JUPITER, Fla. — President Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe largely disappeared from public view for more than three hours here Saturday at one of Trump’s signature golf courses for what was billed as some fairways diplomacy.
Trump, wearing a white Make America Great Again hat, appeared to be high-fiving Abe in a picture posted on Twitter and other social media by Trump, as the two leaders enjoyed a shared passion for golf. They were joined by Ernie Els, a professional golfer from South Africa.
The media was largely kept away from the morning outing at Trump National Golf Club, which was meant as one of several bonding opportunities during Abe's visit this weekend to South Florida. Abe and his wife have been staying at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in nearby Palm Beach.
A media pool traveled in Trump’s motorcade to the luxurious club, where an oversize American flag greets golfers entering the clubhouse, but was not offered a glimpse of the two men. After Trump and Abe had entered, reporters — including a Japanese contingent — were led down to a basement suite where windows were covered with black plastic so they couldn’t see out.
Trump and Abe traveled later Saturday to a third Trump property in the region, the Trump International Golf Course in West Palm Beach, where aides said they had lunch.
Both men and their wives dined together back at Mar-a-Lago on Saturday night and made a joint appearance before a group of reporters outside the main entrance. Trump said the visit was going "very, very well" but ignored shouted questions about a reported missile launch by North Korea and whether he retains confidence in his national security adviser.
The White House's decision to keep the traveling press pool from seeing Trump and Abe golfing together was something of a departure from past administrations.
Although Barack Obama golfed several hundred times while serving as president, his outings with dignitaries were often open to the press pool, so photographers and other journalists could document the occasion.
When Obama held a similar summit in 2013, with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Sunnylands in California, the media was provided several opportunities to see the two leaders interacting, including when they took a leisurely walk around the grounds of the Sunnylands estate, providing visual elements to the historical record.
CNN, from a distant camera that was not part of the traveling press pool, was able to capture some of the meeting.
Trump, who has operated 17 golf courses around the world, is said to be one of the best golfers in presidential history. Abe is a little more modest about his abilities.
“My scores in golf is not up to the level of Donald at all,” Abe said in a joint news conference that the two leaders held Friday in Washington, according to a translator.
Speaking of their planned golf engagement, Abe added that “in a relaxed atmosphere, I hope to take time to discuss with Donald on the future of the world, future of the region, and future of Japan and the United States.”
Trump, meanwhile, once told Westwood One Sports Radio: “That’s the one thing about golf — you get to know somebody better on a golf course than you will over lunch.”
This is the second weekend in a row that Trump has showcased his golf clubs during a visit to Florida. Last weekend, he hosted a Super Bowl party at the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach.
When Trump and Abe headed to that property on Saturday afternoon, the media was diverted to a library across the street. Trump aides did not immediately provide information about what was taking place.
Even before this weekend’s visit, Abe had played on Trump’s fondness for the game to try to build their fledgling relationship.
During a visit to Trump Tower in New York before Trump was sworn in, Abe presented the president-elect with a $3,755 gold-colored driver.
Abe and Trump have been together in South Florida since Friday afternoon, when they flew down from Washington together with their wives on Air Force One.
The two spouses toured the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, located just west of Delray Beach, on Saturday morning, as their husbands prepared to hit the links.
While on the tour, the two women stopped by Lake Morikami, which is stocked with koi, with fish food in hand to feed the fish.
“Oooh! Oooh!” first lady Melania Trump exclaimed in delight, as the koi swarmed to where she had dropped the fish food in the water.