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To get to the office of the chief of staff of the President of
the United States, one must pass through the northwest gate at
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and then enter the West Wing of the White
House. From there a first-floor hallway snakes past the
Roosevelt Room as well as the offices of the Vice President and
the director of the National Security Council. Past ever more
grandiose wall hangings and stoic Secret Service agents is the
modest yet highly coveted real estate occupied by Erskine
Bowles, the gaunt, slightly rumpled chief of staff.

On a recent May afternoon, fresh from a meeting in the Oval
Office, in the midst of a 15-hour day that touches on, among
other things, the budget debate, drug smuggling from Mexico and
chemical weapons bans, Bowles can be found slumped in a chair in
the corner of his office, head resting wearily in his right
hand, reflecting on an issue of personal importance. "I've only
played golf once since Oct. 15," he says glumly. "I miss it a
lot, and I think about it all the time. A lot of people in D.C.
like to talk golf. I have to go on memory."

Bowles is a onetime seven handicapper who proudly displays in
his office a picture of himself and some buddies standing on the
sacred earth of Ireland's Royal County Down. He's one of the
most powerful men inside the Beltway, and that he would take
time out from plotting the fate of the free world to whine about
his golf hints at how important the game is in the culture of
the nation's capital. While Bowles's boss, First Golfer Bill
Clinton, is one of the most visible duffers ever to occupy the
White House, a strong golf jones is not limited to the executive
branch. Says Representative Mike Oxley (R., Ohio), one of the
House's noted golf nuts, "A traditional salutation on the Hill
is, 'So how you hittin' 'em?'"

This nexus between golf and politics was spotlighted during the
Kemper Open at the Tournament Players Club at Avenel in the D.C.
suburb of Potomac, Md., and will be again next week during the
97th U.S. Open, at Congressional Country Club, a couple of miles
down the road in Bethesda. "The Open's going to be a huge
political event," says Representative Tom DeLay (R., Texas), the
House majority whip. "The tickets are floating around here like
crazy." DeLay, a 10 handicapper, has already lined up a practice
round with fellow Texan Mark Brooks for the Tuesday of Open
week, a nice bit of face time for a guy who often mixes golf
with politics.

In a town built on dealmaking, "golf is an indispensable part of
the process," says DeLay, whose office in the Capitol is crammed
with golf mementos, including a ball with Clinton's picture over
business is a lot like any other business--it's who you know,
who you can trust, who you can't trust. It's a whole process of
building relationships, and there's no better way to do that
than golf. You know that if a person cheats at golf, he'll cheat
you, so it's a wonderful way of understanding each other. The
person in this building [the Capitol] who knows the most people
and has created the most relationships is probably the most
respected. Absolutely you're at a disadvantage if you don't play

Adds David Crone, a lobbyist for the telecommunications giant
TCI and a member at Caves Valley Golf Club, the axis around
which the Baltimore business community spins, "No one in
Washington ever plays golf just for fun."

So what exactly do they play for? "Two-dollar Nassaus,
one-dollar trash," says Senator Don Nickles (R., Okla.), the
majority whip and by consensus the best stick in the Senate.

"A dollar a hole," says DeLay.

"Two bucks a side, or something equally low rent," says Oxley,
who carries a 12 handicap and has in his office in the Rayburn
Building a picture of himself watching George Bush putt aboard
Air Force II, a photo that the then vice president inscribed
THANKS FOR THE PUTTING LESSON! "When you're dealing with
billions of dollars in Congress, you want to lower the stakes on
the course."

Of course, sometimes billions of dollars of congressional money
is at stake on the course. Few, if any, politicians belong to
the pricey golf clubs that surround D.C. (though many have
memberships at such places in their hometowns). So to play golf
when they're in Washington, they usually tee it up as guests of
private individuals or corporations. The politicos get access to
the best courses, and all manner of interest groups get access
to the politicos. Says DeLay, "I play wherever anyone will take

This whole arrangement was so unkosher that in November 1995
some golf-specific provisions were added to the lobbying reform
bill that was brought before Congress. "You know how the road to
hell was paved," Representative Scott Klug (R., Wis.) thundered
from the House floor during open session, "and in this case we
also know how the cart path to Pebble Beach was paved as well."
In the wake of the law, which passed 422-6, legislators must pay
their own greens fees and for their caddies, and lobbyists or
sponsors can't pick up travel expenses to golf outings, even if
the events are of a charitable nature. In the past such
boondoggles were so common that Palm Springs, Calif., was known
as Washington West. "It was a horrible, horrible day," says
DeLay of Nov. 16, when the law passed the House.

The finger wagging that accompanied the revelations of these
golf junkets was only the latest example of golf creating bad
press for politicians, a tradition that stretches at least as
far back as the Administration of Warren G. Harding, who, on his
first Sunday in the White House, skipped church to tee it up,
scandalizing the public. More recently, then vice president Dan
Quayle, who was such a golf hound his Secret Service code name
was Scorecard, was excoriated for accepting an honorary
membership at and frequenting Burning Tree Country Club, in
Bethesda, which doesn't allow women on the premises. As
unevolved as Burning Tree's policies are, the club is one of the
three that make up the core of the D.C. golf scene--along with
Congressional and Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Manassas, Va.

To be sure, there is an abundance of fine public courses and
plenty of other noteworthy clubs around Washington. Columbia
Country Club hosted the 1921 U.S. Open and can still boast of
having the best greens in town. Caves Valley is a rollicking
track that has "the best food in the state of Maryland," says a
member, in only a mild exaggeration. Lowes Island, a plush Tom
Fazio layout in Sterling, Va., that opened in 1993, is emerging
as a favorite among D.C. dimpleheads (though it's known locally
as Slows Island because carts have to stay on the path). Chevy
Chase Club is an exclusive bastion of old D.C. money that
Washington Post golf writer Len Shapiro ranks among the best
five courses in the area. Baltimore Country Club and Bethesda
Country Club both get high marks for their classic designs. But
none of these places have quite the juice of the Beltway's big

Burning Tree, a stately H.S. Colt design that opened in 1924, is
described by three Washington politicos familiar with the place
as "a frat house, in the worst sense," "testosteroneville" and
"the last bastion of true malehood." The membership would no
doubt consider this high praise. Says DeLay, a regular, "It's a
wonderful place. The clubhouse is really one big locker room.
You've got men walking around in their skivvies, stuff like
that. I'll never forget the first time I went to the club. You
have to drive by the 2nd green, and there was [House Speaker]
Tip O'Neill and [Minority Leader] Bob Michel playing without
their shirts on. Their bellies were way out to here. I thought
that was the greatest thing I had seen in my life." In fact,
Michel is reputed to have played at times in nothing but his
boxer shorts and spikes.

This kind of behavior is possible because Burning Tree has
stridently held the line against allowing women inside its
gates. In September 1984 a Montgomery County (Md.) circuit judge
threatened to revoke Burning Tree's status as a country club,
which had exempted it from paying taxes on 200 acres, if it
continued to ban women. The club didn't blink and now forks over
hundreds of thousands of dollars more a year in taxes. Burning
Tree's chauvinism is still such a hot-button issue that Clinton,
who was torched in the press during the '92 campaign for playing
nine holes at the all-white Little Rock Country Club, is rumored
to have barred all members of his Cabinet from playing there. "I
wouldn't play out there," says Bowles. "I don't think it would
be appropriate."

"That's silly," says Oxley, who picks the 396-yard par-4 7th at
Burning Tree as his favorite hole in the area. "It's political
correctness gone too far."

Donna Shalala, Clinton's Secretary of Health and Human Services
and the highest-profile female golfer in Washington, wonders
what all the fuss is about. "I wish I could say I was outraged
about it, but I'm not," says Shalala from her office, juggling
the phone while trying to scarf down a lunchtime salad. "I'm
trying to get health care for the children of this country, not
worrying about Burning Tree."

Still, Burning Tree is the place where most Washington movers do
their shaking. The left-leaning Clinton is one of the few
20th-century presidents not to receive an honorary membership,
and political heavyweights have little trouble getting on
whenever they wish. So much schmoozing goes on, says DeLay,
"it'd be an awfully silent clubhouse if they didn't talk
politics at Burning Tree." So isn't Shalala at a disadvantage by
being excluded? "I never feel like I'm on the outside looking
in," she says. Shalala regularly plays with a powerhouse group
of women that includes Ann Wexler, a high-ranking official in
the Carter Administration and now an influential lobbyist, and
Ann Jordan, an entrepreneur, FOB (Friend of Bill) and the wife
of Clinton confidant Vernon Jordan. Shalala, always a
gender-bending pioneer, has the ultimate solution to making
Burning Tree coed. "Before I leave Washington," she says, "I'm
planning to sneak onto Burning Tree one night and play it under
the stars."

One place that Shalala is certainly welcome is the Robert Trent
Jones Golf Club, which has made a concerted effort to court
political bigwigs of all persuasions since opening in 1991. The
club, known around town as RTJ, has given honorary memberships
to Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor and USGA president
Judy Bell, among others, and elected as its president Vernon
Jordan, famous for his work in civil rights and one of
Washington's most prominent African-Americans.

Jordan's office decorations highlight some of his finest
moments: pictures of him kibitzing with the last seven U.S.
presidents as well as a framed scorecard showing his eagle on
the 13th hole of the East Course at the Hyatt Dorado Beach
Resort in San Juan, Puerto Rico. A man with distinguished,
salt-and-pepper hair, sleepy eyes and the rich, mellow voice of
a late-night jazz deejay, Jordan has a simple explanation of how
the eclectic political views at RTJ can coexist. "We are a bunch
of people who like to play golf," he says of the membership,
which has included, among others, President Bush, Vice President
Quayle, former Georgia senator Sam Nunn (widely regarded as the
best player in the recent history of Congress) and an obscene
number of captains of industry. "I'm told most golfers are
Republicans, but I don't know what that has to do with my golf
game. I don't know who's a Democrat, who's a Republican or who
voted for Perot. I don't really care, and I don't think anyone
else does either." Presumably Jordan has more to say on the
topic, but just now he's unwrapping the new three-, five- and
seven-woods that have landed on his desk, courtesy of, he says,
"my friend Ely Callaway."

Much of Jordan's presidency has been dedicated to the
machinations of the Presidents Cup, the biennial Ryder Cup
knockoff that RTJ has hosted for both of its incarnations. Hard
by lovely Lake Manassas, with a clubhouse that makes the Taj
Mahal look understated and an engaging layout designed by the
club's namesake, RTJ proved a good home field for the Americans,
who have won the two competitions. The club is unlikely to see
the match for a while as the event rotates to different courses.

The U.S. Open, then, couldn't be coming to town at a better
time, especially since the last National Open in the D.C. area
was in 1964, when Ken Venturi did his death march in the heat at
Congressional. (The area's first Open was in 1899, when Willie
Smith won at Baltimore Country Club.) Congressional will play
the perfect host to the army of glad-handing politicians who are
sure to storm its grounds, for no course in Washington was more
the product of the coupling of golf and politics.

Congressional was founded in 1924 by two U.S. representatives
from Indiana, Oscar Bland and O.R. Luhring, and boasted as
inaugural club president Herbert Hoover, who was doubling at the
time as Secretary of Commerce. In an early mission statement the
club practically declared itself the fourth branch of the
federal government: "The official or the Member of Congress,
brain cleared by the bracing air and exhilarated by the play in
which he is engaged, finds a new and more adequate conception of
his problems of government; and from his contact with minds
which know the nation's needs, develops more surely the
solutions essential for America's well-being."

The membership has changed considerably since those days, with
the old Washingtonian business community having elbowed aside
the pols. "If there is any criterion we use in choosing our
membership, it would be the desire to keep this a family club,"
says Meric Legnini, a member of Congressional's board of
governors. "This is not just a golf course, like so many other
clubs in the area." Indeed, Congressional has a bowling alley,
indoor and outdoor tennis courts, and two swimming pools. The
grainy black-and-white photos that line the clubhouse hallways
bear witness to fox hunts on the club's grounds, big-band
formals in the ballroom, stag night boxing tournaments and
cutthroat bowling leagues.

Says Legnini, in what sounds suspiciously like a boast, "We
don't have too many limelighters out here."

This DeLay confirms. "They don't want us politicians playing out
there," he says. "It's a pretty pompous place."

Cold shoulder or no, the politicians still line up to take their
hacks at Congressional because it's the most celebrated track in
Washington. In addition to the '64 Open, the Blue Course (as
opposed to the easier Gold) has hosted the 1959 Women's Amateur,
the '76 PGA Championship and the '95 Senior Open. "It's a
wonderful test of golf," says Bowles.

Ah, yes, let us not forget the chief of staff. He's still back
in his office, ruminating on his long-lost love. "I miss playing
golf a lot because it's always been a big part of my life," he
says. "A beautiful day like today...." His voice trails off

If it's any consolation, Bowles's inability to play today is
directly attributable to his proficiency at the game in the
past. During his halcyon days as deputy chief of staff, in
1995-96, Bowles was one of President Clinton's favorite playing
partners, and during their many rounds together they forged not
only a fast friendship but also a simpatico political
philosophy. When Clinton, in a bit of a surprise, named him to
succeed Leon Panetta last November, Bowles was dismissed in some
quarters as a golfing buddy who lucked into a job. "I was very
proud to be referred to as a golfing buddy of President
Clinton," he says with a twinkle.

Clinton, according to Bowles, keeps three dozen putters in his
back office, and when the President and his chief of staff talk
shop, both will often do so while fiddling with a flat stick.
Similarly, it's not uncommon for Bowles and his boss to repair
late at night to the South Lawn of the White House, where
Clinton had Robert Trent Jones II install a putting green.
There, under the lights, they chart the course of the nation,
all the while trying to perfect their flop shots.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BILL FRAKES Representative Oxley (left) and Senator Nickles are always up for a quick nine. [Mike Oxley and Don Nickles holding golf bags in front of U.S. Capitol building]

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BILL FRAKES Shalala and other women are welcome at RTJ, where Jordan serves as club president. [Vernon Jordan and Donna Shalala]

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BILL FRAKES DeLay laments the day legislators overwhelmingly voted in the law that put an end to golf junkets. [Tom DeLay holding golf club in front of U.S. Capitol building]

COLOR PHOTO: CYNTHIA JOHNSON/GAMMA LIAISON During a round last October, Bowles (left) and Albuquerque mayor Martin Chavez got a pointer from the Prez about Jordan's setup. [Erskine Bowles, Bill Clinton and Martin Chavez watching Vernon Jordan golf]