In retirement, Bush is getting serious about his golf game again

September 16, 2011

DALLAS — Former leader of the free world George W. Bush has settled into the comfortable North Texas life of a former president with speeches, a library building and lots of golf.

While an exact count of post-presidential rounds isn’t kept, Bush, who has memberships at Dallas private clubs Brook Hollow (with locker No. 43) and all-male Preston Trail, is playing plenty in North Texas, according to those who tee it up with him most. He’s even turned into something of a gear guru.

“Without a doubt, he has connections,” said Cameron McCormick, director of instruction at Brook Hollow, who has been working with Bush on his game. “When the [TaylorMade] white-headed driver first came out, he had one. He’s got all the technology.”

McCormick, who also tutors two-time U.S. Junior Amateur champion and U.S. Walker Cup team member Jordan Spieth, has helped Bush drop his handicap into single digits.

“The neat thing Scotty Cameron did was make putters with 43 stamped on them; they are really cool,” McCormick said. “But he has TaylorMade golf balls. His allegiance is to TaylorMade.”

Bush will host his own charity tournament in October, the two-day Warrior Open at Las Colinas Country Club in Irving, Texas, and has been honorary chairman of Patriot Golf Day, which benefits wounded war veterans, but he has been shy to talk about his own game. While president, Bush famously quit the game, saying that “playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal.”

Bush’s main motivation on the course nowadays, McCormick says, is sibling rivalry.

“One of his biggest goals was to beat his brother [Jeb],” McCormick said. “I think he’s done it in Florida at Christmas time.”

McCormick says he’s charging the former president full price ($130 an hour) for their lessons, and he started Bush with his standard player interview.

“Well, my dad played, my brothers play. I want to beat my brothers,” said McCormick, switching from his natural Australian accent into a passable George W. Bush impersonation.

Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, is known for his speedy play, but McCormick says the family’s pace of play is actually hurting his student.

“If he’d do one thing I’ve asked him to do, it [his handicap] would be lower. Take more time to read the greens, and take more time to make sure he is lined up, but it’s the evolution of playing golf with his dad. The apple does not fall far from the tree, especially when it comes to playing fast.”

Mark Harrison, executive director of the Northern Texas PGA, said playing with the former president is a fun but nerve-racking experience because of his security detail.

“When I played with him, I got out there a little early because I had not played in a while and wanted to practice. I hit my first wedge to about six inches of the flag and thought this was going to be a pretty good day.

“Then I saw the Secret Service man standing in the trees about 15 feet away from me, staring at me intently. I think I proceeded to thin, fat and skull my next three balls. It does make you nervous. I’m not used to that.”

Bush is also something of a pro shop comedian. When a Brook Hollow member approached him recently and said she had a friend who would die if she could meet him, Bush immediately turned to his security agent and said, “Watch this, I’m getting ready to go outside and kill some lady.”

“Broke up the entire shop,” said Rob Addington, the executive director of the Texas Golf Association and a member at Brook Hollow.