The pressure and stress of leadership at the highest level of the military and government is extreme. Dwight D. Eisenhower experienced this pressure and stress throughout his illustrious career in the military and as the President of United States. Eisenhower recognized that he had to accept the intense heaviness and immensity of the job and to have methods to reduce or attenuate the strain and tension. Eisenhower had multiple hobbies that provided him with the leisure time to relax, unwind, and to clear, although only briefly, his head of the complexities of domestic and foreign policy.
One of Ike’s favorite hobbies was golf. He started playing the sport for relaxation when he was a student at the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The golf course on the fort was new and inexpensive. Considering that he finished number one in his class, the hobby of golf must have provided him with needed relaxation.
Throughout his military career, Ike was an avid golfer. He especially played many rounds of golf during his four years, 1935-1939, in the Philippines while serving under General MacArthur, the Military Advisor to the Philippine Commonwealth. Obviously, the war years curtailed his golf hobby.
During his presidency, Ike played golf at many top courses in the country. The closest course to the White House was the Burning Tree Club in Bethesda, Maryland. He visited the club frequently. When Ike and Mamie travel to the Doud home in Denver, Ike played golf at the Cherry Hills Country Club. Ike had played golf at the club the day of his first heart attack in 1955. The links at the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia was one of his favorites. The Eisenhower’s even had a cottage on the course. Ike played the course nearly 200 times. The Professional Golf Association built a chip and putting green at his Gettysburg farm and at the White House. The retirement years gave Ike more time to enjoy and improve his golf game. The Gettysburg Country Club provided him with a convenient course close to his retirement home at the farm. During the winter months, Ike stayed at a villa on the Eldorado Country Club in Indian Wells, California. He played golf at the club plus at several other courses in the Coachella Valley.
Throughout his life, Eisenhower was a very competitive and intense player of bridge. Mamie did not like to play with him because of his intensity. She liked to play bridge to socialize, whereas Ike played the card game to win. During World War II, Ike’s naval aide, CDR Harry Butcher, played bridge with him. One of reasons that Ike picked Butcher as his naval aide was his skill at playing bridge.
During the presidency, Eisenhower hosted many bridge games in the White House. Ike’s secretary, Ann Whitman, was able on very short notice to round up several of Ike’s friends who were talented bridge players for an evening of cards at the White House. When Ike was at his farm in Gettysburg, Ike and his friends normally played bridge in his den.
In 1948, Ike took up the hobby of painting. He was the president of Columbia University when he started the hobby. He normally worked on landscapes and portraits. He produced several hundred paintings during his lifetime. Most were gifts to friends. During the presidency, the precious minutes of painting provided him with a refuge from the daily strain of the job.
Fishing, hunting, and shooting were lifetime hobbies of Ike. During his youth, Ike spent many days camping, fishing, and hunting along the Smoky Hill River in Kansas. While president, Ike spent many days fishing for trout in the clear water streams at Camp David. He loved his rugged outdoor hobbies including shooting skeet. At the end of the day, Ike liked to grill steaks or his catch of the day for his guests at Camp David. The Eisenhower biographer, William Hitchcock, said that Ike’s hobbies at Camp David were “…a middle class paradise on a presidential scale.”
The farm at Gettysburg was another one of Ike’s hobbies. Many people considered him a hobby or gentleman farmer. Essentially being a hobby farmer meant that Ike was not making his living off the farm. At this point in his life, he could afford to enjoy the pleasures of farm life without the worries. Ike’s passion on the farm was his black angus show cows. His cows had the best facilities and structures to win the blue ribbons in state and county fairs. According to Ike’s herdsman, Bob Hartley, President Eisenhower once called him shortly after a State of the Union Address to Congress just to check on his prized cows.
One final hobby of Eisenhower was his love of all things Western. He probably acquired this hobby during his boyhood in Kansas. The town of Abilene had a reputation as a wild and rough Western town not long before Eisenhower was born. Ike savored Western T.V. shows like Bonanza and Gun Smoke. When at Camp David, he eagerly watched the latest Western movie. His books shelves at the farm were full of Western novels. During the war, Western novels were Ike’s sleeping medicine. One member of his military family was responsible for locating novels that Ike had never read.
The denial of stress on the job is never a healthy habit. Eisenhower accepted that there will always be stress for the top decision maker. For him, dealing with the stain was the best option. He acquired many pleasurable hobbies that offset the pressure and that made the days more productive and comfortable.