Triple Bogey Diplomacy: How Australia and New Zealand Might Use Golf in the Age of Trump

Famed golfers Greg Norman and Sir Bob Charles could well be Australasia's diplomatic envoys to Trump's White House.

|
Nov 24 2016, 1:40am

Ben Thomson

For the tricky back nine that is early twentieth-first century global politics, America has just pulled out a new driver.

Watching from the public gallery, Donald Trump looks like a Big Bertha bought cheaply online from an internet retailer with years of bad reviews.

It seems like a terrible club choice, playing as cheap and ineffective as looked online. The first two weeks of the Trump era in American politics have been fraught with widespread uncertainty. Expect plenty of that over the next four years. How Australia and New Zealand could get through this coming Presidential era 'unscathed' - note the quotation marks - could come down to golf.

President-elect Donald Trump hitting off the tee at a 2012 Pro-Am golf tournament. Source: Youtube.

It's widely known how much the President-elect loves the sport. Now 70, Trump – who has been holding cabinet interviews at his New Jersey golf course - has played it for much of his life and, according to Golf Digest, holds a handicap as low as 2.8.

Say what you like about the bloke – and there's a lot to say - but the former reality TV star is clearly a pretty handy golfer.

For context, Golf Digest also reported that the handicap of President Barack Obama – the first left-handed Presidential golfer - is 12 while Bill Clinton's is 16.

GREGG POPOVICH GOES OFF ON DONALD TRUMP: "MY BIG FEAR IS: WE ARE ROME"

"I think [Trump] loves the game of golf more than he loves money," Jack Nicklaus, arguably the greatest golf of all-time, told Golf World two years ago. The Golden Bear rang to congratulate Trump the morning after his spectacular presidential upset, two weeks ago.

The only references Trump has made about Australia and New Zealand this election season have been about golf.

Trump praised Aussie pro Adam Scott – who won a tournament at his Blue Monster course in Florida early this year – calling him a "handsome kid from Australia ... one of the greatest golfers in the world," while a Kiwi television reporter who confronted him after an early Republican primary debate only got a line about golf back.

"Say hello to Bob Charles. I love Bob Charles," the future President-elect said told TV3's Patrick Gower.

Future President-elect Donald Trump sitting on a golf cart during a tournament at his Blue Monster golf course in Florida, in 2014. Photo credit: Andrew Weber/USA Today Sports.

Sir Bob was the first New Zealander to win a major – the 1963 British Open – while also becoming the first left-hander to win a major, too.

The Kiwi sporting legend's name came up again when New Zealand prime minister John Key – who holds an 11 handicap and has played golf with Obama in Hawaii before - rang to congratulate Trump on his presidential victory last week.

Trump asked Key to ring Sir Bob and pass on his regards, which the Kiwi leader did dutifully.

"I don't think Donald Trump knows a whole lot of New Zealanders, and being a known golfer I suppose it could have come up in conversation," the 80-year-old told Newstalk ZB later.

"Donald Trump is a very keen golfer. He's enthusiastic, a good player. Although I haven't had the pleasure of playing with him just yet, I would look forward to that in the near future."

As has been widely reported, Aussie PM Malcolm Turnbull - not a known golfer, himself - was only able to contact the President-elect after getting Trump's cellphone number off former Aussie pro Greg 'The Shark' Norman.

The two-time major winner is a long-time mate of Trump's, and even designed the The Donald's course in Charlotte, North Carolina.

President-elect Donald Trump is a big admirer of Sir Bob Charles, who was the first New Zealand golfer to win a major - the 1963 British Open. Photo credit: WikiCommons.

Golfers in the White House aren't anything new, nor is the fact that rich, powerful (usually white) men like to spend a lot of time on the fairways.

President Woodrow Wilson played more than 1000 rounds while in office between 1913 and 1921 - though Links Magazine say he rarely broke 100 – while Dwight D. Eisenhower – the last non-politician to be elected president - was a famously avid golfer too.

Eisenhower, who served from 1953 to 1961, was even a member of Augusta National Golf Club and played regular rounds down in Georgia.

What is clearly different about Trump and the likes of Wilson, Eisenhower and Obama is how tangled his international business interests are, how reluctant he is to go fully 'hands off' - and whether his actions in public office could benefit Brand Trump, business-wise.

SOME SPORTS-RELATED DONALD TRUMP PHOTOS FOR YOU TO ENJOY

The New York property mogul has already drawn widespread criticism for using his new position of power to attempt to influence other nation's domestic policies.

Trump owns 17 golf courses around the world, including two in Scotland, two in Dubai and one in Ireland.

Allegedly, he used a part of meeting with UKIP leader Nigel Farage to encourage opposition to wind farms being built near his Aberdeenshire course.

Trump has no golf courses in Australia or New Zealand, but the ripples of his likely trade war with China, and the tearing up of the Trans Pacific Partnership, will affect both nations big time. Future regional security - Trump's anti-NATO messages indicates potential isolationism - is also a huge concern.

Famed Australian golfer Greg Norman is a good mate of Donald Trump's, and helped Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull get in touch with him after the US election. Photo credit: Matthew Emmons/USA Today Sports.

Really, outside a 2011 comment about Australia's commodities trade with China - "what you do is really screw them on the sale of the raw materials, trust me, you'll be richer than China because they need you badly, you have all the cards" - little is really known how he views Australasia.

Turnbull has just had the one 15-minute yarn with Trump, Norman, according to News.com.au, has already spoken to him multiple times since the election.

Add in the fact that Sir Bob is keen to play him – and you can bet Trump will take him up on the offer at some stage – our region's only significant White House access may well come through old golfers that the new President thinks highly of.

Don't think Australia and New Zealand aren't the only countries who could use golf to curry diplomatic favour with Trump. In fact, Japan seems to have the jump on everyone.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with the President-elect at Trump Tower last week, and presented him with a new driver worth nearly US$4000.

The Washington Post reported the club to be a 'Honma Beres S-05 with 9.5 degrees of loft with a 5S Armrq Infinity stiff shaft.'

Hollywood actor Samuel L Jackson once played golf with Donald Trump - and claims the future President-elect cheated. Source: Youtube.

"The beauty of golf is that you develop relationships - and you can make deals on a golf course," Trump, who gave Abe a golf shirt in return, told Golf Digest last year.

That's always been true, of course. But other things in golf are too.

Like swapping a reasonable driver for a bad one - and watching the numbers on your scorecard rise. The higher they rise, the less likely you're going to win.

It's gonna be a tough back nine, for all of us.

Follow Ben Stanley on Twitter