Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Who took more vacation -- George W. Bush or Barack Obama?

President Barack Obama golfs at Farm Neck Golf Club in Oak Bluffs, Mass., on the island of Martha's Vineyard, on Aug. 9, 2014.
President Barack Obama golfs at Farm Neck Golf Club in Oak Bluffs, Mass., on the island of Martha's Vineyard, on Aug. 9, 2014.

Even a year later, our fact-check on which president took more vacation -- George W. Bush or Barack Obama -- remains one of our most popular fact-checks with readers. Given the Obama’s family’s summer vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., we thought it was time to look at the numbers again.

The question is drawing special attention this year because the Obamas’ time away came during a period that included unrest in Ferguson, Mo., the launch of U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic extremist group ISIS, the beheading of American journalist James Foley by ISIS, and the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa.

The blizzard of challenges at a time when the president was on vacation -- and often on the golf course -- was not lost on many of his critics, as well as some of his supporters.

"As a general rule, I think that he’s right that you can’t be held hostage to the news cycle — the man deserves a bit of downtime," Jim Manley, a veteran Democratic strategist, told the New York Times. "But in this particular instance, I think a lot of Democrats flinched a little bit.

We’ll leave aside the political judgements and look strictly at the numbers.

Vacation days

CBS White House reporter Mark Knoller is the unofficial but widely trusted chronicler of data on presidential travels and other day-to-day White House goings-on, so we turned to his calculations.

On Aug. 8, 2014, Knoller tweeted that Obama had taken 19 vacations totaling 125 days so far while in office. Those numbers have risen a bit due to the Martha’s Vineyard vacation, but that’s still many fewer than George W. Bush’s 65 combined trips to his Texas ranch and his parents’ home in Kennebunkport, Maine, which totaled 407 days at the same point in his presidency.

Not included in this data are trips to the Camp David presidential retreat in western Maryland, which Knoller doesn’t count as "vacation." Knoller told Yahoo! News that, through Aug. 12, 2014, Obama had made 33 visits to Camp David for all or part of 84 days, while Bush had been there 108 times for all or part of 341 days.

As we’ve noted previously, the unique security concerns for the president mean that he and his family can’t simply head out on the road and plop down at a Motel 6. And all presidents have to be accessible for consultation and decision-making even if they’re on vacation. As Knoller tweeted, a president "is never really on ‘vacation.’ The job and responsibilities go with him wherever he is."

Golf rounds

By Knoller’s count, Obama played 186 rounds of golf during his presidency through Aug. 12, according to Yahoo! News. That number that has gone up a bit since then due to additional rounds on Martha’s Vineyard.

Bush played many fewer rounds as president -- 24, mainly because he stopped in 2003, since it sent the wrong message when troops were fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Still, Obama is hardly the all-time champion in presidential golf rounds. Golf has been so popular among presidents that several golf publications have had no problem filling up the spots on 10-best lists of presidential golfers, with many worthy presidents failing to make the cut. A frequent No. 1 on those lists is John F. Kennedy, despite his debilitating case of Addison’s disease.

As for which president has played the most rounds of golf, it’s definitely not Obama. For instance, Dwight Eisenhower played almost 800 rounds during his eight-year presidency, according to a study of his daily itinerary cited in Golf Digest -- many times what Obama has played.

And Eisenhower is not even the No. 1 golf-playing president. Woodrow Wilson played nearly 1,200 rounds during his two terms. Wilson "played more rounds of golf than any president in history," said Wilson’s biographer, A. Scott Berg.