Bedminster, NJ — An already excited crowd burst into applause and chants of “Four more years!” and “Let’s go Brandon!” As former President of the United States Donald Trump appears on the first tee before the shotgun start of Friday’s LIV Golf Invitational Series event at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster.
“What’s (PGA Tour Commissioner) Jay Monahan doing right now? Crying!” shouted another fan.
The former president has faced much criticism for hosting the Greg Norman-led and Saudi Arabia-backed series, particularly from a group of 9/11 families, who staged an emotional protest Friday morning before the round began. For all the outside noise, the vibe around the grounds was similar to the last LIV event in Portland, Oregon, with fans putting aside controversy and embracing golf.
“My first message to my brother was, ‘I want to see this on TV,'” said Bob Teed, a native New Jersey resident, with a laugh. “I’ve never seen a PGA tournament before. I play golf a couple of times a week and there’s nothing I can go to in this area, and this is probably the closest I’ll ever get.”
Teed’s comments suggest part of the genius of LIV Golf’s plan to host events not only opposite weaker PGA Tour stops, but in parts of the country that love golf and are hungry for tournaments, such as Portland, Chicago, Boston and Miami.
“I don’t like to talk about politics and things like that, but they could say the same thing about China,” Teed said, addressing 9/11 families and criticizing Trump for hosting the Saudi-funded series. “It actually opens up the game to people who can’t go out and watch it.”
Dave Teed, a local firefighter who accompanied Bob to the event, said the Saudi association bothered him a little, but if China was supporting LIV, “I wouldn’t be here.”
Trump: Praises Saudi Arabia, dodges 9/11 question as he hosts LIV Golf
Bedminster: 9/11 families are grieving again as Saudi LIV event begins
BOOMER ESIASON: Rips Trump for hosting LIV Golf, insulting 9/11 victims
Bubba Watson: The two-time Masters Champion has officially joined LIV Golf
Feedback: Sports washing for Saudi Arabia will ruin the reputation of more golfers
Dave attributes his stance to President Joe Biden and his son Hunter and their relationship with China. “I don’t know much about that, to be honest with you,” he said when asked if the same could be said about former President Trump and Jared Kushner’s relationship with Saudi Arabia.
“I read a little bit about the connection with the golf tournament, the golfers and things like that, which bothers me a little bit because the PGA has gotten these guys to where they are today,” Dave explained. “But it’s still fun to come here, to see the players, it’s local, it’s great, it brings money into the local economy. I think it’s a good deal. I can deal with the Saudi Arabia thing, but like I said, if it’s China or something like that, the way No. I won’t be here.”
LIV Golf has long been criticized as a way for the kingdom to whitewash the sport’s human rights record. Saudi Arabia has been accused of widespread human rights violations, including politically motivated killings, torture, enforced disappearances, and inhumane treatment of prisoners. Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi has accused members of the royal family and the Saudi government of involvement in the murder.
Michael and Richard Adams weren’t sure what to expect when they showed up Friday after making the two-hour trip from Chester County, Pennsylvania, but they immediately bought into the atmosphere.
“As soon as we got here, it felt like a fun environment,” Michael said.
“We like the crowd because it’s not overwhelming,” added Richard.
The couple admitted their bias towards former President Trump and when asked if they had any reservations about coming to the event because of the Saudi Arabian connection, the answer was no.
“(America) did a lot worse than them,” Richard explained.
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 on the schedule each year.
“It’s definitely different than anything I’ve ever been to,” Wessels said. “I’ve been to other PGA Tour events and it feels like less pressure and the players are talking to each other. I mean, there’s music playing everywhere, they’ve got people skydiving, so it’s totally different, but I feel good.”
“I watched the first two on YouTube. It was hard to watch and keep up,” Mahoney explained. “Like Bertus said, it almost reminds me of the WM Phoenix Open. So it’s different, but it’s great.”
Like their fellow Pennsylvanians, LIV’s connection to the state was not an issue.
“(Saudi Arabia) is involved in other things as well. People don’t want to see what they don’t want to see,” Wessels said.
“It’s golf,” Mahoney added.