Former President William Howard Taft was in the crowd at the 1913 United States Open at Brookline Massachusetts. Taft, a golf fanatic of the first order, was rooting hard for Elmer Loving, a golfer in the field who had been a member of his White House staff.
The year before, Taft’s bid for re-election had run off the rails. He was hopelessly behind in the polls to eventual winner Woodrow Wilson and third-party candidate and former President Theodore Roosevelt. Given the circumstances, Taft’s first order of business on Election Day was to play 18-holes of golf and then he went to the polls to vote.
Many believed his Election Day round was an appropriate way to bring down the curtain on his time in the Oval Office. As a few days after winning the presidency in 1908, Taft had started things off with a four-week golf vacation at Hot Springs, Virginia.
It was in Hot Springs that Mr. Taft first met Elmer Loving. Nineteen-years-old at the time and the top caddie at the resort’s golf club, Loving was also considered to be one of the best golfers in the state.
A caddie at Hot Springs since he was ten-years-old, Elmer was accustomed to being on the bag for high profile golfers, as he had caddied for two of the richest men in the world, John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, when they made frequent and lengthy visits to play at the resort.
With Elmer as his caddie, Mr. Taft played a round almost every day of his nearly month-long stay. When he departed Hot Springs, Elmer left with him. The president-elect had been so impressed with Elmer’s character that he offered him a position on his staff as his personal messenger.
Mr. Taft also wanted his new employee to have a future, so the plan was for Elmer, an elementary school dropout, to go to night school in D. C. It was Taft’s hope that the young man, with his support, would eventually study law at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
Once in Washington, despite his busy schedule of work and school, Elmer occasionally found time to get in some golf, setting course records at two area clubs, Bannock Burn and Columbia Country Club.
Although he was most appreciative of the opportunity President Taft had given him, after two years in Washington, Elmer decided that a career in golf was his true calling.
In a bit of irony, Elmer would eventually make it to Charlottesville, as the head professional at the Charlottesville Country Club. His career as a club pro would span almost five decades and he would win the Virginia State Open on multiple occasions.
At that U. S. Open at Brookline, which was won in spectacular fashion by Francis Ouimet, Elmer finished in 11th place.
David Sowell is a free-lance writer. He is the author of Ike, “Golf, & Augusta and The Masters: A Hole-by-History of America‘s Golf Classic.”