MARTHA’S VINEYARD, MASS. — President Obama began his Martha’s Vineyard vacation in traditional style Sunday, wasting no time in hitting the golf course.
Taking a break from wrangling over immigration reform and planning for federal budget debates, the president began his first full day of vacation with a midday round at Farm Neck Golf Club in Oak Bluffs. He was joined by aide Marvin Nicholson and White House chef Sam Kass, with Robert Wolf, a former UBS Americas chairman and one of Obama’s principal Wall Street allies, completing the foursome.
But if the president had been hoping to get his vacation off on the right foot, he was out of luck.
“His first putt was a miss, which Obama reacted to by leaning back and kicking his knee up, as if trying to coax the ball into breaking right,” according to the pool report from the journalists who watched him play the first hole.
“He let out a little, ‘Ooooh,’ as it happened. Next one missed, too. Last one he just dragged in the hole,” the report added.
It is the fourth time Obama has vacationed on the upscale island, although he skipped a trip here last year during the presidential campaign. Golf has been his preferred way to unwind — he has played more than a dozen rounds on previous visits.
Lee Gibbon, a restaurant owner from Washington state who is vacationing on the island, was sitting in the golf course’s cafe when Obama showed up to play a round.
“He said, ‘Isn’t this a great day?,’ and some people wished him well, and he went and teed off,” Gibbon said.
He described the president as an “accomplished” rather than a “great” golfer, but said he was impressed by what he saw. “Taking a shot in front of 50 people — that’s a lot of pressure,” Gibbon said.
The president arrived with first lady Michelle Obama shortly before 4 p.m. on Saturday. He is due to return to Washington on Sunday, and no public events are planned during his vacation. Aides said he will continue to receive daily updates from national security adviser Susan Rice and deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors, both of whom are on the island.
Residents on Martha’s Vineyard said they have learned to spot familiar signs indicating that the president is in town.
Margaret Saul, a sales clerk at Alley’s Farm Stand, a short distance from where the Obamas are staying, said Secret Service agents had stopped to buy groceries Saturday night.
“They tell everyone they are here on a fishing trip,” she said. “They think they are blending in, but it’s obvious,” she added, noting that the agents typically travel in pairs in black cars and often have radio wires in their ears.
However, one familiar accompaniment to the president’s trip has been more muted than usual, with Republicans largely avoiding criticizing Obama for vacationing on an island dotted with multimillion-dollar homes.
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) was an exception, telling a newspaper last week that the choice made the president appear “tone deaf” because most of Stewart’s constituents “could never afford to visit Martha’s Vineyard.”
Islanders rejected that argument, saying they thought that the commander in chief deserved a break and expressing hope that the publicity would encourage more people to visit, boosting the local economy.
One retailer was looking to cash in with T-shirts bearing the slogan “I vacationed with Obama — Martha’s Vineyard ’13,” while another store, Portobello Road in Edgartown, had already sold a handmade wooden sign reading “Obama Rules” and was touting a second.
The Obamas are again staying on Martha’s Vineyard’s western tip, but in a different home after their previous choice, the 28-acre Blue Heron Farm, was sold to an owner who refused to rent it out.
Their new place is a $7.6 million, six-bedroom house overlooking Chilmark Pond and the ocean beyond, and it features a swimming pool and a basketball court. It is owned by David Schulte, a Democratic donor who is a friend of the president and works in corporate restructuring.
Because the house is a few hundred feet from a major road, the Secret Service has banned nearby traffic during the eight-day visit, ruffling some feathers. The Vineyard Gazette reported that Chilmark Selectman Warren Doty complained that the new approach would be “very disruptive,” and the town sent out an e-mail advising residents with complaints to contact the White House.
But at the twice-weekly artisans fair in West Tisbury, a few miles from where the Obamas are staying, residents and tourists were keen to play down the dispute.
“I think everyone is excited and perfectly willing to put up with the road closure here,” Jay Kirch, 81, said as he sat in the shade at a picnic table. “I do believe he needs protection and privacy.”
Lorri Hart, 54, who was selling her custom-made jewelry at the fair, echoed Kirch’s view on the traffic disruption, saying, “I’m fine with that as long as he brings a lot of people here to visit.”
“We’re used to a lot of important people coming here, but it’s still exciting,” she added.