Former US President Barack Obama's golf mates in New Zealand will include former US Ambassador Mark Gilbert who has returned to New Zealand for Obama's visit.

Most of Obama's visit from Wednesday morning is under wraps – media are not allowed into Obama's speaking engagement and he will not do any interviews.

Obama's visit will include two visits to golf courses with former Prime Minister Sir John Key and his son Max, likely in Northland.

Barack Obama and Sir John Key played against each other in Hawaii in 2014. Photo / Getty Images
Barack Obama and Sir John Key played against each other in Hawaii in 2014. Photo / Getty Images

The guest list for those golf games is being kept quiet but Gilbert confirmed he would be among the players.

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Gilbert is a personal friend of Obama's and helped raise money for his campaigns – but he said it would be the first time he had played golf with Obama.

Former US Ambassador Mark Gilbert with wife Nancy. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Former US Ambassador Mark Gilbert with wife Nancy. Photo / Mark Mitchell

His handicap was 12 when he was in New Zealand. "But I haven't had an opportunity to play very much since I left."

He would not divulge who else was playing. "People play in different groups and they'll all have an opportunity to meet the President."

Gilbert was Obama's appointee as Ambassador to New Zealand but lost his post when US President Donald Trump was inaugurated in January 2017 and returned to the United States.

Gilbert said he had promised New Zealanders Obama would visit at some point and had helped organise parts of Obama's trip.

"It will be great for him to see parts of the country – and I realise it's a short visit – but we loved our time in New Zealand. We loved the people, travelling round the country and I'm sure the President will also enjoy his time here."

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Sir John Key and former US President Barack Obama in the White House in March, 2016. Photo / Supplied
Former New Zealand Prime Minister Sir John Key and former US President Barack Obama in the White House in March, 2016. Photo / Supplied

He had not spoken to Obama recently but did speak to him when the trip was in the early days of planning a few months ago. "He was hoping to make sure that it happened."

A statement from Obama's office said New Zealand was a country he had long wanted to visit given its close relationship with the US.

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That visit will include a meeting with about 20 Maori women leaders who were part of a "Wahine Toa" programme set up by Gilbert's wife Nancy Gilbert in her time in New Zealand.

One of those women – lawyer and Treaty negotiator Gina Rangi, who now works at Rotorua Lakes District Council – was invited to America to attend the first summit of the Obama Foundation last year, where she ended up seated next to Prince Harry for a dinner.

Rangi is expected to be among those meeting Obama at the Wahine Toa event.

Gilbert said the aim of the Obama Foundation was to "empower and teach" young leaders.

"When we were looking for who would be a great group of people to talk to the President about the work of the Foundation, we felt that they would be a perfect group to meet with him while he was here."

At other events, those invited to meet Obama are told not to discuss it publicly.

Obama will also hold a private courtesy meeting with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Ardern said Obama had focused on youth leadership since leaving office and she was looking forward to discussing that with him.

Ardern will speak about the meeting after it.

Obama's visit is being organised by the US-NZ Council and co-sponsored by Air New Zealand, Westpac and Mastercard.