This post has been updated.
PALM CITY, Fla. – President Obama on Sunday displayed the freedom that comes with not having another election ahead of him, golfing with Tiger Woods in an enclave of privilege here along Florida’s blustery Atlantic coast.
Since his reelection in November, Obama has been talking about the perils facing America’s middle class, highlighted in his State of the Union address last week. On Friday he visited a public high school in his hometown of Chicago, where he spoke in personal terms about the need to reduce gun violence and create jobs in the country’s troubled urban areas.
The contrast to where he arrived only hours later – and where he will remain through Monday’s federal holiday – could not be more stark. He disappeared late Friday evening behind the gates of the Floridian, a lush golf and residential compound off limits to the public. Neither the public outside those gates, nor the media, has seen him since.
And by adding Woods, the greatest player of his generation, whose fame might only be matched by the notoriety attached to his precipitous adultery-fueled fall from grace three years ago, Obama made clear that he’ll live with criticism over the gap between the harsh realities he is seeking to address in public life and the glamour of his private follies.
The Floridian is owned by Houston businessman and Obama donor Jim Crane, a near-scratch golfer who also owns the Houston Astros baseball team. Crane held a fundraiser for Obama last March in an upscale shopping and dining complex attached to Minute Maid Park, the Astros home field.
Crane bought the Floridian property, including a course designed originally by the legendary South African golfer Gary Player, in 2010 from former Blockbuster-magnate H. Wayne Huizenga. The course has been reconfigured by noted architect Tom Fazio. The grounds include eight cottages, one of which Obama is using this weekend.
Crane played with Obama on Saturday, and joined the group that included Woods again on Sunday. So did Ron Kirk, Obama’s departing U.S. Trade Representative.
Butch Harmon, Woods’ former swing coach, accompanied the president and his group Saturday and offered a few tips along the way.
On Sunday, though, Obama got the real thing with Woods, a winner of 14 major golf championships who lives not far from here on a $54 million estate in Jupiter Island, Fla.
Woods is not playing in the PGA event in Los Angeles this weekend. He is currently ranked No. 2 in the world, although he has already won a tournament just weeks into the new season and is so far seventh on the winnings list.<
The traveling White House press corps has been given no access to Obama on this outing, a guys’ weekend of golf and a cool winter sun. First lady Michelle Obama and the couple’s daughters, Sasha and Malia, took their annual ski vacation in Aspen, Colo., during the long Presidents’ Day weekend.
For much of this outing, the small contingent of the White House press corps accompanying Obama has lobbied with little success for more information about where precisely on the Floridian grounds the president is staying, who he is staying with, and how much contact he has with other people on the grounds.
A photo of Obama on the course with someone as famous as Woods is commonly a moment the “traveling pool” of about a dozen journalists is allowed to witness. White House officials declined to allow that Sunday.
For the long weekend, the pool has been permitted just inside the Floridian gates, where reporters have used as their “filing center” a mirror-ceilinged party bus, the kind used for shouldn’t-be-driving evenings of bacchanalia like bachelor parties.
Because the president’s motorcade has not left the compound, White House officials have explained, there is no reason for the pool to track the president’s activities or to know who he is spending time with on a personal vacation.
That is an argument often respected by the White House press corps, except this time Obama is not staying in a private home but on the grounds of a complex accessible by those who belong to the club and others. The press corps is staying at a Holiday Inn Express roughly eight miles away.
The debate over access had grown near-Talmudic in its intensity and detail. But the presence of a Golf Channel journalist on the Floridian grounds Sunday prompted a sharp complaint from the White House Correspondents’ Association over the way this trip — and Sunday’s outing, in particular — has been handled by the administration in a way that has rendered it largely hidden from the traveling press.
White House press officials denied those claims, saying the traveling press corps received the first “official” confirmation of the Obama-Woods outing, even though Tim Rosaforte, a writer at Golf World Magazine and a regular contributor to the Golf Channel, broke the story hours earlier.
Rosaforte, who reported from the grounds of the Floridian off limits to the White House press corps, also said Obama and Woods were so enjoying their round that they had decided to play 27 holes, instead of the regular 18.
White House officials declined to provide more information to the pool beyond the names of those playing with Obama.