As much as former President George H.W. Bush loved golf, he was never on the course very long.
For all his passion and heritage in golf — his grandfather and father were USGA presidents — the 41st president was mainly known for being the best example of the Rule 6-7: “Play without undue delay.”
Davis Love III discovered this during one outing at Cape Arundel Golf Club in Kennebunkport, Maine.
“We were playing and one of the Secret Service guys, his phone starts ringing,” Love said. “He said, ‘Mr. President, it’s President Clinton.’ And President Bush says, ‘Well, I’m hitting.’ He hands me the phone and says, ‘Talk to him for a second.’ So I’m there talking to President Clinton while President Bush is hitting his shot. You just never knew what was going to happen next.”
Bush died Friday night at his home in Houston at age 94.
“His name is synonymous with golf,” said Tiger Woods, who played with Bush in Houston while still an amateur. “Being around him for all these years and getting a chance to be around him at Presidents Cup … he was such a class act. Anyone who’s ever been around him knows how much he loved his golf and how much he supported it and how much we’re going to miss him.”
He was one of two presidents to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, in 2011, two years after President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and his involvement went well beyond the golf he played so quickly.
He was honorary chairman of The First Tee, the program that began in 1997 to bring golf’s core values to kids. He was chairman of the Presidents Cup, and stayed involved by rarely missing the biennial match, whether it was in Australia or South Africa.
Former PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said at Bush’s induction ceremony that The First Tee had reached 4.7 million youngsters and “but for President Bush, that would not have happened.”
“He attended openings of facilities. He wrote letters to people that gave money. He traveled, he spoke, he got on the telephone,” Finchem said. “He wasn’t a chairman in name only. He worked at it.”
Instead of ribbons, which are hard to find on short notice in the Bahamas, some players at the Hero World Challenge wrote “41” on their caps.
Love was among the regulars whom Bush would invite to Kennebunkport for golf; Love said they were treated like family.
“He was so excited about Fred Couples or me or Brad Faxon trying to beat the course record at Cape Arundel,” Love said. “We wanted to go fishing or play horseshoes, and he wanted to play golf. But it only took us three hours. He just loved being out there.”
The running joke at Cape Arundel is that Bush used to claim he had the course record — not a score, but fastest to play 18 holes.
Woods could attest to that.
“It was basically club, ball, one look, gone,” he said.
Bush also claimed to have his name on at least one trophy, saying in 2011 that he once captured the club championship.
“I dusted a guy named Chad Brown,” Bush said. “My name is embellished there. It’s on the board. You can’t take it away from me.”
His golf heritage dates to his maternal grandfather, George H. Walker, after whom the Walker Cup is named. His father, Prescott Bush, was a scratch golfer.
“There’s a genetic shortfall and it never took,” Bush once said. “Except that I loved the game.”
Bush was honored by all the major golf organizations — the Distinguished Service Award from the PGA of America in 1997; the Bob Jones Award from the USGA in 2008; the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009; and the Hall of Fame in 2011.
“From his love of playing to his selfless dedication and support, golf held a special place for President Bush,” Finchem said. “He was the consummate ambassador for golf.”
Bush was part of the presidential trio that played in the 2005 Bob Hope Classic, joining former Presidents Bill Clinton and Gerald Ford. He hit two spectators, one man in the back of the leg and one woman on the bridge of her nose, drawing blood.
More than the golf, however, Love kept referencing relationships Bush forged as he told stories for 10 minutes uninterrupted.
“He treated every single person the same,” Love said.
Love recalled 2001, when Bush came to St. Simons Island, Georgia, for the Walker Cup and stayed with Love.
“We had this party for both teams at our house,” Love said. “I had put in a horseshoe pit because he was coming, and he’s going to play the first game. He’s all excited. But after about five minutes, he looks over his shoulder and said: ‘This is rude. We ought to go back to the party.’ So here’s the president, dictating what we should be doing. He went over to the pool, and all the Sea Island employees who were working the party, he walked down the line and introduced himself.”