No one really questions the idea that US presidents, who probably have the world’s toughest job, need to take time off to relax and recharge.
But President Donald Trump’s 17-day getaway to his New Jersey golf property, which started Friday, is facing an unusual level of scrutiny for a number of reasons, mostly because the 71-year-old former real estate mogul has already spent a lot of his time in office playing golf.
Since being sworn in on January 20, Trump has jetted off on Air Force One to his golf properties in New Jersey, northern Virginia or Florida 43 times, according to an NBC News count. While the White House won’t say if and when Trump plays golf during his visits — usually claiming he’s also working or having high-level meetings — the TrumpGolfCount site has uncovered evidence to suggest Trump has golfed on at least 40 percent of these golf club visits, and racked up a cost of more than $55 million on US taxpayers.
Not only have Trump’s golf habits prompted critics to call him entitled, uncommitted to his job or just plain lazy, best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell recently surmised that Trump has a golf “addiction” and suggested this obsession is all-consuming enough to potentially undermine his effectiveness as a leader and to therefore be harmful to the country.
Gladwell, the best-selling author of “The Tipping Point,” “Blink,” and “Outliers,” raised this concern on the Season 2 premiere of his popular podcast “Revisionist History.”
Gladwell is famous for unearthing overlooked academic research to offer surprising insights into how people in modern societies think and behave. That was the case in the podcast episode titled “A Good Walk Spoiled,” in which he cited data that looks at how powerful rich men in America really like to play golf but why too much golf can be bad for the businesses or other entities they run.
Gladwell cites a study from three economists who compiled data, including from the United States Golf Association, to show that CEOs who play too much golf are associated with firms that have lower operating performance and less value.
Trump isn’t a CEO anymore, but he boasted on the campaign trail that he wanted to run the federal government like a CEO. He also has maintained a CEO’s golfing habits, Gladwell said.
“Out of President Donald Trump’s first four months in office, he visited his own golf courses 25 times,” Gladwell said. “One week he played three times. You would think he would be at the office, learning how to be president, reading intelligence briefings, draining the swamp. No, he’s golfing.”
For their study, “Fore! An analysis of CEO shirking,” the economists, Lee Biggerstaff, David Cicero and Andy Puckett, looked at the golfing habits of more than 350 CEOs of S&P 1500 companies between 2008 and 2012 who maintained a handicap with the United States Golf Association. That means their scores and the number of rounds they play are recorded in a public database.
“We find CEOs that golf frequently are associated with firms that have lower operating performance and firm value,” Biggerstaff, Cicero and Puckett wrote in their study. They added, “We provide evidence that some CEOs shirk their responsibilities, by showing that the firms with CEOs who play the most are less profitable.”
The study also estimated that the 350 CEOs played an average of 15 rounds of golf per year, while those in the top 10 percent played at least 37 rounds per year. Gladwell said that a round of golf takes from 4 to 4 1/2 hours, so 37 rounds per year equals around 160 hours on the course — or about 5 1/2 weeks of work.
“By the way, these are understatements,” Gladwell said. “They don’t include the time spent driving to the course, warming up, getting changed, having a drink. It doesn’t include the hours spent practicing shots on the putting green or the driving range, or all the rounds you play that you don’t enter into the database, like if you’re only playing nine rounds or a fun round.”
The Washington Post has estimated that Trump’s Bedminster trip could allow him to play at least 33 rounds of golf by the end of August, which definitely puts him on track to exceed those 37 rounds per year logged by the top golf-playing CEOs.
Gladwell cited the example of Bear Stearns CEO Jimmy Cayne, who came under fire for playing golf during a critical time in July 2007 when his firm’s hedge funds collapsed and helped to spark a credit crisis in global financial markets.
“In July 2007, right when the crisis was beginning, the CEO of Bear Steans would often helicopter out from Wall Street on Friday afternoons to get to his exclusive golf course in New Jersey to get in a round in before sunset,” Gladwell said. “Even when his company was collapsing, he couldn’t stop playing golf.”
Using Gladwell’s argument, some could say that Trump’s trip to his Bedminster club shows that he can’t stop golfing even when his presidency is in big trouble.
In just the past few weeks, Trump failed on his promise to repeal Obamacare, and he and the Republican Congress failed on their pledge to get corporate tax reform done by August. Republicans also are showing increasing weariness with Trump’s erratic management style and the fact that he has Robert Mueller’s special consul investigation breathing down on his presidency.
His own workplace, the White House, has been in chaos, even though Trump tweet-denies that and says his new chief of staff, retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, will shape things up. Trump publicly attacked his attorney general and fired or forced out his chief of staff, national security advisor, FBI director, press secretary and communications director. Last week, he also got into fights with the Boy Scouts, police associations and Golf Magazine, whose profile of Trump showed that he’s a good golfer but one who still exaggerates scores, breaks rules and ignores decorum.
The profile also quoted Trump as telling members of his Bedminster golf club that the White House is “a dump”, and that’s why he tries to get away as much as possible from Washington D.C.
In dozens of tweets when Obama was president, then non-politician Trump accused his predecessor of having a lousy work ethic and no seriousness about his job because he took vacations in Martha’s Vineyard or Hawaii, the Washington Post said.
On the campaign trail, Trump vowed he wouldn’t take vacation and said he wouldn’t have time to play golf.
But during his first seven months in office, Trump will have enjoyed three times as many days devoted to leisure as Obama during the same time period (53 days to Obama’s 15), the Washington Post said. He’s also played twice as much golf.
Trump arrives in Bedminster with a historically dismal job approval rating that now stands as low as 33 percent, according to the most recent poll by Quinnipiac University. Fifty-seven percent of people in an overall average of national polls disapprove of his performance, FiveThirtyEight.com shows.
Gladwell has a word for people who can’t stop doing things that are potentially harmful to themselves or to others around them. The word is “addiction.” He suggested Trump has a “self-destructive habit,” and it could be hurting the country.
“Just think if I said an important employee of a major organization made lifestyle choices that caused him to miss enormous amounts of work, harm his performance, and put his own career in jeopardy,” Gladwell continued. “You would say — whoa — check that guy into rehab.”