Obama flees empty White House for Florida golf weekend with buddies
Darlene Superville, The Associated Press
Published Saturday, February 16, 2013 1:38PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, February 16, 2013 10:39PM EST
PALM CITY, Fla. -- Faced with a long weekend in an empty White House, President Barack Obama figured he needed a getaway, too, so he put together a golf outing with some buddies.
Not at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland or at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, two Washington-area military posts where he's a regular on their courses.
Instead, he went south, to Florida, to spend the long Presidents Day holiday weekend staying and playing at the Floridian, an exclusive and secluded yacht and golf club on the state's Treasure Coast.
He arrived Friday night after a speech in Chicago and wasn't expected to be seen again in public until he returns to Washington on Monday.
"At this time, there are no public events scheduled or plans for the president to leave the grounds of the golf club," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Saturday.
Call it a weekend with the boys, presidential style.
Eyebrows might have been raised at the thought of the president, any president, high-tailing it out of Washington, without his family, for some "me time" hundreds of miles (kilometres) away from the Oval Office. First lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha are on an annual ski vacation out West.
As it turns out, it isn't at all uncommon for a president to go on vacation on his own.
And, Obama has gone off alone in the past.
During the weekend, the president, a sports enthusiast and avid golfer, planned to practice his putting technique on the club's private, 18-hole course, which opened in 1996, according to golfnow.com, and is owned by Jim Crane, a Houston businessman who also owns Major League Baseball's Astros.
Members of the club and their guests have access to one of eight cottages, a 68-slip deep water marina, the club's 61-foot (18.6-meter) Viking yacht, a 24-foot (7.3-meter) Hurricane Deck Boat and the club's private helicopter service with two on-site helipads along the St. Lucie River.
The White House arranged for the reporters who travel with the president to stay at a hotel in Port St. Lucie, about a 25-minute drive away. They were not expected to see the president during the three-day holiday weekend until he boards Air Force One to return home.
Obama's longtime friend from Chicago, Eric Whitaker, joined him on the flight from Chicago to Florida. The two have played golf together in the past. Another regular member of Obama's golf foursomes is White House trip director Marvin Nicholson, who also travelled with the president on Friday.
Besides Whitaker and Crane, Obama played golf Saturday with Ron Kirk, the outgoing U.S. trade representative; Tony Chase, a Houston businessman and lawyer who threw a fundraiser for Obama last March; and Milton Carroll, chairman of Houston-based CenterPoint Energy. Carroll donated $2,300 to Obama's first presidential campaign, according to campaignmoney.com, which gathers information about financial contributions to federal political campaigns.
Earnest, the White House spokesman, said Obama also got some instruction and played a few holes with Butch Harmon, Tiger Woods' former swing coach. Harmon had told The Associated Press by text message earlier Saturday that he would be at the Floridian to play nine holes and practice with Obama.
Harmon was Woods' coach when he turned pro and reached what many believe to be the peak of his game in the early 2000s. He also was Greg Norman's coach when he was No. 1 in the world in the 1990s. Harmon has taught a number of top golfers, including Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Fred Couples and Adam Scott, and annually ranks No. 1 on magazine lists of golf's best teachers.
Crane said he received a call about a week ago asking if the president could use the course. He said Obama then contacted him personally to thank him.
Crane has made political contributions to Republican and Democratic candidates, including $35,800 last year to a joint fundraising committee for Obama and the Democratic Party, according to Federal Election Commission records.
America's presidents -- including Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman -- have been taking solo vacations for decades, according to Larry Knutson, a former White House reporter for The Associated Press who wrote a book about presidents and their vacations.
In 1997, President Bill Clinton was in Florida for fundraising and to play in a golf tournament when he stumbled on steps at the home of golf pro Greg Norman and needed surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right knee. He was treated at a hospital in West Palm Beach before being flown to Washington for the operation.
Obama's stay at the Floridian isn't his first get-away without his wife and daughters.
In 2010, as his 49th birthday approached, Obama was left home alone after the first lady took Sasha with her on a trip to Spain, and Malia was away at camp.
Rather than stay in the sprawling White House by himself, Obama fled, taking family dog Bo, home to Chicago for a birthday dinner with friends there that included TV personality Oprah Winfrey, her pal Gayle King, Whitaker and White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, a fellow Chicagoan.