While the renegade golf circuit has hosted two other events, including another in the United States, this week’s event at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, NJ, promises to be an even more glaring flashpoint, given its proximity to Manhattan and the involvement of the ex-president.
In recent days, Trump has publicly and privately dismissed human rights concerns about the Saudi kingdom and railed against the professional golf establishment. He is expected to attend all days of this weekend’s event and has been in contact with organizers for months over event details, according to an adviser, who said Trump remains livid with officials. PGA of America who moved the 2022 PGA Championship from their Bedminster club after the January 6 insurrection. Doral, his club outside of Miami, will host another LIV Golf event in October.
Trump and his spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.
Funded by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, the LIV Golf venture has lured top players with exorbitant guaranteed paychecks and lavish perks. But while the players pocketed big bucks – some signing bonuses reportedly amounted to eight- and nine-figure paydays – they also faced serious questioning over the allegations against their benefactors, including the murder in 2018 by Jamal Khashoggi, a contributing columnist for the Washington Post. .
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Some 9/11 families protested at the LIV event this month at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club outside Portland, Oregon, and last week members of the 9/11 Justice group sent Trump a letter urging him to cancel this week’s event and requesting a meeting with the former president. Brett Eagleson, whose father died in the September 11 attacks, said a Trump aide contacted him on Saturday to discuss the letter.
“It was a frustrating and frivolous call and it made me even angrier,” Eagleson said. “I wish they had never even called.”
According to Eagleson, the aide said the LIV contract was binding “and there was no way out” and that Trump was “grateful and thankful for the letter” from the 9/11 families.
“My answer was: you have to understand that what you say, words ring hollow,” Eagleson said. “If it’s so important, why is he asking you to call me?” Why doesn’t he call me himself?
Trump repeatedly defended Saudi Arabia when he was president. He made his first foreign trip to the country, despite concerns from some advisers. Since leaving office, son-in-law Jared Kushner has attracted significant investment from the country’s sovereign wealth fund, according to multiple reports.
In an interview this week with the Wall Street Journal, Trump said, “I don’t know much about the 9/11 families. I don’t know what the connection is to that, and their very strong feelings, and I can understand their feelings. I can’t really comment on that because I don’t know exactly what they say, and what they say who did what.
Trump met with a group of 9/11 family members in the Oval Office in 2019, according to two people present, and promised to declassify and release files related to the attack. More than a dozen family members attended the meeting, and some left in tears after years of trying to access files on the Saudi government, they said.
“We all left happy. We wept; families were hugging each other,” Eagleson said. “He said to all of us, ‘We are going to help you. Do not worry. It’s already done. ”
But soon William P. Barr, Trump’s attorney general, classified the documents as top secret, and the White House made no effort to follow up on the families, according to two people at the meeting.
“Trump was a disappointment as a sitting president, and it’s a bigger disappointment now as a former president,” said Terry Strada, national president of 9/11 Families United, whose husband, Tom, worked in the north tower during the attacks. “He knows better than anyone the level of depravity in the kingdom, and he knows – he’s a New Yorker – he knows how families have been affected by the attacks. Seven hundred and fifty people were lost in New Jersey. It’s right in our backyard and just, what, six weeks before the birthday? It’s just beyond insulting.
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LIV Golf has thrown unprecedented amounts of money at golfers, course operators and even broadcasters. This created a sharp divide in the sport; the PGA Tour suspended defectors and others chose to resign from the top golf tour.
Trump has long had a passion for the sport and counts many of the best golfers in the world among his friends. But he has struggled in recent years to officially enter the world of professional golf; many stakeholders, especially in recent years, have shunned his properties and occasionally clashed with Trump himself.
The PGA Tour has not hosted a tournament on a Trump course since 2016. Doral has hosted a PGA event for over half a century in South Florida. After buying the resort in bankruptcy in 2012, Trump renamed it Trump National Doral. But after losing Cadillac as title sponsor, the PGA moved the event to Mexico City in 2016. In response, Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee at the time, told Fox News host Sean Hannity, “I hope they have kidnapping insurance.”
Following the January 6 uprising, the PGA of America terminated its agreement to hold its 2022 PGA Championship at the Bedminster course. The R&A said Trump’s Turnberry club in Scotland would not be considered as a venue for the British Open for the “foreseeable future”.
This left Trump with few options to host a tournament with any level of prestige. Trump Golf’s portfolio includes 19 properties around the world, but no major tournaments in sight. LIV was the only imminent option, creating a marriage of two controversial entities that tried to work their way to mainstream acceptance.
Because LIV’s finances are not public, it’s unclear how much Trump is willing to earn for hosting LIV events, but several industry experts have estimated several million.
The Bedminster event is expected to see protesters this week – family members of 9/11 victims held a press conference on Tuesday and have another scheduled for Friday – and has been shrouded in controversy from day one. The sport has been thrown into a state of chaos. , if not a total crisis. The tour has lost several stars – Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau among them – and cannot match the Saudi-backed band’s deep pockets.
The winner of this weekend in Bedminster will pocket $4 million, the last golfer will take home $120,000 and no golfer will be cut for high scores. By comparison, the winner of last weekend’s PGA Tour event, the 3M Open, won $1.35 million, and only 11 golfers in the field of 153 players won more than $105,000.
In a statement on LIV last week, Trump made no mention of Saudi support or controversy surrounding the event. For him, it’s a question of money.
“All of those golfers who remain ‘faithful’ to the very treacherous PGA, in all its various guises, will pay a heavy price when the inevitable MERGER with LIV arrives, and you’ll get nothing but a big ‘thank you’ PGA officials who earn millions of dollars a year,” Trump wrote on Truth Social.
Several high-ranking golf executives have said that while Trump would make big money from the event and his course would benefit from international exposure, the former president is likely also relishing the opportunity to alter the PGA Tour. , which will host its own event this week. in Detroit, the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
Greg Norman, the LIV commissioner and Hall of Fame golfer, has been friends with Trump for years, and the two have spoken about the start-up circuit several times. “He loves it,” Norman said in a recent interview.
“He likes the concept, he likes the whole thing – and he thinks I’m the perfect guy for it,” Norman said. “We had many conversations.”
Bedminster has long served as a hub in Trump’s world; the former president spends much of the summer months away from the New Jersey club. A Washington Post report estimated Trump spent 106 days at the club while president, playing nearly three dozen rounds of golf there.
Trump has played 18 to 36 holes of golf four to five days a week since leaving office, an adviser said. In recent months he has spoken or played with a number of professional golfers, including Johnson, Norman, Jack Nicklaus and Ernie Els, the adviser said.
Hosting a high profile golf event in Bedminster has always been a dream of Trump. He bought the property, more than 500 acres of farmland that once served as the estate of automaker John DeLorean, in 2002. At the groundbreaking, Trump brandished a shovel and boasted to reporters: ” It’s a special place. We have so much to work with, we’re going to make it exceed anyone’s wildest dreams and expectations.
Ashley Cooper, who initially managed the property and later became managing partner of Trump Golf, said in an email: “We knew from day one that it was meant to be home to majors.”
Kent Babb contributed to this report.