Trump hosts controversial Saudi-funded golf tournament as he mulls 2024 bid

Former U.S. President Donald Trump looks on during a press conference announcing a class action lawsuit against major tech companies at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster on July 07, 2021 in Bedminster, New Jersey.

Michael M. Santiago | Getty Images

Silver. Revenge. Disturbance. International intrigue.

These hallmarks of Donald Trump’s trademark all collide in his latest political controversy involving the world of professional golf.

Later this month, Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in New Jersey hosts its first tournament for the new Saudi-funded LIV Golf series, which is shaking up the sport’s establishment with a $2 billion investment and top player deals reportedly reaching $150 million or more.

The streak ends in October with a $50 million purse at Trump’s signature Florida course, Trump National Doral Miami, promising an infusion of millions of unknowns into Trump’s golf empire, which has begun to unravel. debate after his run for the presidency began in 2016.

The huge Saudi sums could not only benefit Trump financially as he mulls a 2024 comeback offer, but they also pose a deadly threat to the PGA Tour, which responded to LIV Golf by suspending players from participating in its tournaments — a move that landed the tour in the crosshairs of a federal antitrust investigation, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

Meanwhile, survivors and families of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks lined up against LIV Golf and protested its first American event last month in Oregon due to the involvement of Saudi Arabia and the the kingdom’s multiple ties to the hijackers. Now Trump is in their sights, and Trump’s team is fighting back.

Trump’s decision to play with LIV highlights his close ties to Saudi Arabia; he made his first foreign visit there as president, and his wealth fund pumped $2 billion into his son-in-law’s business last year. The Trump-LIV partnership also represents a measure of the fallout. The PGA Tour and PGA of America snatched the tournaments from Doral and Bedminster, respectively, following bigoted remarks he made on the campaign trail in 2016 (the PGA Tour said the move was financially motivated after having lost sponsorship of the event), and then his role in inciting the mob that trashed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. Trump sued the PGA of America and the case was settled in December.

“Trump likes it. He likes revenge. He likes attention. He likes money,” said Gary Williams, golf analyst for marketing firm Signature Golf and former host of a Golf Channel show owned by NBC who performed with Trump at Doral in 2014.

“Trump had a place at the table in the world of professional golf and lost it, and now he’s found this kind of rogue organization in the world of golf that is an existential threat to the establishment,” Williams said. at NBC. “And he can’t get enough.”

The unprecedented spectacle of a former president embroiled in a sports-organization feud involving a foreign power is as extraordinary as the concurrent controversies plaguing Trump this month: the House committee examining the Jan. 6 riot; a related federal investigation; a Georgian investigation into possible interference in the vote count; and a deposition he is due to sit on Friday in a civil investigation in New York regarding his business practices.

Majesticks GC team members (From L) England golfer Laurie Canter, England golfer Ian Poulter, England golfer Sam Horsfield and England golfer Lee Westwood pose during a press conference ahead of the next LIV Golf Invitational Series event at the Centurion Club in St Albans, north London on June 8, 2022.

Adrian Denis | AFP | Getty Images

At the same time, Trump is gearing up for a comeback presidential bid, making his foray into golf politics a distraction for some. But those who know him say it’s part of his anti-establishment mentality that invariably dominates discussions in the world of media, politics and sport.

Trump has been a key player in the effort to challenge NFL hegemony with the United States Football League. But that fell through after the 1985 season, the same year he bought his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, where he prevailed in clashes with the city government and clubby old-money company. It foreshadowed on a small scale Trump’s foreign political campaign that upended and took control of the Republican Party and, ultimately, the presidency in 2016.

Throughout, Trump has been an avid and obsessed golfer and worked his way into the sporting world, amassing and improving world-class properties such as Doral and Trump Turnberry in Scotland. But Trump was still considered unworthy in the upper echelons of golf, said Alan Shipnuck, an author and golf commentator who has analyzed LIV tournament finances.

“The key to understanding Trump’s obsession with the golf world is that he was never accepted into any of the great golfing strongholds on the East Coast. He couldn’t get into Augusta National, or Pine Valley or Shinnecock Hills. And it burned him,” he said. “It was the ultimate repudiation of his left and new endeavors in the Outer Borough. That’s why he built his own clubs. So he could be king of his own castle.”

After Trump lost tournament golf — and the money and status that came with it — LIV Golf gave him “another way to buy a new seat at the table,” Shipnuck said. “It’s about revenge. It’s about validation.”

And this perception is not limited to Trump. LIV Golf CEO, golfing legend Greg Norman has also had a strained relationship with some members of the golf establishment and last weekend was disinvited by the R&A from his Celebration of Champions event on Monday and his dinner of champions next week in St. Andrews.

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