Former President Donald Trump and his second oldest son Eric Trump kicked off the LIV Golf pro-am event on Thursday, grouped together with two of the biggest names in the golf league, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau. The golf was casual and relaxed, but skillfully entertaining.
LIV Golf has been mired in controversy since its announcement due to the way it came to public attention through the mismanaged of Phil Mickelson’s interview and resulting fallout. Regardless of who was responsible for that debacle, the organization appears to have moved on nicely from it and now seems to have the venerable PGA on the ropes. What I witnessed from the crowds so far, the reaction to the organization is actually quite positive and appears to be turning a tide.
LIV has also done something particularly smart: brought golf to areas where there is a lot of love, but not a lot of accessibility.
“My first message to my brother was, ‘I think I’d rather watch it on TV,’” said Bob Teed, a New Jersey local interviewed by Golf Week. “I had never seen a PGA tournament before. I golf a couple times a week and there’s nothing in this area that I could go to, and this was probably the closest I was ever gonna get.”
Some 9/11 families have been highly vocal with their criticism about the Saudi Arabian-funded series.
“I hate to talk politics and stuff like that, but they could say the same thing about China,” Teed continued in the interview. “This actually opens the game up to more people who can’t get out and see it.”
Television analyst Charles Barkley questioned why the professional golfers are being made into scapegoats and summarized all the controversy as “selective outrage.”
“I can sympathize with the 9/11 families,” Barkley said at Thursday’s event, which he participated in as an amateur, according to Insider. “They have a right to voice their opinion. But I don’t understand why the outrage.”
“They’re not mad at [Warren] Buffett, they’re not mad at Elon Musk, they’re not mad at Disney, so they’ve got selective outrage,” Barkley continued, who was also negotiating for a broadcasting contract with LIV (which seems to have fallen through since then).
“You can’t pick and choose who you want to be mad at. They should be mad at Berkshire Hathaway, Tesla, Bank of America, Disney, but they’re not,” he said. “They’re just mad at these golfers.”
Even early critics such as Rory McIlroy have called for peace negotiations, referencing the Saudi Public Investment Fun—an effort to rehabilitate the country’s image damaged by its historical human rights record.
“There’s so much chat about where the money is coming from, Saudi and everything else. They sponsor so many other things. They are all over sport,” McIlroy said earlier this month via ESPN, noting the Saudi sponsorship of the Ladies European Tour and Formula 1.
“I understand people’s reservations with things. But at the same time, if these people are serious about investing billions of dollars into golf, I think ultimately that’s a good thing — but it has to be done the right way.”
What I witnessed at the tournament so far, the reception has been positive and fun. Attendees of the day appeared to enjoy the beauty of The Trump National Golf Club Bedminster course, with several remarking that it was one of the nicest course they’ve seen. The players looked to be in relaxed, fun spirits, taking selfies with spectators. Trump himself appeared casual and jovial, addressing the supportive crowd and joking around with the volunteers and staff at the pro-am event.
“As soon as we got here, we felt like it was a fun atmosphere,” said Michael Adams, who was interviewed by Golf Week as well. He and Richard Adams came from Chester County, Pennsylvania to attend the golf league event in Bedminster Township.
“We like the crowd because it’s not overbearing,” added Richard Adams.
There’s still plenty of fight left between the PGA, LIV, and the DP World Tour. But for the fans, they seem to want to move on and just watch good golf. They don’t mind the additional opportunity to see some of their favorite players tee off in what looks to be a fun, new atmosphere.