“It’s a hell of a good day for it,” said Dwight Eisenhower, smiling broadly.
It was going to be his first full round of golf since June. He had a heart attack last year. Then when this summer rounded into shape, he needed surgery for ileitis. The past week had been filled to the brim with the Republican National Convention at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, Even though he had been unopposed, no need for a stampede, there had been some hard campaigning to get Dick Nixon off the ticket, to no avail.
Ike was president because it was his duty. Richard Nixon wanted to be president. He didn’t think of it as a duty. He wanted it for himself, in the executive’s chair, at the top. He didn’t think of it as a responsibility. He thought of it as his ambition.
“Any man who wants to be president is either an egomaniac or crazy,” Ike told Turk, standing next to him with his clubs.
The Negro singer Nat King Cole had spoken at the Cow Palace yesterday, the last day of the convention, to some cheers and some jeers. Ike made the speech happen, no matter the carping about it. He knew he had to give in on the Vice-President, who was a hardline anti-Communist, who the rank-and-file supported with cheers. “I don’t want those Communist bastards to be successful,” Dick Nixon always said. But Ike knew he didn’t have to give in to Jim Crow, at least not always. He could take the high road and leave the jeering to the dirty tricks gang.
They drove up to Pebble Beach before the convention ended, before his VP could invite him to dinner. Besides, Richard Nixon’s father was seriously ill, and Ike urged him to go before it was too late. There were three cars full of Secret Service men fore and aft. Charlie Taylor, who’d been at it for years, was in one of the cars.
One night when Ike was having trouble opening his safe, and asked for help, his agents told him safecracking wasn’t part of their training. Ike was beside himself, giving them his ten-pound look. Charlie got the cranky combination to give in without a struggle. He had been an anti-submarine officer during the war. Safes weren’t safe when he got his hands on them.
“I won’t know whether to trust you, or not, after this,” said Ike, glancing at the trim crew-cut man.
Dwight Eisenhower was driven to his golf outing in a black Lincoln Cosmopolitan. It was one of ten presidential touring cars. They all had extra headroom to accommodate the tall silk hat Ike wore on formal occasions. The cars were almost 20 feet long, V8’s with Hydra-Matic transmissions, and heavily armored, weighing in at close to ten thousand pounds. One of them, a convertible, a 1950 model built for Harry Truman, had been fitted with a Plexiglas top.
Ike called it the Bubble Top. Charlie called it a pain-in-the-ass. Mamie Eisenhower didn’t like sitting under a dome, but she put up with it, like she had with everything else.
It was a high blue clear day, sunny, dotted with seaside clouds. A pocket-size breeze blew up from the water. It was slightly damp. Dwight Eisenhower nodded at his caddy.
“It’s a pleasure, Mr. President,” said Turk Archdeacon.
“Why, that’s fine,” said President Eisenhower.
Turk had been caddying at Cypress Point since he was nine years-old, almost 40 years since. They walked to the practice tee. It was a pleasant morning. Ike started whacking balls into the distance. He played with Bobby Jones woods, the official five-star general insignia engraved on their heads. At the putting green he lined up three balls 20-some feet away from the cup.
He sank all three.
“I should quit right here,” he grinned.
He had been practicing on a green on the White House grounds, and been hitting wedges, irons, and 3-woods, sometimes sending balls sky-high over the south fence. Whenever he did, he sent his valet to retrieve them.
The squirrels that prowled the lawn dug up his putting green, burying acorns nuts hardtack all their loot. They left small craters behind. One morning he finally had enough. “The next time you see one of those goddamned squirrels go near my putting green, take a gun and shoot it!” The Secret Service asked the groundskeepers to trap the squirrels, instead, and release them in a park somewhere far away.
In a week August would be come and gone. He would be 66 years-old soon. “I’m saving that rocker for the day when I feel as old as I really am,” he said, pointing to the rocker in the Oval Office. More days now than not, he felt like that day was creeping close, step by step.
His birthday was in October. CBS was planning a “Person to Person” style TV show the night beforehand. Eddie Fisher was going to sing ‘Counting Your Blessings Instead of Sheep.’ Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel were going to sing ‘Down Among the Sheltering Palms.’ Nat King Cole, with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, was singing ‘It’s Just a Little Street Where Old Friends Meet.’
He was looking forward to it.
In six weeks, he would be throwing out the first pitch for the first game of the World Series. There were five or six teams in the hunt, although the New York Yankees looked like a lock at least to get there. If he were a betting man, which he was, he would be putting his money on the Bronx Bombers.
He wouldn’t be in the Bubble Top, either, but in the Cream Puff, getting some sunshine and fresh air, what there was of it in New York City.
He liked Cypress Point because it was set in coastal dunes, wandered into the Del Monte forest during the front nine, and then reemerged on the rocky Pacific coastline. The last holes played right along the ocean. He’d played golf on many courses around the world. This was one of the best of them.
Dwight Eisenhower looked out over the par-5 10th hole. He had taken off his tan sweater, but still had a white cap on his head. Seven months ago, Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson, living legend professionals, had taken on the talented and skillful amateurs Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward in a white-knuckle friendly foursome at the same Cypress Point.
The same 10th hole turned out to be the key to unlocking that contest.
“I bet they can beat anybody,” said San Francisco car dealer Eddie Lowery about the two amateurs, who were his employees. He was talking to fellow millionaire George Coleman. The bet and the match were on in that minute.
Harvie Ward was a two-time U.S. Amateur champion. Three months later Ken Venturi came within one stroke of winning the Masters. The cypress-strewn rolling dunes of the course on the wind-swept coast, the deep ravines, knee-deep grass, sand on all sides of the fairways, weren’t redoubtable, not to them.
Ben Hogan turned the corner on the 10th when he rolled in a wedge shot for a 3. The eagle and 27 birdies testified to the unfriendliness of the match. The drinks at the bar rubber-stamped the camaraderie afterwards. There were backslaps and groans about made and missed shots.
Ike was playing with Harry Hunt, the president of Cypress Point, Sam Morse, a one-time football star who had developed Pebble Beach, and John McCone, a businessman who had been the undersecretary of the Air Force. He was partnered with Harry Hunt. They were playing a dollar-dollar-dollar Nassau bet. It was even-steven at the halfway mark, even though Ike had stunk up the 8th hole.
“Where is it?” he asked getting there, searching for the green on the 8th across the dogleg.
He sliced his tee shot into sand. When he got to it, he hit it less than ten feet further on. Then he hit it fat, the Ben Hogan ball soaring less than twenty feet, and falling into somebody’s heel print.
“I’ve had it, pick it up,” he said.
“Having a little trouble?” asked Sam Morse.
“Not a little,” said Ike, “but a lot.”
On the tee of the 17th hole Ike lined up his shot. Sea lions on the rocks below him barked. “It’s hard to hit a shot and listen to those seals at the same time,” he said, but not so either of the Secret Service agents with them could hear him.
Dwight Eisenhower was accustomed to having guards around him, during the campaign in North Africa, and later as commander of the Allied Army in Europe. The Nazis had tried to kill him several times. Secret Service agents near his person nearly every minute of the day was like a second skin. He knew what it took to save his skin. When he moved into the White House he didn’t mingle mindlessly, shake hands in crowds, or do anything foolish.
“Protecting Ike works like clockwork,” said agent Gerald Blaine.
Mamie Eisenhower gave her agents nicknames. One, who was a good dancer, was
“Twinkletoes.” He asked Mamie to keep it between themselves. Some of the agents called her “Mom.”
“You don’t have to worry about me, but don’t let anything happen to my grandchildren,” Ike told Secret Service chief U. E. Baughman.
The Diaper Detail guarded the four kids. Dwight Eisenhower changed the name of the presidential retreat in Maryland from Shangri-La to Camp David in 1953. “Shangri-La is just a little fancy for a Kansas farm boy,” he said. He renamed it in honor of his 5-year-old grandson, David.
When Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Union leader, visited the retreat he said the name sounded like a place where “stray dogs were sent to die.” That’s the difference between us and them, thought Ike.
He looked for the fairway on the 18th hole.
“Where do we aim here?” he asked.
“Keep it away from the left,” said Harry Hunt. There was a stand of pine trees on the left. “That’s the Iron Curtain. You’ll never get through that stuff.”
Ike laughed and hit a long drive. His next shot was a 4-iron and he nailed it onto the green, 20 feet short of the pin.
In 1954 eighty people were convicted of threatening the president and sent to prison or locked away as madmen. In 1955 nearly two thousand honest-to-God threats were made against Dwight Eisenhower’s life. The year before, the Russian KGB officer Peter Deryabin, after defecting, told the CIA about a Soviet plot to kill the president in 1952.
“We were preparing an operation to assassinate Eisenhower during his visit to Korea in order to create panic among the Americans and win the war there.”
Whenever he played golf, stern-faced men with good eyesight and high-powered guns took up vantage points on hills, surveying the course with telescopic sights. Other agents, dressed in golf clothes, carried .351 rifles in their golf bags as they tagged along. In whatever parking lot the “Queen Mary,” an outfitted armored car, was the rolling command center.
Shortly after Mother’s Day the Secret Service investigated a threat to plant two boxes of explosives at a baseball park where the president was planning on taking in a game. “Demoralize the enemy from within by surprise, terror, sabotage, assassination,” Adolf Hitler had said not many years before. “This is the war of the future.”
Dwight Eisenhower and the Allied Army derailed the Nazi night train. No one was going to take him by surprise. He was planning on sitting in his rocking chair one day, rocking back and forth, watching his grandchildren trundle on the carpeting.
He served in the armed forces from one end of his adult life to the other. After he retired, he was dean at Columbia, and then president of the country. He was still the president and, he was sure, he was going to beat Adlai Stevenson worse than he had four years ago. Adlai didn’t know how to talk to folks. He was full of bull.
Even though he’d commanded millions of men in the last war, Ike thought war was rarely worth going to war for. He hated it. It was a last resort. “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”
“Didn’t you once say that we are going to have peace even if we have to fight for it?” asked Harry Hunt.
“When we have to, but always remember, the most terrible job in the world is to be a second lieutenant leading a platoon when you’re on the battlefield. There is no glory in battle worth the blood it costs. When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go and fight it themselves.”
The Cold War wasn’t as hot as it had been ever since Nikita Khrushchev denounced Joseph Stalin’s cult of personality earlier in the year, as well as admitting the Man of Steel’s crimes, the outrages committed against Mother Russia. A door had been cracked open. Ike had long thought war settles nothing, even when it’s all over. He was afraid of the arms race, the march towards a nuclear catastrophe.
“You just can’t have that kind of war,” he told his inner circle. “There aren’t enough bulldozers to scrape the bodies off the streets.”
“Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative” is what he had written and wanted to say at the Cow Palace, but didn’t, not with Dick Nixon and the Red Scare and the military hand-in-hand with industry. He wanted to call it what it was, a military-industrial complex that was always crying “fire” in a crowded theater.
But he couldn’t, at least not until after he was re-elected. In the meantime, he planned on speaking softly and carrying a big stick, even if it was only a long shaft wood driver, the biggest stick he had in his bag.