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Obama heads to Florida for weekend with the boys

By Darlene Superville

Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 05:18 p.m. HST, Feb 16, 2013


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 President's Day 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 — including by the members of the news media traveling with him — 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 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.

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, and $2,300 to Obama in 2007, according to Federal Election Commission records.

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 Viking yacht, a 24-foot 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 reporters traveling with the president to stay at a hotel in Port St. Lucie, about a 25-minute drive away.

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 traveled 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.

Crane said earlier Saturday that he was scheduled to play a round of golf with Obama on Sunday, according to a report on the website for Major League Baseball. Crane said he was at the club to welcome Obama when he arrived Friday night.

"Looks like I might get to play with him a little bit tomorrow, and we're looking forward to that," Crane said Saturday as he addressed the Astros before a team workout, according to mlb.com. "He came in late last night and was very cordial. His staff is great and it's very exciting. I mean, when do you get the president staying in your place?"

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.

America's presidents 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.

Although Bess and Margaret Truman visited him there just a couple of times, President Harry Truman vacationed most often by himself in tropical Key West, Fla. Many aides, all men, accompanied him.

Truman enjoyed the male companionship and his wife may have stayed away out of a desire to not interrupt his cherished late afternoon and evening games of poker. Truman vacationed in Key West 11 times between November 1946 and March 1952; his wife and daughter joined him for the first time in November 1948, after his surprise victory in that year's election campaign.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt often visited his cottage at Warm Springs, Ga., alone; wife, Eleanor, didn't much care for the place or the Southern atmosphere. Roosevelt was at Warm Springs, on his own, when he died in April 1945.

He also often traveled solo to his home in Hyde Park, N.Y., during World War II. The first lady often did not accompany Roosevelt on his wartime visits to Shangri-La, which is now the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland, or when he traveled on the presidential yacht or on Navy warships.

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 Oprah Winfrey, her pal Gayle King, Whitaker and White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, a fellow Chicagoan.

___

AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson and Associated Press writer Michele Salcedo in Washington contributed to this report.






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