With Modernism Week in full swing during the Presidents’ Day holiday, the entire Palm Springs Valley was teeming with roving residents and gallivanting visitors. Of course, the most famous traveler to grace our fair desert over that weekend was President Barack Obama, on his fourth local visit. Twice before, he hosted world leaders for summits at Rancho Mirage’s Sunnylands. He met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in June 2013, and with King Abdullah II of Jordan in February 2014. His third trip was in June of last year, when he came with Michelle and one of their daughters.
For his second stay of a non-official nature, he journeyed without family, choosing instead to come with Bobby Titcomb, Greg Orme, and Michael Ramos, a trio of high school friends and golf buddies. While the men stayed not at the former Annenberg estate but at a private home in Thunderbird Heights in Rancho Mirage, the foursome did get an opportunity to tear up the golf courses of Porcupine Creek, the Rancho Mirage estate of Oracle founder Larry Ellison, and of Sunnylands.
It was at the latter, on Saturday, that my friends Kevin and Kelly—here from Kentucky for Modernism Week—had a one-on-octet run-in with the Prez in the flesh. K&K were two of the lucky souls to nab hard-to-get tours of the private home at Sunnylands during these 11 days devoted to all things midcentury modern. On Saturday, while they were traveling with their guide and five other tour participants in their golf cart, on the greens, returning from their trek to the private house’s interior, they were surprised to see sunglassed secret service agents on the fairway. The inside scoop is that, when President Obama wishes to play a game of golf on the retreat grounds, he gives the powers-that-be at Sunnylands a few hours’ notice. And while security is naturally tight, the habitual goings-on—including the public tours—remain on their normal schedules.
Kevin and Kelly couldn’t believe their eyes when they spied the Commander in Chief attempting a hole-in-one mere yards away. But it was when Obama signaled his G-men to stop the cart, and then ambled over himself just to say hello and shake a few hands, that Kevin, Kelly—and the six other members of their group—almost fell out of their seats. “He was so warm and smiley,” Kevin reported to me later that night, still pinching himself.
No one knows how Mr. President fared against his pals that day, but the experience just goes to show that sometimes, all it takes for a once-in-a-lifetime moment to hit you is being at the right place at the right time. All of us who are familiar with the charms of Rancho Mirage are well aware that everlasting memories are made every day in this city—whether or not you just happen to bump into the leader of the free world.