- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 7, 2001

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine — President Bush yesterday celebrated his 55th birthday by playing a "mulligan-free" game of golf with his father in this tiny town that is relishing its role as host to two presidents, if not the national press.
The media tried to read some cosmic significance into Mr. Bush's first visit to his family's summer retreat since becoming president, insisting he is less comfortable on this preppy New England seacoast than on his dusty, landlocked ranch in central Texas.
But family friends and White House aides insist the president is perfectly content to golf, fish and play horseshoes with relatives amid the cool sea breezes and rocky beaches of this lobster-loving town.
Besides, they say, he will get the chance to chop cedar and to barbecue beef at his beloved ranch near Waco, Texas, during a longer vacation scheduled for the dog days of August.
"I'm going to get what I want for my birthday — time with my family," Mr. Bush said as he began a frenetic early-morning round of golf with his father.
He then declared a "no-mulligans" rule, a wry reference to former President Clinton's tendency to give himself free shots until he was satisfied with a tee-off.
As the father-and-son team approached the 18th hole just over two hours later, a woman playing golf at the first hole noticed a gaggle of gawking journalists and shouted to a friend a vulgarity about having to deal with the media horde.
The remark was not heard by the president, who said "hello" to the woman and her friend before turning to the press and remarking: "Well, we're having a lot of fun out woman and her friend before turning to the press and remarking: "Well, we're having a lot of fun out here." He wore a cap emblazoned with the number "43," a reference to his being the 43rd president.
"Easy for you to say," muttered his father under his breath. The elder Mr. Bush, who had given his son the cap as a birthday present, wore a cap of his own marked "41."
The golf game and a subsequent fishing trip with his father and brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, were the only presidential excursions yesterday off Walker's Point, the craggy peninsula that has served as the family's summer getaway for nearly a century.
Unlike Mr. Clinton, who frequently caused a commotion during his summer vacations by venturing into places like the Black Dog gift shop on Martha's Vineyard, Mass., Mr. Bush is intentionally keeping a low profile.
"He doesn't want to inconvenience anyone," a Kennebunkport policeman told The Washington Times. "We've even kept the road in front of his house open so that the neighbors can come and go to their homes."
"We shut it down at night and only allow in people who are on a special list," added the officer, who asked that his name not be used. "But if it were up to the Bushes, they'd keep it open all night. They don't want anyone in town to be put out. It's one of the reasons they're so well-respected here."
The officer's sentiments were echoed throughout the quaint Victorian town, a Republican stronghold in a state that tipped to Vice President Al Gore in last year's election.
"He's a straight shooter and a family man," said painter Ken Hendricksen, proprietor of Civil War Art, a Kennebunkport gallery. "He seems to say what he really feels."
Among the oversize oil paintings that dominate his gallery is a youthful image of George H.W. Bush and his sweetheart, Barbara. Mr. Hendricksen, whose paintings hang in such places as the Pentagon, said the former president already has popped in to view the portrait.
He promised to return soon with his wife, perhaps after his son returns to the White House and the commotion over having two presidents in town begins to subside.
Others welcomed the renewed attention, which had ebbed during the Clinton years. As if to encourage political debate in a town that is already politically savvy, someone has placed two benches on a downtown sidewalk, labeling one "Democrats" and the other "Republicans."
"The only reason I use the Democratic bench is because it's closer to my store," said Gretchen Finley, a 19-year-old sales clerk at Celtic Treasures gift shop. "We're a very, very spirited Republican town and it gives us a definite sense of civic pride to have both presidents and the other Bushes here."
Although Miss Finley, who sports five earrings in her two ears, is a proud Republican, there is no shortage of Democrat sympathizers who stop in to browse for gifts. One of them is Ron Fitzmorris, a 56-year-old Canadian who has been summering in Kennebunkport for 23 years.
"The media, from all I can see, is usually a little more left than right, so it's hard to tell how President Bush is really doing," Mr. Fitzmorris said. "He doesn't come off as looking so great because they portray him a little goofy. So I take it with a grain of salt."
The press, starved for news, was reduced to watching footage of the Bush golf game as if it were live coverage of the first moon shot. Mr. Bush, for his part, seemed incapable of taking the media too seriously.
Instead, he joshed with reporters about activities he was planning for his low-key weekend. Other than a 10-minute phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mr. Bush was determined to relax.
"I'm going to throw some horseshoes," he said. "Probably regain the family championship."
"No," protested his father. "No way."
"Fishing," the younger Mr. Bush continued. "And I might go for a jog, too — complete the day. So if you see a rather old guy, kind of moving along slowly, that will be me."
As he departed, he added: "Have fun. I'll try not to do too many public events, so you all can kick back and relax."

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