Obama treats himself to Florida boys' weekend

With first lady Michelle Obama along with daughters Malia and Sasha on their annual ski vacation out west, President Barack Obama headed to Florida for a weekend of golf. And, it seems, a president going on vacation alone isn't all that uncommon.

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Faced with a lonely weekend of rattling around the White House without his wife and daughters, President Barack Obama arranged a golf outing with some buddies — in Florida.

Immediately after a speech Friday in his hometown of Chicago on building a stronger middle class, Obama flew into the airport in West Palm Beach and was driven for nearly an hour to coastal Palm City and behind the gates of the Floridian Yacht and Golf Club, an exclusive resort that will serve as the president's home away from home until he returns to Washington on Monday.

It's 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, President's Day weekend ski vacation out West.

As it turns out, a president going on vacation alone isn't all that uncommon.

And, Obama has taken "vacations for one" in the past, too.

During the weekend, Obama — an avid golfer — was expected to take full advantage of the club's private, 18-hole regulation golf course, which opened in 1996 and is owned by Jim Crane, a Houston businessman who also owns Major League Baseball's Astros, according to golfnow.com.

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.

The president was not expected to leave the private club, which fronts the St. Lucie River, until he heads back to Washington. 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.

The White House arranged for the reporters who travel with the president to stay at a hotel in Port St. Lucie, about a 20-minute drive away from Palm City. They were not expected to see the president until it's time for the return trip home.

Obama's longtime buddy from Chicago, Eric Whitaker, joined him aboard Air Force One for the trip 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 Friday.

The White House was expected to release the names of those who played golf with the president on Saturday later in the day.

At least one instructor to some top professional golfers put out the word that he'd be on the green with Obama in the afternoon.

"I will be with POTUS this afternoon, playing 9 holes and some practice time," Butch Harmon, Tiger Woods' former swing coach, said in a text message to The Associated Press. POTUS is an acronym for president of the United States.

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 such top golfers as Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els, and annually ranks No. 1 on magazine lists of golf's best teachers.

Crane, meanwhile, 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, 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 win in that year's election campaign.

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, Bill Clinton was in southern 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 vacation without his wife and daughters.

In 2010, Obama was left alone in Washington as his 49th birthday approached. The first lady had taken Sasha with her to Spain for a vacation with friends, and Malia was away at camp. Rather than stay in the big White House by himself, he fled, with family dog Bo, home to Chicago for an intimate dinner with friends there that included Oprah Winfrey, Whitaker and White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, a fellow Chicagoan.

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