After the county police cruiser, the two limousines and the Secret Service van pulled up near the clubhouse at the Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills yesterday morning, club member Theo Rodgers had to wonder aloud.
"All this for a round of golf," said Mr. Rodgers, standing with his arms folded, watching the entourage arrive.
Ah, but not just a round of golf. This was The President's Round of Golf -- a media event of some potential, a challenge for security experts and a slight delay for the golfers waiting to use the practice tee. These men had prepared yesterday morning for recreation; little did they know they would witness the White House roadshow.
"I came up here to hit balls before I play," Mr. Rodgers, a Baltimore real estate developer, said as he stood by the practice tee. He would have to wait. For striding through the crowd toward the practice tee at 9 a.m. was President Bush, dressed in white sweater, off-white slacks and black and maroon saddle shoes. He held a white golf cap in his left hand and waved with his right, shook a few hands and said "Good morning."
But it was not immediately clear if the golfing congregation was not more impressed with the presence of Arnold Palmer, who accompanied Mr. Bush to the practice tee and joined the morning foursome, which also included former Attorney General Griffin Bell and former Sun publisher Reg Murphy, now vice president of the United States Golf Association.
"I just shook the hand of a man who won four Masters tournaments," said a golfer in the crowd who had greeted Mr. Palmer.
Impressive record. But it was not for Mr. Palmer that the Secret Service appeared in force hours before presidential tee-off time. It was their job to secure a 900-acre expanse of golf course and private home sites, a landscape of woods and bushes and bunkers and water holes.
"You've got to figure [Mr. Bush] can't lose any balls in the woods," Mr. Rodgers said. "The woods are crawling with Secret Service agents."
As the president's arrival neared, agents could be seen walking through the woods, scanning the course with high-powered binoculars. Minutes before two White House helicopters appeared over the greensward, a two-man sniper team headed for the links in a golf cart, their black-cased rifles as big as golf bags strapped to the back of the cart. Two agents in combat attire stalked the 10th tee area with two dogs that sniffed the turf for explosives.
"We went through everything with them two days ago," said Bruce Cadenelli, course superintendent. "They know how to behave on golf courses."
Naturally. They work for President Bush, the man who has been known to play golf in a downpour, who whacked balls for about two hours in Kennebunkport last Easter Sunday in 40-degree weather on a puddle-pocked course that just recently emerged from snow cover. This is the man whose rapid-fire style of play has been dubbed "aerobic golf" by the president's doctor.
It was Mr. Bush's first visit to Caves Valley, which opened last July. With Mr. Palmer and Mr. Bell staying with him at Camp David for the weekend, Mr. Bush figured he'd take the 25-minute helicopter ride down to the club, hit a few with the boys and stay for lunch.
"He heard it's a very nice course," said White House press officer Sean Walsh. Indeed. The place cost $40 million to build and charges up to $50,000 for an individual membership, $75,000 for corporate members. Annual dues run to $2,800.
The course proved a challenge from the start for Mr. Bush. Beginning his round on the 10th tee to avoid delaying golfers on the first hole, the president gripped a metal-head driver, looked out at the 365-yard par 4, swung easily and hooked the ball left into the woods. He hit two more tee shots, stroking the third down the middle of the fairway. Asked for his analysis, Caves Valley pro Dennis Satyshur said, "His swing looks good," and added that the president's visit "couldn't be more exciting."
Not so for the White House press corps, which waited hours for Mr. Bush to pass its outpost at the ninth hole, the last of the day's 18. The round took nearly four hours, a leisurely pace for a president who has been known to finish a shorter course in Maine in less than two. This intensified the boredom for the five photographers, five reporters, one cameraman and two sound technicians. They waited and waited. Because, well, you never know.
"Sometimes he'll come over on the golf course and give like a little mini press conference," said Jill Dougherty, a Cable News Network reporter. "There's no pattern."
So after Mr. Bush putted out on the ninth, Ms. Dougherty, standing more than 100 yards away, could not contain herself.
"ANY REACTION TO PERU?" she shouted, referring to that nation's firing on an Air Force anti-drug plane Friday night.
If the president heard, he didn't say, didn't even look up. He stepped into a golf cart alongside Mr. Satyshur, and the entourage rolled up the asphalt path to the clubhouse. Peru would wait, as would trade policy, aid to the former Soviet Union and a million other worldly troubles. It was time for lunch.