PALM CITY, Fla. – U.S. President Barack Obama played golf Sunday with Tiger Woods, the White House said.
Once the sport’s dominant player before his career was sidetracked by scandal, Woods joined Obama at the Floridian, a secluded and exclusive yacht and golf club on Florida’s Treasure Coast where Obama is spending the long Presidents Day weekend. The two had met before, but Sunday was the first time they played together.
The White House, which has promised to be the most open and transparent in history, has prohibited any media coverage of Obama’s golf outing.
The foursome also included Jim Crane, a Houston businessman who owns the Floridian and baseball’s Houston Astros, and outgoing U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, a former mayor of Dallas, said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. Crane and Kirk also were part of Obama’s foursome on Saturday, the White House said.
Obama, an avid golfer, also received some instruction Saturday and played a few holes with Butch Harmon, Woods’ former swing coach.
Initial word that the First Duffer would play a round with the world’s No. 2 player didn’t come from the White House, but instead came from veteran golf journalist Tim Rosaforte, who announced it on Twitter. Rosaforte’s late-morning tweet said: “The president is arriving at the Floridian range. Awaiting is Tiger Woods and club owner Jim Crane. Historic day in golf. Their first round.”
White House confirmation of Woods’ participation came about two hours later, following multiple appeals from travelling White House reporters.
Golf Digest reported on its website that Obama spent eight hours Saturday with Harmon, playing 27 holes and hitting balls in Harmon’s studio, and then managed to co-ordinate Sunday’s round with Woods. The report said the original plan called for Obama and Woods, a Florida resident, to play at Woods’ home club — The Medalist Golf Club, a half-hour away in Hobe Sound. But they eventually opted for the Floridian.
Woods departed after the first 18 holes, with Obama staying on to play another nine, the report said.
“Just to see the interaction between the two on the range was pretty neat,” Harmon told Golf Digest. “The President said to Tiger: ‘The last tournament you played was fun to watch. It’s good to see you play well again.’ You could tell he meant it. It just wasn’t a throw it out compliment.”
It seems Obama and Woods — the first black men at the top of their respective fields — have spent the past few years inching toward Sunday’s meeting on the fairway.
They met in January 2009, during Obama’s inauguration in Washington. Four months later, in April, Woods visited the White House and Obama received him in the Oval Office.
Woods’ personal life imploded later in 2009 after revelations that he had engaged in multiple extramarital affairs, leading to divorce. He followed with a public apology and announced he was taking an indefinite break from golf. Shortly after Woods announced he was coming out of seclusion, Obama said in an interview with Fox News Channel that Woods will still be a “terrific” golfer despite his personal issues.
After returning to the sport, Woods went two years without winning, but his game is back on track and he currently is ranked No. 2 in the world. Woods won the last tournament he played, three weeks ago in San Diego.
The White House made clear from the start of Obama’s trip that there would be no coverage of him because he would be on vacation with no plans to leave the club, which remained open to members and their guests.
It arranged for the pool of reporters who travelled with Obama to bunk at a Holiday Inn about a 20-minute drive away in Port St. Lucie. Whenever the reporters were brought to the Floridian on the off chance that Obama might leave the property, they were taken no further than a maintenance shed beyond the club gates but on the edge of the grounds.
The presence at the Floridian of a professional journalist who tweeted about Obama’s game as he was playing, while White House reporters essentially were locked out, brought a sharp response from Ed Henry, the Fox News Channel correspondent who also is president of the White House Correspondents’ Association.
“A broad cross section of our members from print, radio, online and TV have today expressed extreme frustration to me about having absolutely no access to the president of the United States this entire weekend,” Henry said in a statement. “There is a very simple but important principle we will continue to fight for today and in the days ahead: transparency.”
In response, Earnest, the White House spokesman said: “The press access granted by the White House today is entirely consistent with the press access offered for previous presidential golf outings. It’s also consistent with the press access promised to the White House Press Corps prior to arrival in Florida on Friday evening.”
Previous administrations have allowed brief news media coverage at either the beginning or the end of presidential golf games. Obama’s policy generally is no coverage at all, but exceptions were made for separate outings he had in 2011 with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and former President Bill Clinton.
Golf Channel said Rosaforte is a member of the Floridian who sent his tweets from the clubhouse. Rosaforte did not have access to the course or to Obama, the network said.
Obama is in Florida while his wife and daughters are on an annual ski vacation out West. He was due to arrive back in Washington on Monday night.
AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson contributed to this report.
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