BEDMINSTER, NJ — An already lively crowd erupted with applause and chants of “Four more years!” and “Let’s go Brandon!” when former President of the United States Donald Trump made an appearance at the first tee before Friday’s shotgun start of the LIV Golf Invitational Series event at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster.
“What’s (PGA Tour commissioner) Jay Monahan doing right now? Crying!” yelled another fan.
The former president has faced a great deal of criticism for hosting the Greg Norman-led and Saudi Arabia-backed series, especially from a group of 9/11 families, who held an emotional protest Friday morning before the round began. For all the outside noise, the vibe around the grounds is similar to that of the last LIV event in Portland in that fans are pushing aside the controversy and embracing the golf.
“My first message to my brother was, ‘I think I’d rather watch it on TV,'” said Bob Teed, a local New Jersey resident with a laugh. “I had never seen a PGA tournament before. I golf a couple times a week and there’s nothing in this area that I could go to, and this was probably the closest I was ever gonna get.”
Teed’s comments point to part of the genius in LIV Golf’s plan to hold events not only opposite weaker PGA Tour stops, but in regions of the country that love golf and are starved for tournaments, like Portland, Chicago, Boston and Miami.
“I hate to talk politics and stuff like that, but they could say the same thing about China,” Teed said in reference to the 9/11 families criticizing Trump for hosting the Saudi-funded series. “This actually opens the game up to more people who can’t get out and see it.”
Dave Teed, a local firefighter who came to the event with Bob, said the Saudi association does bother him a little bit, but if China were the ones supporting LIV, “I wouldn’t be here.”
Dave cited President Joe Biden and his son Hunter and their connection to China as the reason for his stance. When asked if the same could be said for former President Trump and Jared Kushner’s connection to Saudi Arabia, he said, “I don’t know that much about that to be honest with you.”
“I just read a little bit about the connection with the golf tournament, the golfers and things like that, which does bother me a little bit because the PGA got these guys to where they are at today,” Dave explained. “But it’s still fun to come out here, see the players, it’s local, which is great, which brings the money into the local economy. I think it’s a good deal. The Saudi Arabia thing I can deal with, but like I said, if it was China or something like that, no way. I wouldn’t be here.”
LIV Golf has long been criticized as a way for the Kingdom to wash its human rights record. Saudi Arabia has been accused of wide-ranging human rights abuses, including politically motivated killings, torture, forced disappearances and inhumane treatment of prisoners. And members of the royal family and Saudi government were accused of involvement in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist.
Michael and Richard Adams weren’t sure what to expect when they showed up on Friday after making the two-hour trip from Chester County, Pennsylvania, but they bought in to the atmosphere right away.
“As soon as we got here, we felt like it was a fun atmosphere,” said Michael.
“We like the crowd because it’s not overbearing,” added Richard.
The pair admitted their bias towards former President Trump, and when asked if they had any reservations about coming to the event due to the Saudi Arabia connection, the answer was an emphatic no.
“(America) has done a lot worse than they have,” explained Richard.
Fellow Pennsylvania natives Bertus Wessels and Eric Mahoney made the trip from Philadelphia and both compared LIV to the PGA Tour’s WM Phoenix Open, a fan-favorite event every year on the schedule.
“It’s definitely different than anything I’ve ever been to,” Wessels said. “I’ve been to other PGA tour events and it seems way less stressful and players seem to talk to each other. I mean, there’s music playing everywhere, they’ve got people skydiving, so it’s totally different, but I think good.”
“I watched the first two on YouTube. It’s difficult to watch and keep up,” explained Mahoney. “As Bertus said, it almost reminds me of the WM Phoenix Open. So it’s different, but it’s pretty cool.”
Much like their fellow Pennsylvanians, the Kingdom’s connection to LIV wasn’t an issue.
“(Saudi Arabia is) involved in other stuff, too. People just don’t want to see what they don’t want to see,” said Wessels.
“It’s golf,” added Mahoney.
Story originally appeared on GolfWeek