No one can doubt President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s devotion to golf, and perhaps nothing better represents his passion for the game than the discovery that President John F. Kennedy made after taking office in 1961.
In addition to the hundreds of rounds played during his two terms in the White House, Eisenhower was a frequent visitor to the putting green that was installed outside the Oval Office in the spring of 1954 with assistance from the USGA. To get away from the stresses of the job for 10 minutes or so each day, Eisenhower would grab a putter, wedge and 8-iron and retreat to the green to clear his mind and work on his short game.
While Kennedy knew Eisenhower was a golfer, it appears he did not appreciate Ike’s level of attachment. Upon assuming the presidency, Kennedy was astonished to find many cleat marks in the floor of the Oval Office, leading from the desk to the double doors that opened onto the putting green.
Among American presidents, Eisenhower’s enthusiasm for golf greatly exceeded that of all his predecessors. Woodrow Wilson may have played more frequently, but Eisenhower’s affection for the game extended far beyond the course. What started in 1925 at his wife’s suggestion as a way to relieve stress had developed into an intense passion by the time Ike took office nearly three decades later. He spent countless hours contemplating the game’s intricacies, working on his putting stroke, dissecting recent rounds, studying the mechanics of the golf swing or plotting a quick getaway to his next round. He frequently carried a club in the Oval Office, taking swings while dictating to his secretary.
It was no surprise then that the USGA named the World Amateur Team Championship trophy in his honor. In May 1958, representatives from 35 countries met in Washington, D.C., and organized the World Amateur Team
Championship (WATC). Inspired by an offer from Japan to sponsor a team match in 1957, the USGA proposed a team competition that would bring together the best players from all countries.
The aim of the World Amateur Team Championship was not just to provide a test for each nation’s best golfers, though competition was certainly a part of it. It was also meant to foster goodwill and understanding among an international community of golfers and administrators. In an address to WATC representatives, President Eisenhower said: “I visualize it as a potent force for establishing friendship between yet another segment of the populations of nations.”
Later that year, Bob Jones would echo those sentiments while serving as the captain of the USA team in the first WATC. “All have come here with the hope that attachments will be formed here and reports will emanate from here which will provide an impetus toward a growing friendship among nations of the world,” said Jones, himself a lifelong amateur. “I am not so naive as to expect that a golf tournament may accomplish miracles, but I do hope that we may sow some seeds here which will germinate later on into influences toward peace in the world.”
The WATC brings together a unique mix of cultures and skill levels. Unlike Jack Nicklaus and Deane Beman, members of the 1960 U.S. team who had impressive amateur records, not all competitors were accustomed to playing in front of large crowds. A Swiss competitor once confided that he had never played in front of a gallery, only cows.
With the convergence of such varied backgrounds and traditions, it has become customary for participants in the WATC to trade pocket badges, ties, pins and paperweights with players from other countries. In one of the more unique gifts, Fiji presented a war club to all competing nations during the flag-raising ceremonies of the 1978 World Amateur Team Championship at Pacific Harbour Golf and Country Club in Fiji.
The inaugural championship was held at the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland. Led by Bruce Devlin, Australia defeated the United States by two strokes in an 18-hole playoff after the teams tied over 72 holes. Following that runner-up finish, the United States went on to win four of the next six World Amateur Team Championships (1960, 1962, 1968 and 1970).
This year, the WATC is being held at Buenos Aires and Olivos Golf Clubs in Argentina from Oct. 28-31. Seventy teams will vie for the Eisenhower Trophy, including Scotland, the defending champion from 2008, and the United States, which will be represented by David Chung, Scott Langley and Peter Uihlein.
To see the Eisenhower Trophy, the Fiji war club and other artifacts from the World Amateur Team Championship, visit the USGA Museum in Far Hills, N.J.
Michael Trostel is the curator/historian for the USGA Museum. E-mail him with questions or comments at MTrostel@usga.org.