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

July 4, 2011

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.”

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