They are staging a golf tournament toward the eastern edge of Loudoun County this week, right on the shores of the Potomac River, less than 30 miles from the White House. In another time it might be nice to chat about whether the course is fit to host a major championship or whether Bernhard Langer’s recent performance on the Champions Tour, for the over-50 set, compares to other runs of dominance golf has produced in the past.
But the host club for the Senior PGA Championship is Trump National Golf Club-Washington, D.C. Its very name grabs the eye, if not fully raises the brow above it.
It’s not 5 p.m. on Thursday yet, so there’s no telling what news will break when, for the first time in the Trump presidency, a Trump property will host a golf tournament. But something will happen because if we have learned anything over the past five months, it’s that something always does. And now golf finds itself in the middle of whatever the news cycle might churn up.
The golfers, for the most part, don’t mind.
“President Trump is my friend,” said Rocco Mediate, who won this event last year.
“I think he’s doing a hell of a job,” said John Daly, who said he has been a friend of the president for 25 years. “I really do.”
“I believe in almost every policy he believes in,” said Fred Funk, who wore a shirt with the block letters T-R-U-M-P over his heart — which, technically, is an endorsement of Trump’s golf brand rather than of his policies.
So in case there was any question which political direction the PGA Tour — and, by extension, the Champions Tour — leans, well, now we know.
Wait. What’s that you say?
“We’re simply not going to cross that line into politics.”
That last quote was from Mike Davis, the head of the U.S. Golf Association. The USGA has nothing to do with the event at Trump’s course in Sterling because the Senior PGA is staged by the PGA of America. However, both organizations know something about wading in Trump’s waters. Davis was speaking to reporters Wednesday at another Trump National, that in Bedminster, N.J., because that club will host the U.S. Women’s Open later this summer.
In an odd way, for that women’s event, the existence of the “Access Hollywood” tape from last year might be more important than the existence of any tape President Trump may or may not have of conversations in the Oval Office. It’s hard to imagine a field of women competing on the course owned by a man who said he routinely sexually assaulted women, but that’s where we are.
“Let me make it very clear that [when] we came here, this was all about coming to a great golf course to play the greatest championship in women’s golf,” Davis said during the Bedminster news conference. “You know, the USGA, since its founding in 1894, has never been involved with politics. Our focus is solely on the game of golf, and we appreciate that there’s some out there that want to make this a political event, but we’re not.”
But Trump’s name on the entryway — both here and in Bedminster — and the fact that his mail is addressed to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW makes these political events, whether anyone wanted it to be or not. Here is the intersection at which golf finds itself: the preferred sport of an extraordinarily controversial president, who happens to own a slew of golf properties worldwide, several of which were contracted to host tournaments before the boss even decided to run for office. This isn’t President George W. Bush playing a weekend 18 in Kennebunkport or President Eisenhower becoming a member of Augusta National. This is a sitting president watching his business properties gain stature by hosting marquee sports events.
Yes, in some ways, it’s important that the PGA of America agreed to bring the Senior PGA to Loudoun County, as well as the 2022 PGA Championship to Trump’s Bedminster property, in May 2014, more than a year before Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination. The USGA awarded this year’s Women’s Open to Trump’s New Jersey course in 2012. Back then, the owner was a reality television star. Chronology matters.
But now, he’s the president, and the women’s rights group UltraViolet has collected more than 100,000 signatures on a petition asking Davis to move the Women’s Open from Trump’s course, and protests are planned for Sunday morning at the Senior PGA Championship, and three senators have sent letters to Davis and LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan asking them to pull the Women’s Open out of Bedminster, and the PGA of America canceled the Grand Slam of Golf that was to be held at Trump’s Los Angeles club. So, clearly, politics are involved, whether golf wants them to be or not.
The players here, though, seem unconcerned.
“He’s the president of the United States,” said Daly, arguably the field’s biggest draw. “I think people need to get on his wagon and ride with him and let him do what he’s doing and leave him alone.”
Like Funk, Mediate wears a “Trump” logo on his vest when he plays, an arrangement that allows him to play any of Trump’s golf properties around the world. He said he has had just a couple of issues with fans.
“Just like, ‘What are you wearing that for?’ ” Mediate said. “And I said, ‘Well, you have two choices. One, you can come across the ropes, and the next choice . . . is you’re out of here.’ And I’ve had them tossed a few times.”
Funk, who began wearing the Trump logo this year — again, as a way to gain access to Trump’s course in Jupiter, Fla., where Funk is moving — said he has encountered “a lot more positive than negative” from fans who noted his association with the president.
“People can say their opinion,” Funk said. “But don’t catch me . . . at a bad time, because I’ll get in their face about it. There’s a time and a place, and out on a golf course will not be the place.”
But we have this arrangement now, an awkward one at that. Trump may come to his own course Sunday for the final round. If he does, it won’t be just a real estate mogul coming to check out how the staff pulled off the event. It will be the president of the United States standing on one of his eponymous properties. It’ll be political, commercial — and controversial.