On Links As In Life, D.C. Bipartisan Relations Are Deep In The Rough : It's All Politics Golf is a sport that's been enjoyed by both Democrats and Republicans through the decades, but bipartisan golf outings may be disappearing like a shanked tee shot into a water hazard.
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On Links As In Life, D.C. Bipartisan Relations Are Deep In The Rough

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On Links As In Life, D.C. Bipartisan Relations Are Deep In The Rough

On Links As In Life, D.C. Bipartisan Relations Are Deep In The Rough

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The golf industry descended on Capitol Hill this week for a National Golf Day. The goal - to promote the health and economic benefits of the sport. Golf is loved by Democrats and Republicans alike. But much like a tee shot in a water hazard, the era of bipartisan golf outings may have disappeared. NPR's Brakkton Booker has this report.

BRAKKTON BOOKER, BYLINE: South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn is standing on a putting green inside the Rayburn Office Building.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOLF GAME)

CONGRESSMAN JAMES CLYBURN: OK, so I'm ready.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yes, you're ready for the...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: You're ready. You're ready.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: OK, so we're going for the middle.

CLYBURN: I know what not to do now.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: This is for the contest now.

BOOKER: He's playing in a friendly competition of Democrats versus Republicans. His challenge - to sink a 20-foot putt.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOLF GAME)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Oh.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Short.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Short.

CLYBURN: We're stopped.

BOOKER: And, oh yeah, the putt has to pass through a four-foot-tall replica of the Washington Monument. There's a cut-out at the bottom barely big enough for the ball to roll through. After a few mulligans, he finally got one to drop.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOLF GAME)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: There you go. That a boy.

CLYBURN: I'm going to quit while I'm ahead.

BOOKER: Clyburn, the number-three Democrat in House leadership, remembers when a round of golf was often a bipartisan exercise.

CLYBURN: And it allowed me to develop relationships across the aisle. And sometimes I'd be the only Democrat there, often the only African-American. But it taught me a lot, and I hope the experience taught some of them a lot.

BOOKER: But Clyburn admits, over the years, golf stopped being used to chip away at bipartisan issues - take, for instance, Boehner and President Obama. Both love golf. They even stood together at a White House ceremony last year honoring the golfers of the U.S. Presidents Cup team.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I am joined by two of my favorite golf partners - the vice president of the United States, Joe Biden, and the speaker of the House, John Boehner. In each instance they have to give me strokes.

BOOKER: Boehner, one of Obama's favorite golfers? We may need to check with a rules official on that one. The two did play together once back in June of 2011. It was reportedly a friendly round - applause for a putt, a hand on a shoulder. But a month after that round, negotiations over the debt ceiling broke down. Here is Speaker Boehner.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CONGRESSMAN JOHN BOEHNER: President Obama came to Congress in January and requested business as usual. He had another routine increase in the national debt. But we in the House said, not so fast.

BOOKER: Back on Capitol Hill, at the National Golf Day festivities, Alaska Congressman Don Young steps up to get his swing evaluated. Even in a jacket and tie...

(SOUNDBITE OF GOLF GAME)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Beautiful.

CONGRESSMAN DON YOUNG: How's that? You get that?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: I'm impressed.

YOUNG: Thank you, buddy.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Very good.

BOOKER: At 81, Republican Don Young still hits with power and still believes golf can slice away at bipartisan differences.

YOUNG: It's still one of the best ways to communicate with one another to solve a problem - on the golf course.

BOOKER: But Young regrets fewer and fewer members hit the course together. One reason, he says, they no longer stay in Washington on the weekends. Michael Oxley is a former Republican congressman who represented Ohio for a quarter century. He says he golfed with many Democrats over that time, including former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill.

MICHAEL OXLEY: When I ran for Congress 'course Tip was the boogeyman among Republicans.

BOOKER: Oxley golfed with O'Neill, and he says it laid the groundwork for a working relationship.

OXLEY: I can't remember one time when I've cut a deal specifically on a specific piece of legislation on the golf course. But the prearranged relationship that you've developed over time on a golf course gives you that avenue to make deals at a later date.

BOOKER: This weekend, representative Jim Clyburn will golf in Hilton Head, S.C. When he named the House colleagues who will join him, the list was all Democrats. Brakkton Booker, NPR News, Washington.

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