It is a popular axiom among golf’s disciples that the game reveals the true character of a person. I like to believe in golf’s revelatory powers, though I have played plenty of golf with seemingly super guys who turned out to be skinflints and scamps off the course. It’s possible to shade your shortcomings for four-hours in the company of strangers, but there is something about a golf course, with its pastoral spread and open air, that gets people to say things they may not elsewhere. The feeling that everyone in golf spikes is your buddy is one of the games most intoxicating charms, and it’s the reason why one of this week’s biggest but overlooked scoops came from the friendly confines of a golf cart.
Tallying the President’s scorecard is best left to other blogs; the media backlash that bothers me is the bashing that golf has taken in its last hundred days (Bill Maher, it turns out, will probably not be watching The Players this weekend). Of the myriad headlines for which I might fault our golfer-in-chief, I cannot bring myself to disapprove of his tendency to golf. I am a golf junkie by trade, and if I were living on Pennsylvania Avenue, I would likely take my daily briefings on the third tee, and the National Mall would have already been handed over to Gil Hanse.
Rather than take down the game with our President, the White House correspondents need to hit the range and get out there where the story is, where the info flows freely and bombshells might casually drop between putts. You can scream tax returns! until you are Russian red in the face, but if you want to follow the money trail, you’ll have better luck on the links, the way James Dodson did a few years ago. As political ink-slingers bang their heads in press conferences, leave it to the golf writers to get the goods.
In the interest of full-disclosure, I do not know James Dodson personally, but I do admire his work, and his new memoir, The Range Bucket List, is published by Simon & Schuster, the same publisher as my upcoming Scotland book. Dodson has also been kind enough to write jacket blurbs for my last two books. I am also a bigfan of Bill Littlefield and the “Only A Game” show on NPR, on which I have been a guest. More objectively, I can state beyond doubt that Dodson is one of the most respected golf authors in the biz, a writer of stellar reputation without political axe to grind (raised Republican, he describes his politics as “radically centrist”) who might have retweeted his Trump news a thousand times if he wished to wade into the headlines and talk show circuit. He hasn’t. He’s a golf writer, and he had a golf story to tell, and as we know about all good golf stories, they are about much more than golf.
For oh-so-many months the press has been desperate for so much as a post-it note linking Trump’s operations to a comrade with a money bag. But last week, as he spoke with Littlefield on “Only A Game,” Dodson casually recalled an encounter of prescient significance with Eric Trump.
Three years ago, Dodson had been invited to play golf with Donald Trump at his new course in Charlotte. Rain had confined the round to nine holes with his son, Eric, but Eric had some interesting insights on how Trump was growing his golf empire during a time when golf courses had become financial anathema. From his interview on “Only A Game”:
“So when I got in the cart with Eric,” Dodson says, “as we were setting off, I said, ‘Eric, who’s funding? I know no banks — because of the recession, the Great Recession — have touched a golf course. You know, no one’s funding any kind of golf construction. It’s dead in the water the last four or five years.’ And this is what he said. He said, ‘Well, we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.’ I said, ‘Really?’ And he said, ‘Oh, yeah. We’ve got some guys that really, really love golf, and they’re really invested in our programs. We just go there all the time.’ Now that was three years ago, so it was pretty interesting.”
Eric Trump is now denying this conversation with “some guy from three years ago,” but considering that Dodson is no avowed Trump-hater (about Trump, Dodson went on to say, “I liked the guy. I liked him. I mean, he was somebody you’d like to play golf with”) and an agenda-free, apolitical writer who could have been speaking with Anderson Cooper nightly over the last year if he wished to cast aspersions, I have to side with the golf writer. And I have heard enough admissions on a golf course, that confessional of congeniality, to know that we sometimes say things on a tee box or in a grill room that we would not repeat, or would deny, elsewhere.
If you are tired of pundits rehashing headlines or spinning old news into new, maybe you should pick up a golf book–one never knows what truths will be revealed. I don’t know if golf reveals the true character of a man, but as an old caddy and a lifetime devotee, I know it does tell you where he got his money.