BEDMINSTER, NJ – An already lively crowd erupted with applause and chants of “Four more years!” and “Let’s go Brandon!” as former United States President Donald Trump appeared on the first tee before the shotgun start of Friday’s LIV Golf Invitational Series event at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster.
“What is (PGA Tour Commissioner) Jay Monahan doing right now? Cry!” yelled another fan.
The former president faced a lot of criticism for hosting the Greg Norman-led and Saudi-backed series, particularly from a group of 9/11 families who held an emotional protest Friday morning before the round began. With all the noise from outside, the mood on the grounds is similar to that of the last LIV event in Portland as fans push controversy aside and embrace the Gulf.
“My first message to my brother was, ‘I think I’d rather watch it on TV,'” said Bob Teed, a New Jersey resident, with a laugh. “I had never seen a PGA tournament before. I play golf a few times a week and there isn’t anything in this area to go to and that was probably the closest I would ever get to.”
Teed’s comments point to part of the genius in LIV Golf’s plan to hold events not just across from weaker PGA Tour stations, but also in golf-loving and tournament-starved regions of the country like Portland, Chicago, Boston and Miami.
“I hate talking about politics and things like that, but they could say the same thing about China,” Teed said, referring to the 9/11 Families who have criticized Trump for hosting the Saudi Arabia-funded series. “This actually opens up the game 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 FA bothers him a bit, but if China supported 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 applies to former President Trump and Jared Kushner’s connection to Saudi Arabia, he said, “To be honest, I don’t know that much about it.”
“I was just reading a little bit about the connection with the golf tournament, the golfers and things like that, which bothers me a bit because the PGA got these guys to where they are,” Dave explained. “But it’s still fun to come here, to see the players, it’s local which is great, which puts the money into the local economy. I think it’s a good deal. I can deal with Saudi Arabia, but like I said, if it was China or something, definitely not. 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 widespread human rights abuses, including politically motivated killings, torture, enforced disappearances and the inhumane treatment of detainees. And members of the royal family and the Saudi government have been accused of involvement in the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist.
Michael and Richard Adams weren’t sure what to expect when they showed up after the two-hour drive from Chester County, Pennsylvania on Friday, but they immediately bought into the atmosphere.
“As soon as we got here, we felt like it was a fun atmosphere,” Michael said.
“We like the audience because it’s not pushy,” added Richard.
The couple admitted their bias towards former President Trump and when asked if they had any reservations about attending the event due to their connection to Saudi Arabia, the answer was a resounding no.
“(America) did a lot worse than they did,” Richard explained.
Also from Pennsylvania, Bertus Wessels and Eric Mahoney traveled from Philadelphia and compared both LIVs to the PGA Tour’s World Championship Phoenix Open, a fan-favorite event every year.
“It’s definitely unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” Wessels said. “I’ve been to other PGA Tour events and it seems a lot less stressful and the players seem to be talking to each other. I mean, there’s music playing everywhere, they have people skydiving, so it’s very different, but I think it’s good.”
“I watched the first two on YouTube. It’s difficult to watch and keep up with,” Mahoney explained. “Like Bertus said, it almost reminds me of the World Championship Phoenix Open. So it’s different, but pretty cool.”
Similar to their Pennsylvania compatriots, the kingdom’s connection to LIV was not an issue.
“(Saudi Arabia is) involved in other things as well. People just don’t want to see what they don’t want to see,” Wessels said.
“It’s golf,” Mahoney added.