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Obama settles into long weekend of golf with buddies

By Steve Holland

RANCHO MIRAGE, California (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama has settled into a Presidents Day holiday weekend of golf with friends at a secluded desert retreat where many presidents have found refuge from the storms of the White House.

Obama is at Sunnylands, a southern California sanctuary that has become something of a "Camp David of the West," which was the intention of the late philanthropists Walter and Leonore Annenberg, who developed the place and who hosted former President Ronald Reagan on many New Year's holidays.

Obama held a get-to-know-you summit last June with China's President Xi Jinping at the 200-acre (80-hectare) complex. Having enjoyed that experience, he brought Jordan's King Abdullah here on Friday night for more than two hours of talks on Syria and the Middle East over dinner.

"This gives me an opportunity to have an extensive consultation with His Majesty in a less formal setting," Obama told reporters.

But with the king having departed and wife Michelle and their two daughters in Aspen on a Colorado ski vacation, Obama is now using Sunnylands to hang out with friends, just as he did a year ago in Florida.

On Saturday, he played golf with three childhood friends from his Hawaiian upbringing, Bobby Titcomb, Greg Orme and Michael Ramos. Sunnylands has a nine-hole golf course that can be played as 18 holes.

Heavy security closed off streets around the complex, roads with names that recall the Palm Springs area's celebrity past. There is a Dean Martin Drive, a Frank Sinatra Drive, even a Gerald Ford Drive. And Sunnylands itself is on Bob Hope Drive.

Richard Nixon wrote his final State of the Union address at Sunnylands in 1974 and came here after resigning the presidency due to the Watergate scandal later that year. Sinatra married his fourth wife, Barbara, here in 1976.

The main house, where Obama is staying in the master bedroom, is a virtual museum with much of the artwork on display that was collected by the Annenbergs, including fine art by Pablo Picasso and Andrew Wyeth.

While he enjoys some down time, Obama has plenty on his plate for the weeks and months ahead. Pondering a strategy shift toward the seemingly intractable Syrian civil war, he and Abdullah discussed options, but came to no firm and final conclusions.

"It was very useful, though, to delve into our respective thinking and to do some strategizing and to lay a foundation for our teams to continue to really push these issues together and come to some additional strategic play," said a senior Obama administration official.

Obama is scheduled to give a speech on the U.S. economy on Tuesday back in the Washington area. On Wednesday, he is due to attend a one-day summit in Toluca, Mexico, with Mexican and Canadian leaders.

But through Monday, Obama is ensconced with a small group of aides at the pink-roofed modernist estate at Sunnylands, in the Coachella Valley's Rancho Mirage about two hours' drive from Los Angeles.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, editing by G Crosse)

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