With his major post-election chores finished, President Clinton slipped out of Washington on Monday for a New Year's "renaissance weekend" with 1,500 other invitees at this seaside resort.
The president shifted easily into vacation mode, heading for some golf at the sun-drenched Palmetto Dunes resort as soon as he arrived at midafternoon. He ducked into the clubhouse to change out of his business attire and, after a minute of stretching, drove his first ball far and true, drawing a smattering of cheers from a small crowd that gathered to watch the president at play.
"Even a blind pig finds his way," Clinton said modestly of his promising start.
After two days of policy seminars, beach fun and free-for-all discussion of topics ranging from race and money to religion and science, Clinton, his wife, Hillary, and daughter, Chelsea, will spend the rest of the week in seclusion on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Clintons have gone to South Carolina's Hilton Head Island each of the last 11 years to attend the invitation-only holiday retreat. The cozy closed-door event was established here in 1981 by Phil Lader, the outgoing head of the Small Business Administration, and his wife, Linda.
The retreat attracts leaders in business, science, entertainment, government, medicine, athletics, religion and the arts.
Among the invited guests this year are Olympic gold medal hurdler Edwin Moses, author Peter Benchley, Wall Street guru Henry Kaufman, Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh and retired Navy Adm. Elmo Zumwalt.