Gerald Ford and Billy Graham playing golf together in Charlotte?!
It happened in 1974, less than three months before Ford – then the vice president – would ascend to the U.S. presidency after Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace because of the Watergate scandal.
Quail Hollow Club – which will host the PGA Tour’s Wells Fargo Championship May 14-17 this year – hosted the Kemper Open back then. That PGA tournament had a good run from 1969-79 at the club.
Ford occasionally played in the Kemper’s pro-am, and in 1974 he actually played 27 holes of golf in Charlotte over two days. In between, he and his traveling party of Secret Service agents and aides took up 33 rooms at the Red Carpet Inn on East Morehead Street, with Ford commandeering a two-room suite that cost $40 a night.
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Ford was known partly for his clumsiness in the 1970s, thanks in part to Chevy Chase’s frequent pratfalls while imitating Ford on “Saturday Night Live.” In reality, though, he was one of the most athletic presidents ever, having starred for the University of Michigan football team as a center and linebacker in the 1930s.
As a golfer, though, Ford had a 17 handicap and a penchant for, as The Charlotte Observer reported that week, tee shots that were “almost always strong but usually misdirected.”
One of the pro-ams Ford played in during his 1974 visit to Charlotte was at Raintree Country Club. On his first day of golf in the Queen City, he hooked one ball over a 10-foot fence into Raintree’s swimming pool. Several children were swimming in the pool, but the ball fortunately missed all of them. Ford autographed the golf ball after one kid fished it out.
The next day Ford played 18 holes at Quail Hollow alongside the famous evangelist Graham in a pro-am foursome that also included golfer Tom Weiskopf and N.C. Gov. Jim Holshouser.
On one hole, Graham missed an 18-inch putt. The Observer reported that Graham laughed and “was overheard to say, ‘Someone up there isn’t looking out for me.’ ”
The vice president said in brief remarks to the press during his Charlotte visit that he and Nixon were “firm friends” and that “he’s done a fine job foreign policy-wise.”
As Ford gazed out at the water on his next-to-last hole in Charlotte – the 17th hole at Quail Hollow – one fan yelled: “Look out for Watergate!”
Ford grinned, The Observer wrote, and then hit the ball onto the green.
Staff researcher Maria David contributed to this story.