Obama, who turns 52 on Sunday, left the White House unusually early for the half-hour trip by motorcade to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland to squeeze in some golf before the celebration was to shift to the presidential retreat.
Before leaving, officials said Obama's counterterrorism adviser updated him on a potential al-Qaida threat that led the State Department on Friday to issue a global travel warning to Americans and order the weekend closure of 21 embassies and consulates across the Muslim world.
The White House said there were three golfing foursomes, which included some of Obama's friends from Hawaii, where he grew up, and Chicago, where he lived before becoming president, as well as current and former aides.
Among them were childhood friends Bobby Titcomb and Mike Ramos, and Chicago pals Marty Nesbitt and Eric Whitaker. White House aides Marvin Nicholson and Sam Kass, an assistant chef, rounded out the group, along with Reggie Love, who for years had been Obama's personal assistant, or "body man," and basketball buddy until he left the White House in late 2011 to finish the course work for an MBA.
The White House said little about how Obama would celebrate on Sunday, but the birthday wishes started rolling in early.
House Democrats presented Obama with a birthday cake when he went up to the Capitol this week, and American Legion youth members sang "Happy Birthday" to him during a White House visit late last month.
For last year's birthday, which fell during his heated campaign for re-election, Obama also celebrated with a round of golf and quiet time at Camp David, proving that he is a creature of habit. But he later held several birthday-themed campaign fundraisers in Chicago, including one at his family's South Side home.
Obama is scheduled to return to the White House on Sunday.
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