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Obama golfs with NZ prime minister; visits Punchbowl

By Julie Pace

AP White House Correspondent

LAST UPDATED: 6:56 p.m. HST, Jan 2, 2014

President Barack Obama rounded up a new golf partner today: New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.

The two leaders teed off on a sunny and breezy morning at the Kaneohe Klipper course at Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

This afternoon, the president visited the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl, where his grandfather and grandmother, who helped raise him, are interred and took his daughters to the Honolulu Zoo in Waikiki.

The president also brought Sasha and Malia with him to visit the grave of Madelyn and Stanley Dunham.

Their motorcade left Kailua at 4:14 and arrived at the cemetery about a half hour later and left before 5 p.m. for the Honolulu Zoo.

The zoo closes at 4:30 p.m. so the president and his daughters have the facility to themselves until they left at 6:19 p.m, just after sunset, to return to their vacation home.

A zoo visit is a tradition for the Obama family. They also took a zoo tour during their 2011 and 2010 vacations.

Key owns a vacation home in Hawaii. Obama invited Key to golf, the White House said in a statement.

"The two leaders have long discussed their shared interest in the sport, and they enjoyed the opportunity to spend several hours together on the golf course. President Obama and Prime Minister Key have developed a close partnership, which reflects the friendship and broad cooperation between the United States and New Zealand. While the two leaders are both enjoying some time off with families and friends, they also reaffirmed our continued work together to deepen our trade relationship, enhance regional security, and support the democratic values that the United States and New Zealand share," the statement said.

They finished their round in about 5 hours and the president returned to his vacation home just after 2 p.m.

The golf outing put Key in rarified company. Obama is an avid golfer, but prefers to limit his playing partners to a close circle of friends and advisers. Among those who have also scored invitations to play with Obama in the past are former President Bill Clinton and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Rounding out the foursome today were Max Key, the prime minister's teenage son, and Marvin Nicholson, Obama's personal aide.

Media access to Obama's rounds is typically restricted, though reporters and photographers were permitted to briefly watch the two leaders today.

The foursome pulled up to the green on the second hole in two golf carts, with the president and prime minister driving together. Obama's first putt was short of the hole and his second landed just wide. Rather than putt a third time, he opted for a gimme shot, where all other players concede his next putt and he adds one stroke to his total for the hole.

After the younger Key sank his putt, Obama gave him a high-five and joked, "He's doing it in front of the cameras, too."

Key has served as New Zealand's prime minister since 2008.

Associated Press writer Kalani Takase contributed to this report.

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