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First Off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers, and Cheaters from Taft to Bush Hardcover – April 15, 2003

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 358 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs (April 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586480081
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586480080
  • Product Dimensions: 9.8 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,121,649 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Presidents who cheat at golf? What's next? A Washington correspondent for the New York Times, Van Natta has the inside scoop on presidential golfers both then and now: who has game, who doesn't and who should lay down his clubs in deference to those who appreciate fair play. From the best (John Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt) to the worst (Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan), to the cheaters (Bill Clinton and Lyndon Johnson), Van Natta shares insights about our nation's leaders and their passion for the game. Lyndon Johnson used golf to intimidate political opponents. Woodrow Wilson played every day, often during political crises. JFK feared the implications of public knowledge of his prowess. The public had not appreciated Eisenhnower's obsession, since golf was still seen as a "rich man's game," and not an appropriate activity for the "champion of the people." Van Natta's research is impressive and his writing style is engaging, but the text feels a bit like a one-trick pony. Filled with anecdotal bits and pieces, there is more of interest here to historians than to serious golfers.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Surprisingly, it was Woodrow Wilson, not Eisenhower, who played the most rounds of golf as president. Wilson was also the worst at the sport, although LBJ rivaled him for ineptitude. Whether for love of the game, or as a distraction from the pressures of office, all presidents since Taft (excepting Hoover, Truman, and Carter) have snuck off to the links of an afternoon. New York Times reporter Van Natta plays the humor angle to the hilt in handicapping the presidents, sorting them by skill and mendacity. In terms of the latter, Bill Clinton's claim of breaking 80 got Van Atta's attention, and playing a round with Bubba after his term, the writer discovered Clinton's method--liberal use of the "Billigan." The mere fact of indulging in a sport with lingering elitist connotations has political implications for presidential golf nuts, whose flouting of electoral good sense in pursuit of an uncontrollable tiny sphere adds up to a humanizing carnival of anecdotes, history, and character. Expect duffers to be reserving their time for Van Natta's comical chronicle. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 30, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book is superb and here's why: Because no matter what the form -- novel, poetry, essays, history -- a successful piece of writing must tell you something new. As an avid reader of history and presidential biography, I subconsciously felt I had the 20th century's presidents nailed: Wilson was a tragically lofty prig, FDR a crippled Machiavelli, Nixon a man woefully uncomfortable in his own skin. But what Van Natta does, through golf of all things (and I'm no golf nut) is revitalize these men, bring them back alive through their comical passion for the little white ball. Wilson played EVERY day, rain, snow or shine? FDR designed dozens of golf courses? Taft blew off diplomatic appointments for his putter? Powered by Van Natta's adrenalized prose and exhaustive research, this finely-woven narrative gives an entirely fresh look at these men. And then it does more.
The book's most publicized gotcha! is Van Natta's round with a cheatin' Bill Clinton, which, naturally, serves the purpose of right-wingers everywhere. Less noticed, though, is the insight Van Natta provides in the most revealing portrayal of Clinton yet. By showing Clinton's loosey-goose attitude toward the rules -- and the way he charms those around him into helping out with the bending -- Van Natta offers not only a subtle metaphor for Slick Willie's mindset during the Lewinsky mess. He also shows us why Clinton's approval ratings remained high throughout that mess, why as he puts it, "it's impossible to dislike the guy" even as Clinton is cheating you to your face, why the American public liked him in spite of -- or maybe even because of -- his peccadillos. It's a rare thing to get all this out of a sports book, but then again, we are a differnt nation now, a place where only a fool pays his rightful share of taxes -- and Billigans rule.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 18, 2003
Format: Hardcover
For years I have reached for the New York Times whenever I saw Don Van Natta's byline. As one of the nation's top investigative reporters, his stories were always incrediblly well written and chock full of insider information that most of the times his subjects would rather not reveal. He found out and reported facts but never forgot the importance of color and detail and good old fashioned story telling. First off the Tee combines these traits into a highly entertaining book that brings these Presidents and the pasttime they share with millions of Americans to life. I gave it to my husband for his birthday and he read it in a weekend but not until I had finished it. I work in politics and he loves golf and we both loved the book. You can't do better than that.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By K. Johnson VINE VOICE on July 14, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Interesting angle. Using the sport and game
of golf as the foundation to add insights and discuss the Presidents who played it. Author Van Natta Jr. brought forth an original avenue to bring a topic that is commonly written about (presidents) to light. Golf, the ever-increasing mainstream sport to the American public, is no longer stereotyped (falsely) that it's an elitist sport to play. In "First Off The Tee," there are many interesting facts about the habits of some of the commanders-in-chiefs that hit the greens.
Bill Clinton took so many mulligan's the author called
them "Billigans." He scored himself in the low 80s, similar to his idol JFK, but he literally took over 200 swings. Clinton played loosely with the rules, at times bending them to conform to his ends. Can the phenomena of how a person plays golf be taken and applied to political and administrative behaviour? Psycho-social analysis? Perhaps a dissertation has started somewhere regarding this.
One President drank booze while golfing during prohibition. He also gambled on a every game.
John F. Kennedy was an avid golpher, and fairly decent one at that,
getting scores in the low 80s. But he did keep the fact that he
played the game secret from the public.
Gerald Ford played amateur tourneys and pinged the
bystanders in the crowd from time to time.
The author played with the likes of Clinton and George W.
Bush. G. W. Bush could play through 18 holes in an hour
and a half, while Clinton took six hours. (He liked
to talk a lot more.)
In the past, Presidents didnt' want to be
photographed on the greens. Today it's acceptable, and
perhaps even expected.
14 mini-biographies highlighting the lighter side of the Execs as men and the sport of golf. Very interesting.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on November 29, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Author Van Natta, a New York Times correspondent and 100+ golfer, believes (like most golf-lovers everywhere) that you can learn everything you ever wanted to know about someone by watching him/her play golf. He takes it one step further, however, finding golf particularly revealing of a President's personality and values. "Nearly every person in a president's privileged life says yes...Only the golf course says no."
Accumulating fascinating anecdotes from his research into the golf games of the Presidents, and combining these with his own experience as a reporter, which includes more than two years spent covering President Clinton, he shows how a President's golf game reflects the inner man. Fourteen of the last seventeen Presidents were golfers to one degree or another, and no reader, whether a golfer or not, will be disappointed in the unique insights and revealing anecdotes the author gives us of Presidents at leisure. What makes this book different from so many others, is that Van Natta is a real writer, carefully choosing his quotations (including on-course remarks), narrating anecdotes so that they have real climaxes, and emphasizing details that are so telling that no reader will fail to see parallels between the man's golf and his Presidential administration.
Though JFK is adjudged the best player of the fourteen, with an "effortless swing," few citizens knew how addicted he was to the game, something he kept secret because, after Eisenhower's administration, golf was considered a political liability. (Ike left cleat marks in the floor leading from the Oval Office to the practice green outside his window.
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