BEDMINSTER, NJ – Already lively crowd applauds and “Four more years!” The slogans resonated. and “Come on Brandon!” When former United States President Donald Trump made an appearance on the first tee ahead of Friday’s shotgun debut of the LIV Golf Invitational Series event at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster.
“What is (PGA Tour commissioner) Jay Monahan doing now? Cry!” another fan shouted.
The former president has faced considerable 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 rounds began. For all the extraneous noise, the vibe around the field is similar to a previous LIV event in Portland with fans kicking off the controversy and embracing golf.
“My first message to my brother was, ‘I think I’d love to see this on TV,'” laughs Bob Teed, a local New Jersey resident. “I had never seen a PGA tournament before. I play golf a couple of times a week and there’s nothing in the area that I can go to, and it was probably the closest I’ve ever been.”
Teed’s comments point to the share of talent in LIV Golf’s plan, not only in contrast to the lackluster PGA Tour stops, but in areas of the country that love golf and for tournaments such as Portland, Chicago, Boston and Miami. are hungry.
“I hate talking politics and things like that, but they can say the same thing about China,” Teides hails Trump for hosting a Saudi-funded series of references to 9/11 families criticized. “It really opens up the game to more people who can’t get out and see it.”
Dave Teide, a local firefighter who accompanied Bob to the event, said the Saudi association bothers him a bit, but if China were to support LIV, “I wouldn’t be here.”
Dave cited President Joe Biden and his son Hunter and their ties to China as the reason for his stand. Asked if the same could be said of former President Trump and Jared Kushner’s ties to Saudi Arabia, he said, “I don’t know that much to be honest with you.”
“I read a little bit about golf tournaments, connections with golfers and things like that, which bothers me a little bit because the PGA got these guys where they are today,” Dave explained. “But it’s still fun to be out here, look at the players, it’s local, which is great, that brings money to the local economy. I think it’s a good deal. 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 sportwash its human rights record. Saudi Arabia has been accused of widespread human rights abuses, including politically motivated killings, torture, forced disappearances and inhumane treatment of prisoners. And members of the royal family and the Saudi government were accused of involvement in the murder of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Michael and Richard Adams weren’t sure what to expect when they arrived on Friday after a two-hour trip from Chester County, Pennsylvania, but they immediately bought into the atmosphere.
“As soon as we got here, we thought it was a fun atmosphere,” Michael said.
“We like the crowd because it’s not overbearing,” Richard said.
The pair acknowledged their bias toward former President Trump, and when asked if they had any objections about attending the event because of Saudi Arabia connections, the answer was an emphatic no.
“(America) has done a lot worse than they have,” Richard explained.
Fellow Pennsylvania natives Bertus Wessels and Eric Mahoney traveled from Philadelphia and both compared LIV to the PGA Tour’s WM Phoenix Open, a fan-favorite event on the schedule every year.
“It’s definitely different than anything I’ve done,” Wessels said. “I’ve been to other PGA Tour events and it feels less stressful and the players talk to each other. I mean, there’s music playing everywhere, they have people skydiving, so it’s completely different. Yes, but I like it.”
“I watched the first two on YouTube. It’s hard to watch and maintain,” Mahoney explained. “As Burtus said, it almost reminds me of the WM Phoenix Open. So it’s different, but it’s great.”
Like its fellow Pennsylvanians, the Kingdom’s relationship to the LIV was not an issue.
“(Saudi Arabia is) involved in other stuff as well. People just don’t want to see what they don’t want to see,” Wessels said.
“It’s golf,” Mahoney said.