A top-heavy structure, it stands on a hill overlooking the sweep of Narragansett Bay to the north, and to the northeast the town of Newport, down by the harbor about two miles distant. The golf course surrounds the clubhouse like the spokes of a wheel, and from the upper porches you can watch through a pair of binoculars and see a foursome for most of its tour of the course. It is too far oft to make out details, and the fact that it's the presidential foursome you're watching from afar doesn't really help matters. It moves like any other—the cluster at the distant tee, the sudden march forward when the last drive is hit, the cataleptic halts along the fairway. Then the glint of a swung iron, the move forward again, with the President's blue golfing cart usually in the fore and then the final cluster on the green.
You find you swing your binoculars up, away from this, to watch a destroyer moving out across the bay, or a fisherman standing on the distant rocks casting for striped bass (you watch for a sudden bend in his rod), or even to inspect the gables and chimneys of the Newport "cottages" that face on the golf course—the John Barry Ryan place, the James estate, now—like so many of the great residences—church property, the Auchin-closs house where Senator John Kennedy is staying, and from which he wandered down the first day the President played, wearing dark glasses, and stood in a bush behind a telephone pole to watch the players pass.
Periodically, though, the golfers pass close by the clubhouse, on the 9th, 13th and 18th greens. You come down from the porch, walk across to whatever green they are approaching and stand up against the guard ropes. From the clubhouse bar straggle the reporters and photographers assigned to cover the President. They are able to judge the speed of his round perfectly. One of them will look at his watch and say, "Well, he must be on the 7th. Fifteen more minutes or so and he'll be up here on the 9th"; and then everybody looks at his drink to gauge whether it will be enough to last him through those 15 minutes.
When the press goes to watch him come into the 9th, they sit on the lip of a trap guarding the green and dabble their feet in the sand. Others are there waiting by the ropes: people who have ventured down the clubhouse drive, usually with children, to stand waiting with their cameras; club members standing a little apart, the steady wind which comes in off Narragansett Bay whipping back the brims of their hats as they watch the approach shots being made.
The ball nearest the pin is likely to be Norman Palmer's, the club professional and the President's partner. But the others in the foursome are accurate with their irons, particularly their short game, and it is common to have all four shots safely on the green.
Then you see the blue golfing cart coming up, the President driving, his familiar features becoming easily discernible. He stops the cart, steps out, and his caddie gives him his putter with the head tipped red at both ends. He walks toward you. It's discomfiting to see the President of the United States walking toward you carrying a putter. You back away hastily to give him a wide berth to the green. You watch him step up to his putt.
Then you realize that you have very little interest in whether or not he sinks the putt. You barely watch it roll toward the cup. The other players' shots are of no interest at all. You find yourself staring at the President, while around you mouths are ajar with the strain of ogling. It is remindful of the way people stare at a fine painting or a statue—as if some measure, or understanding, of its greatness could be absorbed by deep concentration. But what you're looking at in this case is the back of a man standing 30 feet away, dressed in a golfing hat, blue sweater, brown trousers, idly leaning on a putter and watching his partner try to sink a long putt. And he is watched with the wonder of children staring at a sleeping lion in the zoo.
He says something. You've missed it. You nudge the man on your left and ask him what was said. He replies without taking his eyes off the President, "I think he said, 'Good putt, partner.' " So you file that away, remembering the flat, rather high inflection of the President's voice.
They've putted out. The caddie slaps the flag back in the cup, and the foursome starts for the next tee. You walk along with them. You find yourself too near the President for comfort, and you move off diagonally. Everybody walks briskly, shoes crunching in the gravel of the driveway, golf clubs jingling. Suddenly a boy moves in on the President. He says loudly: "Mr. President, I'm the guy that sent you the silver dollar." Everybody stops. The President looks flustered. The boy's grandmother rushes up to explain that the dollar had been sent along during the campaign in 1956. "Well, I guess that's what did it," the President says. Everybody laughs—very loudly. The march to the tee continues. Tension slackens off. Conversation has struck up all around.
Still, though, he remains the cynosure of all eyes, and it isn't until the foursome moves off the tee and onto the fairway where the public is prohibited that he is alone on the course—alone, that is, with his three golfing companions, four caddies, often the White House physician, two or three of the White House staff and the secret service men flanking the players at a distance, like outriding destroyers guarding a carrier.