At the sprawling 11-acre Bush compound at Walker's Point—known as Gawkers Point to native Kennebunk-porters weary of the tourists who have turned their picture-postcard village into one massive traffic jam/photo op—the pace is frenetic, the athletic activities unlimited, the schedule crammed to the gills. (Speaking of which, I am proud to report that POTUS's fishing slump is ancient history; he reeled in an 11-pound blue barely 12 minutes after blasting off from the pier in his modified Cigarette boat, Fidelity, at 8 a.m. on Aug. 7.) That's why it was fairly astonishing that POTUS not only acknowledged me as his main Maine man and fitted me into the mix but also didn't blanch once or come close to throwing me out. Not even when Rogich parked my golf cart directly in the line of his approach shot to the 4th green at the Cape Arundel Golf Club—"Do you mind, guys? We're having a game here," POTUS said—or when I stumbled to a particularly suave half gainer almost on top of his prize bluefish while boarding his boat, or even when one of my normally surefire twirled horseshoe pitches nearly massacred an innocent family bystander, that being the best-selling author, Millie, the First Dog.
At play with POTUS started for me on the afternoon of Aug. 7, when I watched Bush's daily ritual of "cart polo," which is what POTUS's regular partner, Arundel pro Ken Raynor, calls golf as it is played by the President. When his staffers ask whether POTUS broke 90, they're talking minutes, not strokes. Sure enough, on the morning Bush left for the economic summit in London last month, he and Raynor raced around a full 18 in an hour and 25 minutes. "My alltime record," the President told me proudly.
On this day POTUS and Raynor played a best-ball match against the president of the club, whose name is also Ken Raynor (no relation; "Ken Squared," POTUS calls him) and Sonny Hutchins, a local lobster entrepreneur. Still, the President barely paused to line up shots. "Golf clears the mind," POTUS told me somewhere on the course while I was scanning the flotilla of other carts driven by muscular guys with sunglasses and walkie-talkies. "I don't concentrate too much out here. I'm in it for the competition, the camaraderie. Maybe if I did play slower.... I've sort of phased back into golf as a protection against old age."
POTUS used to play to an 11 handicap, but thanks to the yips, he's nowhere near that now. A 48-inch Pole-Kat putter, says Bush, "saved the game for me." POTUS means he has fewer four-putt greens. His friendly opponents seem to give him anything inside eight feet.
The President is a solid striker of the ball, though, with a short Doug Sanderslike backswing, a natural fade ("You're kind," he said. "That's a full-bore slice") and surprising power through the swing. "I've got no idea how to do this," he kept saying each time he bent over a short chip shot. There were several expletive-deleteds, too. "Whoops," POTUS said when he noticed a female twosome had watched him make hash of the 8th hole. "I hope those ladies didn't hear me. I wouldn't want them to think less of their President."
On the links POTUS is always friendly and accommodating to strangers. "That was a darling effort," he snarled after popping up his drive off the 17th tee. Then he spotted a pretty young woman on a cart. "That your daughter?" he asked a waiting golfer. "My girlfriend," the guy said. "Uh, she's beautiful," the President said, trying to save bogey.
Raynor instructed the President throughout the round, attributing his lapses to "the speed factor." The President blamed "the humiliation factor."
But how terrific could any golfer be if he had to pose for pictures and sign autographs on almost every hole and had to face prying international media jackals at 1, 9, 10 and 18, the way POTUS must do at Kennebunkport? Before trying his 12-foot putt for par on 18, the President waved his playing companions out of the photographers' sightlines. "If I miss, it's a team sport," he said. "But the media obviously have a feeling something great is about to happen." Alas, POTUS rolled another putt wide.
His team won, but as usual the White House did not release an official score. Wouldn't be prudent. Anyway, with all the gimmes, pickups and presidential grumblings of "that's it," total accuracy is sacrificed out of respect for the office—or something. On the botched-up 8th, for instance, Rogich gave POTUS a 7 but changed it to a 6. I counted at least an 8. "He is, after all, my President," said Rogich, who marked an 81 on his President's scorecard.
POTUS loves to talk about the Bush family Ranking Committee, a nebulous organization that supposedly assesses the sporting capabilities of potential competitors. POTUS loves to have the edge. "You know, the Ranking Committee hasn't yet come in on you for our tennis game," he told me as I was chatting with Mrs. Bush at the golf club. "You want to hit against a ball machine or something?"