BEDMINSTER, N.J. — There was a big cheer at the 15th green around 5:20 p.m. on Friday, though nothing happening on the course was worthy of the noise.
Lexi Thompson, Stacy Lewis and Brooke Henderson, maybe the most notable group playing at the U.S. Women’s Open on Friday, were finishing out the hole. But spectators were peering up at President Trump, who was in an elevated, enclosed viewing area that overlooked Trump National Golf Club.
Trump arrived at the club around 3:40 p.m., marking his fourth visit since he was inaugurated in January. There had been speculation of a visit throughout the week, and his arrival from France, where he held meetings and attended Bastille Day festivities with French President Emmanuel Macron, became imminent Friday morning.
Few fans showed interest when he first arrived at the course in a steady rain, but they were now craning their necks, snapping iPhone photos and pleading for Trump to return their waves. The potential of Trump’s arrival had overshadowed the tournament at times throughout the week. Now, only a small handful of fans watched as Thompson, Lewis and Henderson holed out on 15th and started their walk to the next tee box.
Asked after the round if she had noticed where fans’ attention was directed, Thompson said with a smile, “Yeah, not toward the golf.”
Trump’s visit marked the first time a sitting president had attended a U.S. Women’s Open. The U.S. Golf Association, which awarded the tournament to the Bedminster club in 2012, has been criticized for not moving the event, the richest and most prestigious in women’s golf. Players mostly avoided the topic in the days before the event, yet some saw positives in the president’s appearance Friday.
“Regardless of your political affiliation and whether you are a fan of Trump or you’re not a fan of Trump, having a president at a women’s golf event is pretty remarkable,” American golfer Marina Alex said after finishing her round. “It’s going to draw attention to women’s golf that has maybe never been in our favor before.
“We have an unbelievable group of talented women playing golf right now. If it’s allowing more people to see us play our game, I don’t see anything wrong with that.”
Trump has long been a prominent supporter of the LPGA Tour, hosting several events and inviting top female golfers to play rounds on his courses. His properties are also connected to major events on men’s tours: Trump National Golf Club in Loudoun County, Va., hosted the Senior PGA Championship in May, and the 2022 PGA Championship is scheduled to be held here.
Late last month, American golfer Brittany Lincicome told the Chicago Tribune, “Hopefully maybe he doesn’t show up and it won’t be a big debacle and it will be about us and not him.” On Tuesday, a handful of players were asked if they agreed with Lincicome, if they considered sitting out the event, or if they were concerned that Trump was hosting this event given comments he has made about women in the past. None of them offered direct answers, and they were careful in not taking any sort of political or social stance.
“I will not comment on any political part this week,” star American golfer Michelle Wie, who withdrew from the competition on Friday because of neck pain, said Tuesday. “This week is about the golf for me.”
There were few changes to the tournament atmosphere in the lead-up to Trump’s arrival. Players were told Thursday night that there would be heightened security Friday morning, though multiple players said that the security was no different from the rest of the week. UltraViolet, a women’s advocacy group, announced a three-day protest that started Friday. It started with a flying banner that read “USGA: STAND WITH WOMEN, NOT TRUMP,” according to a news release. An Ultraviolet spokesperson said the banner did fly, though a handful of people working on the course said they never saw it.
When the presidential motorcade rolled toward the clubhouse, most of the people watching were either media members or fans stopped by green barricades that separated the front nine from the back nine.
Once the barricades were moved, the day moved along like nothing had happened.
“I’m glad to be done before he shows up,” American Ryann O’Toole said early in the afternoon. “I think anytime a president shows up at any venue, golf tournament or not, it’s going to be chaotic, whether it be the choppers that come flying in or the Secret Service or the excitement of the crowd.”
After Thompson, Lewis and Henderson moved onto No. 16, a group with leader Shanshan Feng started at the 15th hole The crowd looking up at Trump was dissipated and only a few chunks of fans remained, yet there was still a hum of chatter uncharacteristic of a golf major.
“Ladies and gentleman, we have play going on,” a volunteer said. “Please keep the noise to a minimum.”
No one listened. A row of iPhones stayed in the air, more hands waved, and Trump walked over to the window one more time and smiled down at the course.