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First Off the Tee


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About the Author

Don Van Natta Jr. is an investigative correspondent for The New York Times, where he has worked since 1995, having previously worked for eight years at The Miami Herald. He has been a member of three Pulitzer Prize-winning teams. He lives in London.


This book by Van Natta, a Washington correspondent for the New York Times, has an unusual concept. It is not really a sports book; nor is it a work of political analysis. Instead, it functions best as a work of presidential biography; we see the styles of 14 presidents through the narrow but instructive prism of their golfing behavior. Hence, John Kennedy's secretive approach to his love of golf is highly reminiscent of other secret pleasures he enjoyed. Bill Clinton's profligate propensity for "mulligans" (do-overs), "gimme" putts, and adjusted lies personify his overall presidential attitude. Richard Nixon's clumsy and corrupt political style was reflected in his extremely awkward and duplicitous golf game. Which President played the best 18 holes? According to the author, it was JFK. This is a niche item but is very well done. [Excerpted in Sports Illustrated.-Ed.]-John Maxymuk, Robeson Lib., Rutgers Univ., Camden, NJ Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

"Ever since Ulysses S. Grant tried golf in 1877...the game's challenges have helped us get to know our commanders in chief. Van Natta...has the goods on all of them." - Sports Illustrated "Well-written, hilarious anecdotes.... Thanks to Mr. Van Natta's far-reaching research and beautiful prose, First Off the Tee is an easy, engaging book, and not such a bad history lesson." - New York Times "The chapter concerning Mr. Clinton is Mr. Van Natta's best.... At the end of the round, the former president recorded a score of 82, a far, far better score than he deserved, and we're indebted to Mr. Van Natta for giving us a first-hand account of it." -Wall Street Journal"

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. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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