Bedminster, NJ – An already lively crowd erupted with applause and chants of “Four more years!” and “Let’s go Brandon!” When former United States President Donald Trump appeared on his first tee before starting Friday’s firing of the LIV Golf Invitational Series rifle at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster.
“What is (PGA Tour Commissioner) Jay Monahan doing now? Cry!” Another fan shouted.
The former president has faced a great deal of criticism for hosting the series led by Greg Norman and backed by Saudi Arabia, especially from a group of 9/11 families, who organized an emotional protest Friday morning before the tour began. Despite all the outside noise, the atmosphere around the grounds is similar to that of the recent LIV event in Portland as fans pushed the controversy aside and embraced golf.
“My first message to my brother was, I think I’d rather watch him on TV,” said Bob Ted, a New Jersey resident, laughing. “I’ve never seen a PGA Championship before. I play a few times a week and there’s nothing in this area that I can go to, and that’s probably the closest I’ll ever get.”
Teed’s comments point to part of the genius in LIV Golf’s plan to hold events not just against the weaker PGA Tour stations, but in areas of the country that love golf and are championship-hungry, such as Portland, Chicago, Boston and Miami.
“I hate talking about politics and stuff like that, but they can say the same about China,” Ted said, referring to the 9/11 families who criticize Trump for hosting the Saudi-funded series. “This actually opens the game up to more people who can’t go out and see it.”
Dave Ted, a local firefighter who came to the event with Bob, said the Saudi Society bothered him a bit, but if it was China supporting LIV, “I wouldn’t be here.”
Dave cited President Joe Biden and his son Hunter and their relationship with China as the reason for his position. When asked if the same could be said about former President Trump and Jared Kushner’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, he said, “I don’t know much about it to be honest with you.”
“I’ve read a little bit about the relationship with championship golf and golfers and things like that, which kind of bothers me because the PGA got these guys where they are today,” Dave explained. “But it’s still fun to come here, watch the players, it’s local, which is great, which brings money into the local economy. I think it’s a good deal. The Saudi thing I can handle, but like I said, if it’s China or something from Like that, there’s no escape. I won’t be here.”
LIV Golf has long been criticized as a way for the kingdom to launder its human rights record. Saudi Arabia has been accused of widespread human rights abuses, including politically motivated killings, torture, enforced disappearances, and inhumane treatment of prisoners. Members of the royal family and the Saudi government have been accused of involvement in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and columnist for the Washington Post.
Michael and Richard Adams weren’t sure what to expect when they showed up Friday after a two-hour flight from Chester County, Pennsylvania, but they immediately bought into the atmosphere.
“Once we got here, we just felt like the atmosphere was fun,” Michael said.
“We love the crowd because he’s not arrogant,” Richard added.
The couple 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 engagement, the answer was no.
“It (America) did a lot worse than it did,” Richard explained.
Penn natives Bertus Wessels and Eric Mahoney made the trip from Philadelphia and both compared LIV to the PGA Tour at the WM Phoenix Open, a fan-favorite event each year on the schedule.
“It’s definitely different than anything I’ve been to before,” 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, and they have people skydiving, so it’s totally different, but I think that’s fine.”
“I watched the first two on YouTube. It’s hard to watch and follow,” Mahoney explained. “As Bertus said, it almost reminds me of the WM Phoenix Open. So it’s different, but it’s great.”
Just like their fellow Pennsylvanians, the kingdom’s connection to the LIV wasn’t a problem.
“(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.
The story originally appeared on GolfWeek