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All the President's Men

Through golf, Dwight Eisenhower bonded with the captains of industry who would spur him toward politics and later serve as golf posse to the president.

The initiative came straight from the Oval Office and was code-named “Operation Rocky Mountains.” It called for an elite unit to be mobilized and flown to Denver on a tightly coordinated schedule. Once safely on the ground, the group would be whisked to a staging area, where members would share rations and receive final orders. The next morning they would rendezvous with their commander and attack their objective in groups of four.

A covert military operation? You got the first part right. But for this September 1953 exercise, participants traveled via corporate aircraft rather than U.S. Air Force jet. Ground transportation was in Chrysler-provided limousines, not Army jeeps. The group encamped in the prestigious Brown Derby Hotel. Meals included prime steaks and vintage liquors rather than field rations. The maneuver itself was an all-out assault on Cherry Hills Country Club by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his “Golf Gang.”

Among Eisenhower’s critics and the media, they were referred to as “Ike’s Millionaires,” but to Ike they were simply “the gang.” These were wealthy and powerful men, and all but one of the seven belonged to Augusta National Golf Club. The clique had been instrumental in convincing Eisenhower to seek the presidency, as well as helping him secure the Republican Party’s nomination and win the 1952 general election over Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson.

William E. Robinson, publisher of the New York Herald Tribune and later president of the Coca-Cola Company, was the point man. During World War II, shortly after the liberation of Paris, he had traveled to France to set up an office for the Tribune. Stymied by regulations Eisenhower had imposed regarding commerce in Allied-controlled territory, Robinson requested an audience with the by-then-famous general. A meeting was scheduled at Eisenhower’s headquarters, located, ironically enough, in what was left of a French country club.

A few days before the meeting, Germany launched a massive counterattack that would become known as the Battle of the Bulge. Robinson had expected the appointment to be cancelled, but upon inquiring found that it was still on. He apologized to Ike for interrupting while a major battle was underway, but the general, confident that U.S. forces would deal effectively with the German offensive, assured him it was no problem. Robinson and Eisenhower hit it off well at that meeting and became fast friends.

In the spring of 1948, Robinson invited Eisenhower to Augusta National for a golf vacation. Also along was George Allen, a corporate advisor who had become a close friend of Ike through his wartime work with the Red Cross. As a result of this gathering, two major developments took place in Ike’s life: He was converted from casual golfer to passionate devotee of the game (and soon joined ANGC himself); and he was introduced to the rest of the men who would become members of the golf gang.

The unofficial leader of the group was Augusta National chairman Clifford Roberts, a successful Wall Street banker whose political savvy and campaign fundraising ability were second to none. The group also included:

Robert W. Woodruff, chairman of the Coca-Cola Company. Woodruff became an Eisenhower fan when Ike ordered Coca-Cola-supplied field kitchens and other materials for his troops in Europe. Though he was the poorest golfer of the bunch, he held a membership in practically every top club in the country.

W. Alton “Pete” Jones, chairman of Cities Service Oil Corporation. A charter member of Augusta National, Jones was ready to go on a moment’s notice whenever Ike called wanting to play, whether it was in Augusta, Denver or Turnberry, Scotland.

Freeman Gosden, considered by many to be the father of situation comedy. In 1928, Gosden went on the air in Chicago with a radio program that would soon become known as the “Amos and Andy Show.” He was the voice of Amos and starred in the program until it went off the air in 1960.Ellis Slater, chairman of Frankfort Distilleries. Slater was the stealth member of the gang, making it a point never to be photographed with Eisenhower because he was concerned about potential fallout over his company’s product.

The gang members felt it their duty to be available anytime Ike wanted to tee it up. William Robinson was the best player among them, typically carrying an 8- or 9-handicap. Roberts was next at about a 15, followed by Gosden and Ike, who carried 18s. Bringing up the rear with handicaps in the mid-20s were Jones, Woodruff and Allen, the only Democrat and only non-Augusta member in the group.

The gang was always at full strength whenever Eisenhower visited Augusta, but since that venue is open only six months of the year, other sites were used as well. Ike even had one built at Camp David. Early in his first year as president, the gang had joined him there for a weekend gathering and played a poorly conditioned nine-hole course nearby. Shortly thereafter, the Navy, which oversees Camp David, constructed a green in the compound that could be played to from several directions. The golfers lofted shots from seven different locations, ranging from a greenside bunker to 170 yards away.

The biggest annual golf event during Eisenhower’s early years as president was “Operation Rocky Mountains,” conducted while he was on vacation in Denver in late summer. Roberts orchestrated the event, which came off as flawlessly as his own little tournament in Augusta each April. The field included the regular gang plus 20 or so others, most of them also members at Augusta.

Unfortunately, Operation Rocky Mountains had only a three-year lifespan. After the 1955 event (during which the group played four rounds and Slater aced Cherry Hills’ 15th hole), Eisenhower stayed in Denver for several more weeks. On the next-to-last day of his stay, while playing the 26th hole of a 27-hole outing at Cherry Hills, he experienced discomfort in his chest; eight hours later, he suffered a heart attack.

Ike recovered well from the attack and was playing golf in six months, but his doctors forbade him any more golf in Denver’s high altitude. It was decided that his summer vacations would be moved to Newport, R.I., and the Newport Country Club. These gatherings were usually restricted to the core group of seven.

On one occasion, Jones and Robinson enjoyed an even more exclusive outing with the president. The year was 1959, with Cold War tensions running high and U.S. allies nervous over an invitation for Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to visit the U.S. Ike decided to travel to Europe before Khrushchev’s visit to ease tensions in Great Britain, West Germany and France.

Before leaving Paris (the last official stop on his trip) on a Friday morning, Ike placed calls to Robinson and Jones in New York City at approximately 3 p.m. Eastern time. He had decided to make a side trip to Scotland and wondered if they might join him for a round at Turnberry. Though it was Labor Day weekend, they canceled their previous plans, accepted the invitation and scrambled to make flight arrangements that would allow them to be on the first tee with Ike the next day.

After Eisenhower left office in January 1961, the gang remained active as ever, playing Gettysburg Country Club and Augusta National, as well as courses in Palm Springs, Calif. (Sadly, Pete Jones died in a plane crash on the way to California to spend a weekend with Ike in 1962.)  In his 1967 volume of informal memoirs, “At Ease: Stories I Tell My Friends,” Ike looked back on the relationships with his golf buddies: “It is almost impossible for me to describe how valuable their friendship was to me. Any person enjoys his or her friends; a president needs friends perhaps more intensely at times than anyone else.”

In November 1965, Ike suffered another heart attack during an outing at Augusta National. By then age 75, he bounced back as well as could be expected, but his doctors decided to limit his golf to par-3 courses.

In February 1968, shortly before he suffered a third heart attack that would confine him to a hospital the last 11 months of his life, Ike made the only hole-in-one of his career, at an executive course in Palm Springs. Fittingly, two members of the gang—George Allen and Freeman Gosden—were paired with Ike that day.           

Through golf, Dwight Eisenhower bonded with the captains of industry who would spur him toward politics and later serve as golf posse to the president.

 

The initiative came straight from the Oval Office and was code-named “Operation Rocky Mountains.” It called for an elite unit to be mobilized and flown to Denver on a tightly coordinated schedule. Once safely on the ground, the group would be whisked to a staging area, where members would share rations and receive final orders. The next morning they would rendezvous with their commander and attack their objective in groups of four.

A covert military operation? You got the first part right. But for this September 1953 exercise, participants traveled via corporate aircraft rather than U.S. Air Force jet. Ground transportation was in Chrysler-provided limousines, not Army jeeps. The group encamped in the prestigious Brown Derby Hotel. Meals included prime steaks and vintage liquors rather than field rations. The maneuver itself was an all-out assault on Cherry Hills Country Club by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his “Golf Gang.”

Among Eisenhower’s critics and the media, they were referred to as “Ike’s Millionaires,” but to Ike they were simply “the gang.” These were wealthy and powerful men, and all but one of the seven belonged to Augusta National Golf Club. The clique had been instrumental in convincing Eisenhower to seek the presidency, as well as helping him secure the Republican Party’s nomination and win the 1952 general election over Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson.

William E. Robinson, publisher of the New York Herald Tribune and later president of the Coca-Cola Company, was the point man. During World War II, shortly after the liberation of Paris, he had traveled to France to set up an office for the Tribune. Stymied by regulations Eisenhower had imposed regarding commerce in Allied-controlled territory, Robinson requested an audience with the by-then-famous general. A meeting was scheduled at Eisenhower’s headquarters, located, ironically enough, in what was left of a French country club.

A few days before the meeting, Germany launched a massive counterattack that would become known as the Battle of the Bulge. Robinson had expected the appointment to be cancelled, but upon inquiring found that it was still on. He apologized to Ike for interrupting while a major battle was underway, but the general, confident that U.S. forces would deal effectively with the German offensive, assured him it was no problem. Robinson and Eisenhower hit it off well at that meeting and became fast friends.

In the spring of 1948, Robinson invited Eisenhower to Augusta National for a golf vacation. Also along was George Allen, a corporate advisor who had become a close friend of Ike through his wartime work with the Red Cross. As a result of this gathering, two major developments took place in Ike’s life: He was converted from casual golfer to passionate devotee of the game (and soon joined ANGC himself); and he was introduced to the rest of the men who would become members of the golf gang.

The unofficial leader of the group was Augusta National chairman Clifford Roberts, a successful Wall Street banker whose political savvy and campaign fundraising ability were second to none. The group also included:

Robert W. Woodruff, chairman of the Coca-Cola Company. Woodruff became an Eisenhower fan when Ike ordered Coca-Cola-supplied field kitchens and other materials for his troops in Europe. Though he was the poorest golfer of the bunch, he held a membership in practically every top club in the country.

W. Alton “Pete” Jones, chairman of Cities Service Oil Corporation. A charter member of Augusta National, Jones was ready to go on a moment’s notice whenever Ike called wanting to play, whether it was in Augusta, Denver or Turnberry, Scotland.

Freeman Gosden, considered by many to be the father of situation comedy. In 1928, Gosden went on the air in Chicago with a radio program that would soon become known as the “Amos and Andy Show.” He was the voice of Amos and starred in the program until it went off the air in 1960.

Ellis Slater, chairman of Frankfort Distilleries. Slater was the stealth member of the gang, making it a point never to be photographed with Eisenhower because he was concerned about potential fallout over his company’s product.

 The gang members felt it their duty to be available anytime Ike wanted to tee it up. William Robinson was the best player among them, typically carrying an 8- or 9-handicap. Roberts was next at about a 15, followed by Gosden and Ike, who carried 18s. Bringing up the rear with handicaps in the mid-20s were Jones, Woodruff and Allen, the only Democrat and only non-Augusta member in the group.

The gang was always at full strength whenever Eisenhower visited Augusta, but since that venue is open only six months of the year, other sites were used as well. Ike even had one built at Camp David. Early in his first year as president, the gang had joined him there for a weekend gathering and played a poorly conditioned nine-hole course nearby. Shortly thereafter, the Navy, which oversees Camp David, constructed a green in the compound that could be played to from several directions. The golfers lofted shots from seven different locations, ranging from a greenside bunker to 170 yards away.

The biggest annual golf event during Eisenhower’s early years as president was “Operation Rocky Mountains,” conducted while he was on vacation in Denver in late summer. Roberts orchestrated the event, which came off as flawlessly as his own little tournament in Augusta each April. The field included the regular gang plus 20 or so others, most of them also members at Augusta.

Unfortunately, Operation Rocky Mountains had only a three-year lifespan. After the 1955 event (during which the group played four rounds and Slater aced Cherry Hills’ 15th hole), Eisenhower stayed in Denver for several more weeks. On the next-to-last day of his stay, while playing the 26th hole of a 27-hole outing at Cherry Hills, he experienced discomfort in his chest; eight hours later, he suffered a heart attack.

Ike recovered well from the attack and was playing golf in six months, but his doctors forbade him any more golf in Denver’s high altitude. It was decided that his summer vacations would be moved to Newport, R.I., and the Newport Country Club. These gatherings were usually restricted to the core group of seven.

On one occasion, Jones and Robinson enjoyed an even more exclusive outing with the president. The year was 1959, with Cold War tensions running high and U.S. allies nervous over an invitation for Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to visit the U.S. Ike decided to travel to Europe before Khrushchev’s visit to ease tensions in Great Britain, West Germany and France.

Before leaving Paris (the last official stop on his trip) on a Friday morning, Ike placed calls to Robinson and Jones in New York City at approximately 3 p.m. Eastern time. He had decided to make a side trip to Scotland and wondered if they might join him for a round at Turnberry. Though it was Labor Day weekend, they canceled their previous plans, accepted the invitation and scrambled to make flight arrangements that would allow them to be on the first tee with Ike the next day.

After Eisenhower left office in January 1961, the gang remained active as ever, playing Gettysburg Country Club and Augusta National, as well as courses in Palm Springs, Calif. (Sadly, Pete Jones died in a plane crash on the way to California to spend a weekend with Ike in 1962.)  In his 1967 volume of informal memoirs, “At Ease: Stories I Tell My Friends,” Ike looked back on the relationships with his golf buddies: “It is almost impossible for me to describe how valuable their friendship was to me. Any person enjoys his or her friends; a president needs friends perhaps more intensely at times than anyone else.”

In November 1965, Ike suffered another heart attack during an outing at Augusta National. By then age 75, he bounced back as well as could be expected, but his doctors decided to limit his golf to par-3 courses.

In February 1968, shortly before he suffered a third heart attack that would confine him to a hospital the last 11 months of his life, Ike made the only hole-in-one of his career, at an executive course in Palm Springs. Fittingly, two members of the gang—George Allen and Freeman Gosden—were paired with Ike that day.

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