“To find a man’s true character, play golf with him.” — P.G. Wodehouse
You can learn a lot about how a president governs by watching his golf game. Bill Clinton, for example, had a reputation for cheating. George W. Bush rushed along, blind to the bigger picture. Gerald Ford was endearingly hapless. And then there’s President Donald J. Trump.
I played with him just once, on August 20, 2010, and it was quite an experience. At the time, I worked at Golf Magazine and had been invited to join the editor in chief and a corporate executive at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Back then, Trump was overly solicitous of golf media, eager to influence their course ranking lists to include his properties. The character I saw and heard over those few hours has since become a familiar part of public life.
Start with his disregard for protocols or courtesy. That was evident on the very first hole, when Trump drove his cart right onto the tee, forcing the group in front to scatter and let us play through. At any other course, such behavior would constitute grounds for fisticuffs, but it seemed to be accepted conduct for Trump, who cheerfully bantered with the golfers he had displaced.
There was the ceaseless need for affirmation — Trump’s insistence, for example, that his course was the finest in the state, though it wasn’t even the best in the neighborhood.
I also witnessed the infamous jock humor that fell somewhere this side of locker room talk. Midway through the round, a staffer approached to announce that the Trumps would be receiving a “Golf Family of the Year” award from a local association. Trump turned to us and said, “You know what that tells me? I can’t get caught having an affair for the next year.”
Later, there was an eyebrow-raising admission of his willingness to say whatever is necessary to cut a deal. Over lunch after the round, he boasted about a course he was then building in Aberdeen, Scotland. The controversial project had been fiercely opposed by environmentalists and was approved only when Trump gave assurances that sensitive sand dunes on the seaside property would be protected.
“Meanwhile, we’re ripping the shit out of them,” he told us, laughing. (Three months ago, a Scottish government report found that the dunes had been “partially destroyed.”)
And finally, there was the now-familiar absence of empathy, the misogyny, the casual cruelty.
The opulent clubhouse in which we were sitting had previously been the home of John DeLorean, the auto executive famed for his Back to the Future car. DeLorean’s colorful career included a highly publicized arrest (and acquittal) on cocaine trafficking charges. After filing for bankruptcy, he’d been forced to sell his expansive 434-acre compound an hour west of Manhattan. Trump bought it for $35 million.
Not long before DeLorean died in 2005 at age 80, Trump invited him back to see what he’d done with the place. DeLorean came with a female acquaintance. “It was sad,” Trump recounted. “He’d been in prison. He’d lost all of his money.” He paused momentarily and pursed his lips, as if considering all of the indignities that had been visited on his old friend.
“You know what the worst thing was?” he said finally. “The girlfriend was a solid 4.”