PRESIDENTIAL GOLF – Gerald Ford at Pine Valley
Better known for playing football at Michigan and passing up an opportunity to play in the NFL to become a lawyer, politician and president, Gerald Ford also had a passion for golf and played the game well and often.
Much maligned for hitting spectators, Ford actually played a serious game and those who played with him had respect for his abilities.
When he retired as ex-president in 1976, Ford and his wife moved to Rancho Mirage, famous for its resident celebrities – Frank Sinatra, Walter Annenberg, the Marx Brothers and Bob Hope and world class golf course. And Ford played until he was physically unable to do so.
While President however, Gerald Ford’s golf game changed the way the government deals with golf and the way the golf clubs do business.
It was during the Watergate scandal, after the resignation of Richard Nixon when Ford became president and his golf game came under closer scrutiny. Eventually it became entwined in his politics and led to changes in the rules, of both the government and the golf clubs, especially at Pine Valley, one of the most exclusive golf clubs in the world.
When the current Congress passed the latest lobby laws that prevent corporations from paying for green fees and travel junkets for lawmakers, the origins of the law can be traced back to Ford’s golfing days at Pine Valley, when he played golf with the corporate vice presidents of Ford and US Steel.
Ford played often at Pine Valley, one of the most exclusive golf clubs in the world, sometimes as a guest of US Steel, one of the corporations that maintained a cabin on the course, used by company’s executives and their guests.
Ford’s Pine Valley foursome became a matter of public record at a press conference when reporters persistently kept asking Ford about playing golf with the corporate officers and whether they discussed government policy while doing so.
One such press conference went like this:
Q. Mr. President, in your golf outings or social occasions or other vacations with Rod Markley of Ford Motor Company or U.S. Steel, did you discuss Government business with them either when you were a Member of the House or Vice President or President?
THE PRESIDENT. Not to my best recollection.
Q. You never discussed business?
THE PESIDENT. No.
Q. Mr. President, your staff says they are having some trouble getting records of all these various golfing trips and what-not. Have you ever asked Mr. Whyte (William G. Whyte, vice president of public affairs, US. Steel Corportation) if he has records?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, it's my understanding that Mr. Whyte issued a two or three-page statement a week or 10 days ago which outlined the circumstances of the three trips up to Pine Valley and the two down to Disneyland. I understand he issued that.
Q. I mean records of what it cost and who paid and all that sort of thing.
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I have no access to their records, so they will have to answer that.
Q. Mr. President, a number of Pentagon military officers have received disciplinary reprimands for accepting freebies--free weekends, hunting expeditions. If you think there is nothing improper about a Congressman accepting free golfing weekends, what distinction is there?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, the House passed a resolution sometime in 1968, as I understand it, which says nothing of significance or substance should be received. I do not feel that there was any impropriety on my part or any violation of that regulation.
I am an avid golfer. Most of you know it. I enjoy the company of people while I am playing golf. Every person that's been involved in these allegations I have reciprocated with as far as they coming either to my golf club or coming to our home.
There has been, I would say, substantial reciprocity. And whatever the circumstances of our getting together, has been in a proper way and in no way a violation, in my judgment, of any rule or ethical standard. These are close personal friends and have been for many years. And I have never accepted - or I don't believe they have tendered - any such things on the basis of seeking any special privilege or anything that was improper.
Q. Mr. President, on June 15, before the Southern Baptist Convention, you condemned very strongly what you call "situation ethics," and I was wondering why this golfing vacation wasn't really "situation ethics." When at that time, you said the American people, particularly our young people, cannot be expected to take pride or even to participate in a system of government that is defiled and dishonored, whether in the White House or the halls of Congress. My question is, do you feel that in view of what the White House has admitted, you have lived up to your own standards here?
THE PRESIDENT. I have said that I don't consider these infrequent weekends a violation of either the rules of the House or any ethical standards. I explained that these were long-standing personal relationships, where there has been virtual reciprocity, and I wouldn't have accepted if there had been any thought in my mind that it was improper or the violation of any code of ethics.
Q. Isn't that "situation ethics" though?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't think so.
Q. Mr. President, is this long-standing personal relationship, personal and friendship though it may be - is nevertheless valuable to United States Steel and to the Ford Motor Company, much as the employers of other people who are friends of yours - for example, John Byrnes (U.S. Representative from Wisconsin 1945-73), who represents a great many interests in this town on tax reform, and - perhaps coincidentally, perhaps you believe this - your position is about like his on tax reform?
I asked you earlier whether you had discussed business with them during these social outings. Rod Markley said you and he discussed the Clean Air Act. I wonder, do you not see that it is to their benefit for you to have this personal relationship?
THE PRESIDENT. Let me modify what I said a moment ago. In a casual way, of course we might informally talk about certain matters, but I happen to feel that they were not asking me and I was not asking them. The times I've played with Rod have been at Burning Tree, where we are both members and both pay our own way. John Byrnes, I played golf with him because he is a friend of 28 plus years. I don't see anything improper at all.
Q. Do you think that you can separate……
THE PRESIDENT. Absolutely.
Q - ….their business as lobbyists and their representation of their corporations from your personal friendship?
THE PRESIDENT. As a matter of fact, some of their comments could be helpful in what the status is.
Q. Mr. President, yet that seems to be the issue that Carter is raising, though. He seems to be raising the old buddy system issue and saying, in fact, that you can't. Now what can you say to counter that? How can you?
THE PRESIDENT. Maybe he can't, but I can.
Q. Mr. President, may I ask you, you now are aware that some of these expenses were actually paid by the companies and not by your friends. But you were paying, when you had them to your home, you were paying yourself, the taxpayers were not taking care of this. So these companies in effect were financing some of this. What is your thinking about why they wanted to do this, why they were willing to entertain you on these weekends?
THE PRESIDENT. I think you would have to ask the people who offered the invitation. These are personal friends, and I don't ask in advance why you want to pay my green fees. I think that's a matter for them on the basis of their own integrity. ……
The final result was not only an end to corporations paying the President’s green fees, but a major change at the golf club as well, with Pine Valley making some major policy changes that effectively ended corporate memberships and corporate ownership of course cabins.
The policy changes at the club were not only the result of the mention of Pine Valley and its private membership at a Presidential news conference, but also because of the legal ramifications that prevented women from being members of the club. The unwanted publicity brought on by the President’s playing at the club, called further attention to the male-only policies that prevent women from playing there.
It was President Ford’s corporate green fees, persistent questioning by reporters and women’s complaints that they were being discriminated against that brought about changes in Pine Valley’s long established policies.
Not only were corporate memberships denied, but Pine Valley is now a golf club where business is not discussed, mainly to avoid a sexual rights civil suit. As the attorneys reasoned it, if business is discussed on the golf course or club house, and women are not admitted to play or join the club, then it could be discriminatory.
So between President Ford and the women at the gate, rather than let the girls in, they did away with the corporations and business, and now all bills must be paid by individual accounts or cash, and business cannot be discussed, thus changing the way not only the government does business, but how the golf clubs are run.