Obama tees off at Sunnylands before summit

Front view of Sunnylands Centre at dusk. Mr Obama has become a loyal visitor to the lush Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage, California, and has used it to confer with world leaders.
Front view of Sunnylands Centre at dusk. Mr Obama has become a loyal visitor to the lush Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage, California, and has used it to confer with world leaders.PHOTO: THE ANNENBERG FOUNDATION TRUST AT SUNNYLANDS

WASHINGTON • President Barack Obama spends his Christmas holidays in an oceanfront house on Oahu. But Hawaii has never really staked a claim to being the home of the western White House.

That status increasingly belongs to Sunnylands, the lush estate in Rancho Mirage, California, where Mr Obama welcomes Asean leaders for a summit meeting today.

Mr Obama has become a loyal visitor to the 81ha oasis of olive trees and artificial lakes near Palm Springs. He has used the estate, built in 1966 by publisher Walter Annenberg, to confer with VIPs like President Xi Jinping of China and King Abdullah II of Jordan.

But its real appeal for this warm-weather President is as a place to unwind with old friends, who join him for getaway weekends to play golf. On this visit, his sixth, he arrived three days in advance to get in a few rounds before the diplomacy begins.

"The President does genuinely love the desert, and I don't think he expected that," said Mr Geoffrey Cowan, president of the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands, which converted the estate into a high-end conference centre in 2012. "He has found it a wonderful place to spend time and for world leaders to meet in a relaxed setting."

For Sunnylands, it is a welcome return to the sun-faded glory of the 1970s and 1980s, when it was a venue of choice for mainly Republican presidents. Mr Ronald Reagan celebrated New Year's Eve there every year, Mr Richard Nixon retreated behind its pink walls after Watergate drove him from the presidency, Mr George H.W. Bush played host at a state dinner for the prime minister of Japan, and Mr Dwight Eisenhower played the nine-hole golf course where Mr Obama now tees off.

THE NEW YORK TIMES

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2016, with the headline 'Obama tees off at Sunnylands before summit'. Print Edition | Subscribe