Tour and News

No. 1 Power Player: Condoleezza Rice

Photo: Robyn Twomey

Condoleezza Rice, 55, is a political science professor and senior fellow at Stanford University and was the 66th United States Secretary of State.

Did golf ever help you on the diplomatic front?
No. When I played as Secretary, I tried to get out on Sunday afternoon, which was my only reliable free time. I never played abroad. I didn't have a chance. I think I only played with one fellow foreign minister, the Australian foreign minster. He was quite a good golfer, and we mostly talked about golf.

 

Any foreign leaders you'd like to tee it up with?
Not in particular, but there are a whole lot of golfers I'd like to play with.

Like who?
I'd like to play Ernie Els because I can't believe how smooth his swing is—it's just unbelievably beautiful to watch. And one of these days I hope to play with Tiger. We know each other [from his time at Stanford], but I wasn't playing golf then. Phil Mickelson was nice enough to play with me, and that was great fun.

Have you played much with your former boss, George W. Bush?
Several times. He's playing a lot now that he's back in Dallas, and we've played a couple times down there. He's got a good game. He used to play with lightning speed but he's slowing down. He's actually reading his putts now.

He has more time on his hands.
We all do, right. [Laughs.]

You started playing golf in 2005. Who introduced you to the game?
My cousin lives with her husband at TPC Sugarloaf in Atlanta. He had always wanted her to play golf so he gave her lessons and he gave me buddy lessons. I loved it—I was hooked right away. I think I hit my driver really well the first time, and that hooked me.

What else do you love about the game?
I love being outside, and when I was Secretary [of State] I wasn't outside very much. [Laughs.] It's played in beautiful places and I think also the fact that it's a game that you're never on top of. I've had the experience so many times of playing a great hole on which I look like Lorena Ochoa hitting every shot and then I get to the next hole and suddenly Bozo the Clown shows up. [Laughs.] The game is always trying to get the better of you and we're always trying to get the better of it, and that just keeps you going.

How's your game?
I'm about a 21 or 22 handicap. I'd love to get that down to single digits but it's going to require that I continue to work on my short game, because right now I'd rather be 167 yards from the hole than 67 yards from the hole.

Where do you play?
Stanford is my home course. It's about five minutes from my house so it's very convenient. Sometimes I play with friends at the San Francisco Golf Club, which is a terrific club and I've even had a chance to play Cypress [Point] a few times with my good friend George Schultz [the former Secretary of State] and some other friends.

Do you find yourself gazing outside your office window dreaming of the first tee?
Don't we all? [Laughs.] Sure, especially if it's a nice day and you know that you're not going to get out.

Do you ever sneak out on your lunch break and hit balls?
No, I like to play late in the day. I try to finish my work and be done with the day and that's why I like the long summer days, because I can get out after work and play for a while. I'm trying to establish a practice routine, too, where I actually go and practice for an hour or so before I go and play.

Is it working?
I will probably regret saying this because every time I say something has improved, I go backward. But I was really on a mission to improve my short game. I'm not at the point yet where my short game is an offensive weapon for me, but it's not blowing up my scores anymore like it used to.

You made your first trip to Augusta National at the 2009 Masters. What sticks with you from that week?
It's one of the few places I've ever been that fully exceeds the expectations that you have of it. It's so beautiful, and it really does feel like a monument to the game. I was surprised, as I think everyone is, by the lies. It looks very flat on television, but it's very rolling, and you realize that they're never playing on an even lie. And the greens are pretty wicked. It has a gentility to it that's just very nice. It feels like it's from a long way back in time.

You wrote a piece for the web site, The Daily Beast, about your experience at the Masters. How did that assignment come about?
Well, I know Tina Brown [the site's founder and editor in chief]. I think they knew I was going and they were looking for someone to write about their first-time experience at the Masters. It was fun to write and since I knew I was going to write it, I kept an eye out for fun stories that might be a part of it.

Might we see more golf writing from you in the future?
Well, you never know. I might do that in the future. It was fun getting my arms around my own experience and my own recollections of those moments. So I might write about golf again, sure.

In the Daily Beast piece you noted, "... the faces at Augusta are changing as America is changing." Do you suppose the club might be on the verge of accepting a female member?
Oh, I don't know. That's not why I went to Augusta or liked being at Augusta. Those are issues that the club will deal with in their own time.

At the time there was a lot of speculation that you might be in line to become the first female member.
Yeah, I know—and it was exactly that. Frankly it's a realm of speculation that I was never quite fond of.

You once said your dream job would be to become NFL commissioner. Given your love of golf, could you see yourself one day running a major golf organization?
I half-jokingly said I'd love to be NFL commissioner and I told Roger Goodell [the current commissioner] not too long ago that not only is he doing a good job but now that I'm out in Northern California the job doesn't look so good anymore. It looked great when I was struggling with the Russians and the Iranians. [Laughs.] But when I was provost of the university, the Stanford Athletic Department actually reported to me and I enjoyed managing a big-time athletic program, and at some point, I don't know, maybe I will [take a job in] sports management. But I'm fully employed right now and I think I'm more likely to volunteer in the golf world than to do something professionally.

In 2008, you joined Shoal Creek in Birmingham, Ala., the two-time PGA site that made headlines in 1990 for its founder's very public refusal to admit a black member. How did you wind up joining there?
I am a native of Birmingham, and just after I left Washington, my aunt, who is the closest living relative I have, moved back from Norfolk, Va., to Birmingham. She said, "How can I be assured that you'll come and visit often?" And I said, "Well, move someplace close to a golf course." She actually moved to Greystone [Ala.], but she was considering Shoal Creek. I played Shoal Creek, and they asked me if I'd like to become a non-resident member.

Given Shoal Creek's past, were you trying to make any kind of political or social statement?
No, I just want to play golf. I was making no statement whatsoever. Look, the country's come a long way. Alabama's come a long way. Exclusionary policies weren't unique to Shoal Creek.

But surely you weighed the club's history when making your decision to join?
No, I didn't weigh it. It is a fine club and it has wonderful members. The club's history is something I consider to be its history.

Has having a high-powered, pressure-packed job given you an edge on the course?
I'm not so sure. The things that will ultimately help my golf game are that I'm physically pretty strong and fit, and I work on that, and I can concentrate pretty well, too.

Where would you like to play that you haven't?
I'm going to hopefully play with a friend in Ireland this fall. That'll be my first time actually playing outside the country. I would love to play some of the great East Coast courses. I've played Pebble and Cypress and San Francisco, but I'd like to get to East Lake in Atlanta, and maybe National and Shinnecock.

You seem to have a deep appreciation for the game.
I do, and I love to read about it, which is a tribute to golf and its rich history. When I played tennis I never read about tennis. It's just not something you do. There is so much color in golf.

Condoleezza Rice, 55, is a political science professor and senior fellow at Stanford University and was the 66th United States Secretary of State.

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