News & Opinion

Joe Biden vs. Donald Trump in golf might be too close to call

Joe Biden plays golf 2016 Ireland
During a 2016 visit to Ireland, then-Vice President Joe Biden tees it up at Castlebar Golf Club in County Mayo.

Biden, the Democratic candidate for president, ‘loves the game’ and has played to a single-digit handicap, even if he lacks the publicity of America's current ‘first golfer’

(Editor's note: An earlier version of this article mistakenly attributed the quote in the eighth paragraph regarding Joe Biden's golf ability to John Boehner. The comment came from John Kasich.)

Though the presidential election won’t be decided until Nov. 3, at the earliest, it’s clear that President Donald Trump has a determined fight on his hands, not just for the title of “leader of the free world” but also for the claim of the nation’s “first golfer.”

According to those who know him and have been around him for decades, Democratic challenger Joe Biden is as avid and determined of a golfer as Trump, without the advance publicity.

“Oh, he loves the game, plays and respects it,” said golf architect Robert Trent Jones Jr., a Biden family friend and occasional Biden golf partner for decades. “He’s just not the self-promoter that our current White House occupant is.”

Biden, 77, is listed with membership at two courses in his native Delaware: Wilmington Country Club, a 36-hole facility with courses designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Dick Wilson; and Fieldstone Golf Club, an Arthur Hills design in Greenville, which Biden lists as his home club. In the Delaware State Golf Association’s USGA GHIN handicap system, Biden is listed with a 6.7 handicap, but his last recorded round was in 2018.

“I haven’t seen Joe around here in a while,” said Jeff Whitmarsh, a club fitter at Fieldstone. “I think he’s been pretty busy.”

Running for president will do that to a golfer’s game.

While working in Washington as a senator and vice president in recent years, Biden was listed by Golf Digest as a 6.3 handicap. He played a round with then-President Barack Obama and two Republican leaders, House Speaker John Boehner and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Years earlier, while speaking at the Republican National Convention, Kasich had doubted Biden’s golf ability.

“Joe Biden told me that he was a good golfer,” said Kasich, a former presidential candidate. “And I’ve played golf with Joe Biden; I can tell you that’s not true, as well as all of the other things that he says.”

Though Biden ran advertisements in the spring blasting Trump for playing golf during the global COVID-19 pandemic, longtime Delaware golf writer Fritz Schranck said Biden is no slacker when it comes to golf rounds himself.

Joe Biden golfer
Yes, Joe Biden plays golf, and by many accounts in his home state of Delaware, he plays it well.

“It’s a pretty open secret in Delaware how much Joe Biden loves and plays golf,” said Schranck, who writes a weekly golf column for the Cape Gazette newspaper in Lewes, Del.

While working in the state Attorney General’s Office and writing his golf column, Schranck participated in an office golf tournament organized by Biden’s late son Beau, who was then Delaware’s attorney general.

“I was at the course, and Beau came up and asks if I was playing. I told him I was, and he said, ‘You’re not going to write about this, are you?’ ” Schranck said.

“I think he was sensitive to the fact the attorney general was organizing a tournament with his dad, for the game he loves.”

Schranck, who has passed Joe Biden’s locker many times at Wilmington Country Club, said in a state the size of Delaware, many people know somebody who has played with Biden or know about his love for the game.

“You’ve heard about the ‘six degrees of separation’? In Delaware it’s about two.”

Jones also has played with Joe and Beau Biden at Wilmington, and said it was a delightful experience.

“We had a great time playing together, walking and talking about fathers and son. Joe likes to walk and likes to get exercise on the golf course.

“I’d said his best strength was his iron play. He was in the fairway on almost every shot and rarely in trouble.”

How’s that for potential campaign fodder for a Biden political ad?

Though it’s unclear how much golf Biden has played lately, with his current day job taking up so much time, he shouldn’t have to resort to the tactics of the late John F. Kennedy during the 1960 presidential campaign, which he eventually won. Kennedy, the Democratic nominee, repeatedly blasted Republican Richard Nixon and former President Dwight Eisenhower for playing too much golf, only to sneak out to Cypress Point Golf Club in Pebble Beach, Calif., for a quick round during the campaign.

According to the oft-repeated story, Kennedy, an accomplished golfer, nearly aced the famed 16th hole at Cypress Point. Fearing that his cover would be blown as a golfer himself, he reportedly shouted to his golf ball in the air, “Get out of the hole.”

Jones, who first met Biden as a young man while working on Wilmington Country Club’s design with his father, Robert Trent Jones Sr., said he has a perfect solution for the protracted fall election campaign between Biden and Trump.

“Maybe we could just drop a debate and have them play a golf match instead. Biden would beat him. I would put money on it.”

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