Commander In Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump
By Rick Reilly
Hachette Books; hardcover, $28.00
Donald Trump loves golf. He owns 14 courses around the world and runs another five, all of which he insists are the best on the planet.
The President plays nearly every weekend and he claims he’s a 3 handicap, almost never loses, and has won an astonishing 18 club championships.
How much of all that is true? Almost none of it, acclaimed sportswriter Rick Reilly reveals in the new book Commander In Cheat, which is an unsparing look at Trump in the world of golf.
As Reilly writes, “Golf is like bicycle shorts. It reveals a lot about a man.”
For Trump, it’s always about winning, and golf is no exception. To do it, he uses the tricks he picked up from the hustlers at the public course where he learned the game as a college kid, and then polished as one of the most bombastic businessmen of our time.
Reilly tells this story through his own experiences with Trump, as well as interviews with over 100 golf pros, amateurs, developers, and caddies.
Throughout Commander In Cheat, Reilly explains how Trump cheats, sometimes with the help of his caddies and Secret Service agents; lies about his scores and its related “Trump Bump;' tells whoppers about the rank of his courses and their worth, declaring that every one of them is worth $50 million; brags about championships he's won, despite not being on the course that day; and tramples the etiquette of the game.
"This is a man who famously drives his golf cart on greens," Reilly writes. "To repeat: He drives ON THE GREEN. There is video of him doing it at Trump Bedminster. In golf, that's the unholiest-of-unholies. Driving your cart on the green is like hanging your laundry i the Sistine Chapel. A green is a tender and delicate thing. Caddies don't even set their bags on it. Driving on the green leaves tire tracks on the perfect surface that can send your partner's putt careening off line, not to mention the putts of the 100 players behind you. I've met people who were 100% for Trump politically but vow they'll never vote for him again because he drove on the green. Says one woman, 'That's such a violation!'
The one thing Trump doesn’t brag so much about are the golf contractors he stiffs, the course neighbors he intimidates, or the way his golf decisions wind up infecting his political ones.
Reilly reveals how tacky the president can be on the golf course, writing, "Trump is not just a political outlier. He's a golf outlier. Forget how he plays the game. Just in the simplest politeness of the game, the timeless etiquette of it, Trump seems to have come from another planet.
"For instance, he never takes off his hat for the traditional end-of-round handshake, which is considered gentlemanly. He doesn't take it off inside the clubhouse, either, which is a little golf-gauche. He doesn't care whose honor it is on the tee box, either. He just steps up first and hits it. He's not what you'd call a good loser, either.
"'I played with him once," says Los Angeles Times NFL writer Sam Farmer. "And I actually beat him out of $10. He handed me the two fives, but they wouldn't come out of his hand. He held onto them and made me pull. I thought they were going to rip. When I finally got them, he goes, 'It's all right. I've got a supermodel girlfriend and my own 727, so I'm okay.'
"There's a famous story about the time Trump lost $50 to a guy at Winged Foot. Trump said he didn't have any cash. 'That's okay,' the guy said. 'I'll take a check,'
"Trump said he didn't have any checks on him.
"'That's okay. I'll take a bank draft. I'll go get it.' So the guy gets in his car and gets a bank draft for $50, brings it back, and Trump signs it. Weeks later, Trump sees him, pissed off.
"'You cashed my check!'
"'Of course I did.'
"'Nobody ever cashes my checks. They frame them!'"
Trump owns many courses and he brought the same philosophies he used with Manhattan real estate to how he could get his courses prestige and make them the best-ranked in the world.
Reilly writes, "Chefs don't call Michelin asking for an extra star. Actors don't go on TV saying they deserve an Oscar. And golf course developers don't beg to be on Top 100 golf course lists.
"Except Trump. He begs, bullies, and badgers the magazines that do the ratings. When he's not happy with the ratings he gets, he'll rip them out of the magazine, scrawl something nasty on them with a Sharpie - 'DISHONEST!' - and mail them to the editor.
"Since he unveiled his first course in 1999, Trump International in West Palm Beach, Trump has wheedled, lobbied, and lied ceaselessly hyping them. The higher the rankings, the more he can charge for memberships and guest fees. Rankings, though, are a number he can't Trump Bump and it drives him crazy.
"For instance, he said repeatedly that Trump Los Angeles is better than Pebble Beach. Now, understand, Pebble Beach is universally thought of as one of the most beautiful courses in the world. It's been ranked the best course in the world hundreds of times. It's held five U.S. Opens, which have been won by no less than Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, and Tiger Woods. For many touring pros, it's the place they'd play if they only had one round left. So to say Trump Los Angeles is better than Pebble Beach is a family-sized jar of stupid sauce,
"Yet Trump Los Angeles has stunning views of the Pacific, but that's all it's got. 'It's a plate of sausages,' says architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr. In golf-design lingo, a 'plate of sausages all in the same direction, packed onto the platter. I've played it. Once was enough. Seventeen holes run parallel to the ocean, back and forth, over and over again, until you feel like you're on a boot camp march. Only one hole, the first, goes perpendicular. Says golf architect Tom Doak, 'Nobody in the world thinks his course is better than Pebble - except Donald Trump.'...
"It drives Trump out of his brain when other courses are ranked above his or when his courses don't make the lists at all. He lies and tells people the reason his courses go unranked is because, 'I don't let the raters on my courses. I don't want to bother the membership.' But that's a fat lie. The truth is, he's dying to get on the lists. It's a game he can't control and can't fudge and can't buy, so it vexes his sleep."
Commander In Cheat is one of the best books you will read on Trump, and it comes from Reilly, one of the best sportswriters around. He has found a way into the president's mind through one of the many worlds he has infiltrated in his life.