Presidential Pastime

The USGA has played a key role in the construction and maintenance of the White House putting green

By Michael Trostel, USGA
February 16, 2013

In 1954, the USGA's Al Radko oversaw the construction of the White House putting green for President Dwight D. Eisenhower. (Courtesy of White House/Pete Souza)

At work, golfers often find themselves looking longingly out the window, dreaming of a quick getaway to play nine holes or get in some short-game practice.

Whether your workplace is a city skyscraper, a small shop or the Oval Office, the golf itch does not discriminate among job titles.

However, there are certain occupations that permit the scratching of that itch more readily than others. The President of the United States is one of them, thanks to a putting green just 50 paces from the Oval Office.

In the spring of 1954, at the direction of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Al Radko of the USGA Green Section oversaw the construction of the 3,000-square-foot putting surface on the South Lawn. With assistance from the Mid-Atlantic Association of Golf Course Superintendents and the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, construction was completed in a few weeks.

Slideshow: Presidential golf
Video: Arnold Palmer on Eisenhower
Video: Taft, the first Presidential golfer
Video: FDR's passion for golf

Eisenhower conveyed his thanks in a letter to USGA President Ike Grainger. “As you may know,” Eisenhower wrote, “I enjoy and need the exercise I get from occasional golf practice and this makes it easy for me to slip out for a half hour or so whenever I find the time.”

After picking up the game in 1925 as a way to relieve stress at his wife’s encouragement, Eisenhower turned the game into his passion, playing more than 800 rounds during his presidency, from 1953 to 1961. He spent countless hours contemplating the game’s intricacies, dissecting recent rounds, studying the mechanics of the golf swing and worrying about his putting stroke – the weakest part of his game. The green featured undersized holes to help Eisenhower improve his putting.

He frequently carried a club in the Oval Office, taking swings while dictating to his secretary. Many afternoons, he would grab his wedge, 8-iron and putter and retreat to the South Lawn for some practice.

“I remember that he would be sitting at his desk when the last visitor went out the door.” said David Eisenhower, the president’s nephew. “He would slowly put on his golf cleats and his cap, take off his coat and wander into the backyard to putt.”

Eisenhower’s successor, John F. Kennedy, was astonished to find many spike marks in the floor of the Oval Office, leading from the desk to the double doors that opened to the green.

An influential ambassador who helped popularize the game during his term, Palmer counted Arnold Palmer among his close friends. He even made a surprise visit to Palmer’s home to help him celebrate his 37th birthday. (Click here for video of Palmer recounting his friendship with Eisenhower.)

Eisenhower’s White House legacy has endured after overcoming an interruption in the early 1970s, when Richard Nixon removed the putting surface. At the 1994 Presidents Cup, Bill Clinton approached USGA President Reg Murphy and golf course architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. about restoring the green. Once again, the USGA played a role. Stanley Zontek, director of the USGA Green Section Mid-Atlantic region until his passing in August 2012, helped in the construction then made regular visits to the White House to help with its maintenance.

While none of his successors displayed as much passion for the game as Ike did, the game has been a thread that has run through nearly every president since Eisenhower. (Only Jimmy Carter didn’t play.) The presidents’ collective interest in the game has shown that golf has been able to transcend divisions in policy and politics to unite our nation’s leaders.

Over the years, the White House putting green has been a symbol of not only this bond, but also of the game’s timeless appeal – from the President on down.

Partner Links
AmEx image
AmEx image
AmEx image
AmEx image

The USGA and Chevron have committed to using the game of golf to encourage students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. This commitment has led to the creation of extensive golf-focused STEM teaching tools, and has resulted in charitable contributions to support golf-related programs through Eagles for Education™

At U.S. Open Championships the Chevron STEM ZONE™ is an interactive experience highlighting the science and math behind the game of golf through a variety of hands-on exhibits and experiments.

The partnership has also produced educational materials such as the Science of Golf video series and a nationally-distributed newspaper insert which are provided to teachers as tools to enhance existing curriculum in schools. These lessons teach the science behind the USGA’s equipment testing, handicapping, and agronomy efforts.

For more interactive experiences featuring golf-focused STEM lessons, visit the partnership homepage.

Chevron image

Rolex has been a longtime supporter of the USGA and salutes the sportsmanship and great traditions unique to the game. This support includes the Rules of Golf where Rolex has partnered with the USGA to ensure golfers understand and appreciate the game.

As the official timekeeper of the USGA and its championships, they also provide clocks throughout host sites for spectator convenience.

For more information on Rolex and their celebration of the game, visit the Rolex and Golf homepage.

Rolex image

IBM has partnered with the USGA to bring the same technology, expertise, and innovation it provides to businesses all over the world to the USGA and golf's national championship.

IBM provides the information technology to develop and host the U.S. Open’s official website,, as well as the mobile apps and scoring systems for the three U.S. Open championships. These real-time technology solutions provide an enhanced experience for fans following the championship onsite and online.

For more information on IBM and the technology that powers the U.S. Open and businesses worldwide, visit

AmEx image

Lexus is committed to partnering with the USGA to deliver a best-in-class experience for the world’s best golfers by providing a fleet of courtesy luxury vehicles for all USGA Championships.

At each U.S. Open, Women’s Open and Senior Open, Lexus provides spectators with access to unique experiences ranging from the opportunity to have a picture taken with both the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open trophies to autograph signings with legendary Lexus Golf Ambassadors in the Lexus Performance Drive Pavilion.

For more information on Lexus, visit

AmEx image
American Express

Together, American Express and the USGA have been providing world-class service to golf fans since 2006. By creating interactive U.S. Open experiences both onsite and online, American Express enhances the USGA’s effort to make the game more accessible and enjoyable for fans.

For more information on American Express visit

AmEx image