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President Obama golfs, then spends Christmas Eve with family

By Star-Advertiser staff and the Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 12:37 p.m. HST, Dec 25, 2011

Photo Gallery: President Obama arrives in Hawaii

The Obamas spent a quiet Christmas Eve at home with a close circle of family and friends that typically joins the president for his annual Hawaiian vacation. They include Obama's sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, who lives in the state with her family, and several friends the president has known since high school.

Earlier in the day, the president went golfing with old friends and White House staffers while First Lady Michelle Obama answered questions about Santa's travels from children calling NORAD.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command has been telling anxious children about Santa's whereabouts every year since 1955.

The White House said Mrs. Obama answered several calls from children around the country who wanted to know how close Santa was to their homes. During one conversation, she divulged how she and her daughters sought Santa's help in bringing the president to Hawaii.

"We were all praying and praying, and asking Santa, and the tooth fairy, and every fairy they could think of," the first lady said Saturday. She said their children prayed as well that the president "would be able to be with us."

President Obama eventually made it to Hawaii, about a week late, and only after Congress resolved its stalemate over extending expiring payroll tax cuts.

With the tense tax standoff behind him, the president has eased into vacation mode since arriving in Honolulu Friday night, spending a low-key Christmas Eve out of the spotlight.

Obama skipped his normal early morning gym workout Saturday, opting to spend time at the multimillion-dollar vacation home his family rents in the Kailua.. He headed to the golf course later in the day.

The president's motorcade left the Kailua rental house at 11:32 a.m. Reporters following the president said Kailua had been experiencing occasional showers throughout the morning. However the sun was shinning when the president's motorcade arrived at the Kaneohe Klipper course.

Last year, Obama also played golf on his first day of vacation in Hawaii.

The president's golf group was a mixture of old friends and White House staffers. Hawaii friends Mike Ramos, Greg Orme and Bobby Titcomb, along with Chicago friend Eric Whitaker, are golfing with White House staffers Sam Kass and Marvin Nicholson.

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has criticized Obama's plans to come to Hawaii and golf during his vacation.

In an Iowa telephone conference call earlier this month, Romney said that in some respects, Obama's "idea of a 'hands-on' approach to the economy is getting a grip on his golf club."

Romney used similar language in a fundraising letter that asked for $18 — one for each hole on a golf course.

However, some Democrats and even Republicans note that every president spends time away from Washington and engages in weekend recreation or relaxation.

After nearly five and a half hours of golf, the president wrapped up his game and returned home at 5:25 p.m., just before a late afternoon downpour.

Earlier in the week, it looked as though the president's annual December trip to the state where he was born and mostly raised might not happen.

The president pledged to stay in Washington until a deal on extending the payroll tax cuts was reached. When his planned Dec. 17 departure date arrived without a deal, the White House wouldn't say if or when Obama might leave.

A deal was finalized Friday morning. Hours later, the president boarded Air Force One for Hawaii to meet his wife and daughters, who traveled ahead of him.

Obama's first order of business when he arrived was taking his wife out to dinner. The couple joined a few friends at Morimoto restaurant in Waikiki.. Crowds gathered to watch the president leave at about 10:09 p.m. and several in the crowd cheered and took flash photos as the presidential SUV left the area. He arrived back at the vacation home at 10:44 p.m.

The president has no public events planned in Hawaii. A small group of advisers accompanied him to brief him on domestic and international developments.

The Obamas are expected to return to Washington shortly after New Year's Day.

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