Robert Trent Jones Jr. on the history of the White House putting green

HIGH ROLLERS: Presidents Obama (top, with Vice President Joe Biden), Clinton (middle) and Nixon have all mixed politics and putting.
From top: President Obama, Pete Souza/White House/Getty Images; President Clinton, J. Scott Applewhite/AP; President Nixon, AP

I've always been around the political scene - I'm friends with President Clinton, and my father played golf with Eisenhower. Ike had a putting green put in at the White House in the 1950s, but it was removed in the 1970s. In 1995, I was at the White House on a diplomatic matter, and I hear, "The President wants to see you." Mr. Clinton wanted a new putting green. We discussed where to put it. "This location?" "No, that's where the helicopter lands." We found a spot about 30 paces from the Oval Office, under the shade of the Hoover Oak, which President Hoover installed.

It's not a large green - about 2,000 square feet, slightly crowned. It's just a short walk, so Clinton would putt to clear his mind between negotiations, during the Bosnian crisis, or after the Oklahoma City bombing. Oklahoma City consumed him. I've putted with him on the green. He'd just chit-chat, or talk about world events.

I putted with George W. Bush, too. He'd play quickly. Barney the dog helped. President Bush would hole the putt, and Barney would retrieve the ball - he'd stick his little schnozzle right in there and pluck it out. I'd never seen that!

Now we have a southpaw in office. I've yet to play with President Obama, but I look forward to it. He's criticized because golf is supposedly "elite," but all kinds of people play golf, regardless of political point of view. It makes sense that we have a White House putting green. It's the people's house, and golf is a game for all people.

I'm privileged that President Clinton asked me to design it, to add to a place that's filled with treasures - where you see wonderful art or hear performers like Yo-Yo Ma. The green has no bunker. Mr. Clinton wanted one, but a Secret Service agent didn't have faith in the President's sand game. He told me, "Mr. Jones, if you build a bunker, his shots will hit the White House, the alarms will go off, and we've got a Code Red. Please don't build a bunker."

\nRobert Trent Jones Jr.'s father, Robert Sr., built the original White House putting green in 1954.

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