'Don't Ask What I Shot - How Eisenhower's Love of Golf Helped Shape 1950s America,' by Catherine M. Lewis

By: Dr. John Wagner


In the initial chapter, entitled "Golf Before Ike," author Catherine M. Lewis tries to cram a lot of golf history into the first 26 pages of her book. As a result, the section is hard to read and makes for a rocky start. But once I got to Chapter 2, I really started to enjoy it. As an amateur golf historian, I could have done without the first chapter.

But don't let these comments dissuade you from reading further, as Lewis does a great job of relating Ike's love of the game and his time in the White House. Here was an American president who was a wonderful person, someone who happens to be one of my all-time heroes. After all, General Dwight David Eisenhower saved the world from German domination.

Golf and leadership are entwined throughout. During World War II, Eisenhower frequently stayed at a private home that was located well outside of London so there would be little opportunity for him to be killed by a bomb. The home was on a golf course, and Ike would play several holes at the end of the day before darkness fell, a move that drove his security detail crazy. But Ike loved the game, which helped him relax and get away from the pressures of war.

Dealing with the egos of his fellow commanders probably helped Eisenhower deal with the vanities of Congressional members during his presidency. Ike grew up poor and had to work hard for everything he had. With such a modest background, he was able to relate to the average American and show that the game of golf was for all people, not just the privileged few.

Eisenhower harbored a great fondness for Augusta National and would go there after each Masters to play the course. Club co-founder, Cliff Roberts, was one of his good friends, and Eisenhower liked being around the members in a casual environment. Indeed, he often solicited their advice on political matters.

I believe Ike envisioned Augusta National as the culmination of his golfing dream, as he eventually joined the club and paid dues like everyone else. It's said that Eisenhower asked Roberts how he could join the exclusive club, but that he quickly learned that this was a no-no. But the members overlooked Ike's faux pas, as he was a former American President and a great man.

Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, enjoyed vacationing at Augusta National; after Ike died, she still spent a lot of time there. He was the prototypical golfing president. He had a putting green built alongside the White House and was often seen by passersby practicing his swing on the lawn.

I really enjoyed how the author connected Eisenhower's two terms in office to his passion for golf, and how he would use the course for official business. Unlike some golfing presidents, Ike always gave his honest score. But he had an "interesting" way of rolling the ball with his club to "identify" his ball. Somehow the roll always ended up on a better piece of grass.

Lewis was honest in her depiction of Eisenhower, a president in the post-war 1950s, when the social and democratic fabric of the U.S. was taking shape. She seems to take him to task about the exclusion of African-Americans from the PGA Tour; Lewis broaches the subject several times, feeling that, as president, Eisenhower could have remedied this omission. All seriousness aside, though, I really enjoyed her book.

"Don't Ask What I Shot - How Eisenhower's Love of Golf Helped Shape 1950s America," by Catherine M. Lewis, McGraw Hill, $24.95, ISBN-13:978-0-07-148570-8

Dr. John Wagner has been a Seattle dentist for 37 years. He's been published in several dental journals as well as had several articles appear in the turf magazine for Pacific Northwest golf course superintendents. John has served as a guest lecturer at the University of Washington Business School for several years and as a guest lecturer for several dental societies. Dr. Wagner is the co-designer (with Steve Shea of the Berger Partnership) of a golf course in Japan that cost over $120 million and was built by Wadsworth Golf Construction. He's a Past President of the Washington State Golf Association and a Trustee of the Pacific Coast Golf Association. John is currently a Member of the USGA Green Section and a Director of the WSGA.

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