Bret Baier is best known as the anchor and executive editor of Special Report, the Fox News Channel show that airs weekday evenings from 6–7 p.m. Eastern time. But the 48-year-old New Jersey native is also a golf fanatic who carries a handicap index of 3.7. While that puts him in the upper echelon of recreational golfers, it also puts him at some financial risk in weekend Nassaus, given how little he practices. “I’m a walking wallet,” he laments.
Baier, who played college golf at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., is a member at Washington, D.C., area clubs Burning Tree (where last year he won the men’s club championship) and Congressional, as well as Pine Valley in New Jersey. He has made the cut on several occasions in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
The author of three best-selling books, including one on Dwight Eisenhower’s last days in office, Three Days in January, and another on his son Paul’s battle with heart disease, Special Heart, Baier is celebrating his 10th anniversary as the anchor of Special Report, which is the No 1 cable news program in its time slot. Previously he served as the chief White House correspondent for Fox News and the national security correspondent for the network. He joined Fox in 1998, opening its Atlanta bureau in his garage apartment.
Shortly after signing a multiyear deal to continue as the anchor and executive editor of Special Report, Baier found time to chat with GGP+.
How and when did you get into golf?
Growing up in Rumson, New Jersey, I played tennis but not golf. Then, when I was 9, my father was transferred to Atlanta. I remember playing in a city (tennis) tournament there and losing a match and getting so frustrated that I wanted to try another sport. So, I tried golf and I really liked it. My father was an oil broker, my mother was a flight attendant for Eastern Airlines for a while, and then a travel agent and after that a CPA. They joined the Dunwoody Country Club when we moved to Georgia. I spent my entire summers on the golf course there.
When did you start competing in golf?
I played some AJGA events as a teenager and also for my high school golf team. We won the state championship my senior year. At DePauw, I played on the golf team all four years and was captain for two of them. We played Division III and made it to the NCAAs each year. I was a decent player. Nothing special. My coach used to say that he needed a flask when he watched me play because I’d hit the ball all over the place and then get up and down.
What is your best golf memory growing up in Georgia?
In 1986, when I was 15 years old, I went to the Masters for the final round. My dad got tickets from someone at work, and I remember the roars as Jack Nicklaus kept making birdies that Sunday afternoon. We followed Jack from the 12th hole on. Watching him win his sixth Masters was the most amazing sports experience ever.
Years later, I got to know Jack and his wife, Barbara, through some charity work. Jack and I have also played golf together. I told him during one of those rounds about following him in 1986 and said it was the most remarkable thing I had ever seen. He smiled and replied, ‘You should have been in it.’
Augusta is a special place, isn’t it?
It’s the best. You walk the course there, as I have been able to do a few times, and you walk where the greats of golf once did. You start running film in your head from past Masters: Crenshaw with that long putt on No. 10 (when he won for the first time there, in 1984), Mickelson hitting that iron off the pine straw on the 13th, the chip that Tiger holed on 16, Seve dumping his second shot into the water on the 15th in 1986. Every time you step on the property, you go through that.
When I first played there, I stayed at the Eisenhower Cabin and I was all jacked up. After dinner one night, I walked around the cabin with a glass of wine and took it all in. Looking at the photographs, the paintings he did, the framed letters on the wall, I loved it, and loved learning what a special spot Augusta was for Ike. He spent six of his eight Thanksgivings as President at Augusta. In many ways, that night in his old cabin gave me the idea to pursue the Eisenhower book.
What are some of your more memorable moments on the golf course?
Just being on the iconic courses I have been able to play has been great. So has making the cut at the AT&T a couple of times. One year there, playing with Russell Henley, I hit a 5-iron into the stands by the 18th hole of Pebble Beach, right into the Arnold Palmer Lodge actually. I had a free drop, but my lie was not too bad so I decided to play it from the carpet. I took out a pitching wedge, hit it onto the green and then watched it roll into a bunker. But I got up and down, for a 5-for-4.
I’ve had one hole-in-one, when I was 14, on the sixth hole at Dunwoody. I was playing by myself, but fortunately a member of the greens crew was there and saw it go in. He was raking the bunker at the time, and I knew it had gone in the hole when I saw him raise his rake up.
I’ve played with all kinds of people, and one of the things I like about golf the most is that it is such a unifying factor. No matter how different the people in a group might be, once you get them on the golf course, you are suddenly all on the same page.
What else about the game do you like?
It’s an escape for me, a getaway. I can walk onto a course and instantly feel at peace. It’s just you and your golf game. And there is something about being with a group of guys and just enjoying everybody’s company. The stories. The laughs. I also really enjoy it from a father’s perspective. I love bringing my two sons, Paul and Daniel, out to the golf course.
And now, a quick non-golf question. I’ve read that early in your career that you moonlighted at an Applebee’s restaurant while working for a television station on Hilton Head Island. Is that correct?
Actually, I had three jobs back then. I was a reporter for Channel 6, a bartender at Applebee’s and a food delivery guy. I’d show up at someone’s house after a broadcast, and the person who answered the door would look at me and say, ‘Weren’t you the guy on Channel 6 tonight?’, and I’d say, ‘Did you order the calzone?’ The same thing used to happen to me at the bar, and I think being a bartender actually helped my interviewing skills.
Is there any course you haven’t played yet that you really want to?
Oakmont is one. Also, Bethpage Black in New York. I have been to Scotland and Ireland, and I brought my family to the Ryder Cup in France last year. So, I have traveled a little bit overseas to play. But there are so many places that I want to play. All around the world.
Finally, tell us about your 2016 interview on Special Report with the Dalai Lama. I know you have asked questions of presidents and prime ministers. But your conversation with the Dalai Lama had to stand out because of the way you concluded the Q&A.
It was certainly the most unusual end to an interview because the last question I asked him was whether he had ever seen Caddyshack, and whether he had ever played golf. The answer to both was no. I am not sure he understood what I was asking. But my golf buddies thought it was funny.
Top photo: Bret Baier hits a tee shot at Pebble Beach. Photo courtesy of Bret Baier
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