Obama treats himself to boys’ weekend in Florida

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. : President Barack Obama was facing the prospect of rattling around the White House without his family during a long weekend, so he arranged a golf outing with some buddies.

In Florida.

He high-tailed it south after a speech Friday in Chicago on building a stronger middle class and he won’t return to Washington until Monday, the Presidents Day federal holiday.

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, the resort that will be his home away from home for the weekend.

It’s a weekend with the boys, presidential style.

Eyebrows might have been raised at the thought of the president, any president, skipping 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 midwinter ski vacation out West.

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

And, Obama has gone off on his own in the past, too.

During the weekend, the avid first golfer was expected to take full advantage of the club’s private, 18-hole 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.

“A quiet weekend of golf,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

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 again until it’s time for the return trip home.

Obama’s longtime friend 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 on Friday.

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 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 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.