“There is no game like golf: You go out with three friends, play 18 holes, and return with three enemies.” — Anonymous
Unlike, say, ping-pong with China and wrestling with Iran, golf doesn’t have much of a track record as a sport for bringing longtime adversaries together — which only adds another level of intrigue to Saturday’s long-anticipated round between President Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner.
“I expect it could get interesting out there, like, when do you call a penalty stroke on the other guy or what are the rules for conceding putts,” said Nathan Presnal, general manager and head pro at Lake Presidential Golf Course in Upper Marlboro, Md.
“You tend to want to play golf with your friends, people you know you get along with or want to do business with,” Mr. Presnal said. “It could be a real good exercise in bipartisanship, or it may just tell us what we’re in for for the next few years.”
The Democratic president and the Republican speaker, with Vice President Joseph R. Biden and Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich rounding out the foursome, tee it up Saturday at an undisclosed location. Mr. Obama and Mr. Boehner both admit to being golf addicts, although even ardent Democratic partisans concede the Ohio Republican is the more experienced and accomplished player.
The two men will attempt to bond over golf after Mr. Obama has slammed the House Republican budget and made jokes about Mr. Boehner’s signature tan, and just days after the speaker said Mr. Obama’s justification for the military action in Libya as not “hostilities” doesn’t meet the “straight-face test.”
Like political campaigns ahead of key debate, both camps have been trying to manage expectations for the golf summit, both personally and politically. Neither side is predicting a new budget deal or a new era of good feeling to come out of Saturday’s round.
“I think I can say with great confidence that they will not wrap up the 18th hole and come out and say that we have a [budget] deal,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters this week.
But, he added, spending a Saturday afternoon alone away from the media throngs and their own advisers “certainly can’t hurt — unless someone wins really big.”
He was iffy, though, on whether the public will know the final score or much else of what the group talks about.
“We’ll see,” he said, though he quipped it would be more likely if Mr. Obama were to win.
Mr. Carney also has said that even though Mr. Obama is competitive, “I have heard no trash-talking from the president on this,” and he ducked a question about whether “Golf Summit” pressure and playing with an big-time smoker like Mr. Boehner could push the president to fall off the wagon and bum a butt.
Mr. Obama, a relatively recent convert to the game, appears to actively shun bringing his office work to the course. His preferred playing partners tend to be lower-level aides who are competent golfers and he favors the utilitarian — and heavily protected — military course at Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George’s County. Mr. Boehner, considered one of the best golfers on Capitol Hill, has long played golf for enjoyment and as a fund-raising tool.
Mr. Presnal, a former professional at the venerable Chevy Chase Country Club just outside Washington, said he could recall old photos of lawmakers and top government officials of both parties posing after a round.
“Maybe [the Obama-Boehner match] could be a opportunity to get back to that,” he said.