By Josh Dawsey
West Palm Beach, Fla. — President Trump golfed with professionals Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus on Saturday, ending the longest stretch of his presidency without a round at one of his courses.
The White House is usually reluctant to confirm the president is golfing. But on Saturday, aides alerted reporters that Trump was at his course in Jupiter, Fla., with Nicklaus and Woods. They even ushered journalists inside the club for a peek.
The president later shared a photo of the trio on social media, and a Trump Organization official bragged about the matchup, noting that Woods and Nicklaus design courses for the company.
Trump has spent more than 150 days at his golf courses since becoming president, playing significantly more than his predecessors, whom he had mocked for golfing too much. Aides used to worry about how much time Trump spent playing but have largely accepted it. They say the president is calmest when he’s on the greens.
He is a talented player by many accounts, usually breaking 80, though he sometimes takes mulligans. Par for most courses is 70 or 72 shots.
“The first nine holes I played with him, he shot even par,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said in a 2018 interview. “He beat me like a drum.”
Taylor Funk, son of golfer Fred Funk, said the president shot in the upper 70s when he played with him. “He hit a lot of great shots,” Funk said. “Flop shots and putts, up and downs. He kept up with me and my dad.”
Trump is speedy too, often finishing 18 holes in three hours by playing through other groups and driving on the edge of the green — a no-no, except perhaps when one owns the course. He is surrounded by a Secret Service detail, which expedites his movement. (A round takes between four and five hours for most golfers.)
The Washington Post reported in 2015 that playing partners said Trump often cheats. “When it comes to cheating, he’s an 11 on a scale of one to 10,” sportswriter Rick Reilly said in that story.
The president has denied this.
He usually wears a “USA” hat and often orders two chili dogs after nine holes, playing partners say. He likes to quiz fellow golfers about current events. He’s complained about the Mueller probe and regaled partners with stories of his life as a single man in New York.
He swears when he makes a bad shot or splashes in the water and complains about his chipping game, players say.
He talks nearly nonstop.
“We talked about the tax bill and how it got done, about North Korea, we talked about anything he wanted to talk about, what his fights were, what he liked least and most about his day,” Sharon Funk, Fred Funk’s wife, said in a 2018 interview. “We talked about his tweeting. He said, that’s his way of getting to the people. Every person he plays golf with, I think they talk to him about his tweeting.”
“He would talk about anything,” Taylor Funk added. “He’d say, ‘Do you think I’m doing a good job on that?’ ”
Trump also loves to quiz famous golfers about their travails, their favorite shots and how they learned the game. “Most of the questions he had were about golf. What made Tiger so good? What made Jack so good? Who was better?” Taylor Funk said.
He regularly goes off on asides about golf in Oval Office meetings. A former aide to Paul D. Ryan said the former speaker of the House would have had a better relationship with Trump if he understood golf and had been able to talk about it. One of the president’s most trusted aides, Dan Scavino, was his former caddie. He often watches golf at the White House, in a dining room off the Oval, and asks professionals such as Funk or Woods how he could improve his game.
How he finds his playing partners is shrouded in mystery — but is a combination of various methods, from people his organization sponsors to elected officials. He rarely plays with White House aides other than Andrew Giuliani, the son of Rudolph W. Giuliani, his lawyer.
Trump shocked Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by having so many impromptu chats with members on the course and driving his cart so quickly and all over, according to people familiar with their round. Then, the protocol-obsessed Japanese were surprised to be served a buffet lunch with hot dogs.
When the president was in Europe last summer, he frustrated aides and lawyers by demanding to visit his Scottish golf course for two days in the middle of the trip, according to current and former administration officials.
Trump often plays with friends or members of his club. Sometimes, the president will call a famous golfer or celebrity and invite them over. A regular partner is Albert Hazzouri, a dentist who did not respond to a request for comment but who stressed his ties with Trump when trying to get a license in Florida.
When Trump plays with private citizens, the White House does not release the names or acknowledge that he is playing at all, though video footage taken through the shrubs has captured him. Aides say on occasion, members at his clubs have given the president bad ideas they’ve had to thwart.
There’s another reason for the caginess. The president “insisted on trying to maintain the public perception that he was always working,” former White House staffer Cliff Sims wrote in his book, “Team of Vipers,” explaining why the White House rarely says he golfs.
Trump is proud of his courses, often describing how he designed the bunkers, turns and the intricate features in detail. “He shows how he took out trees, put in traps. He loves to describe how he developed the courses,” Graham said in a 2018 interview. “He really likes showing them off.”
But they’ve also gotten the president in trouble. The Trump Organization has come under fire for employing undocumented immigrants at his clubs and misappropriating Civil War history at one course, among other things.
Ethics experts have suggested it is unethical for the president to return so often to his greens because doing so promotes his business and allows people to effectively buy access. In a tweet, the good-government organization CREW called Trump’s tweet of himself with Woods and Nicklaus “an ad for his side business.”
“A few years ago, it was impossible to imagine a president using official statements” this way, the organization wrote. “Now it’s just an average Saturday.”