In the context of important stuff – who has nuclear weapons and who doesn’t have health insurance, to name two timely topics – the appropriateness of a site for a golf tournament is the smallest of potatoes except, perhaps, when the course owner is President Donald Trump.
The U.S. Golf Association hasn’t waffled publicly about bringing the 72nd U.S. Women’s Open to Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., this week since having announced on May 2, 2012, that the championship would be played there (tee times: http://bit.ly/2sASWNA).
Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director and CEO, told Golf Digest earlier this year that “it got tricky” once Trump started running for president, in 2015. For those unhappy that the USGA is staging one of its premier events on a Trump course, however, there was discontent from the start, a long time before Trump’s lewd 2005 conversation about women – essentially bragging about sexual assault – surfaced during the campaign.
For more than a year before the announcement that his New Jersey club would get the ’17 Women’s Open, Trump, despite no credible evidence, had been questioning whether President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Trump continued to stir the pot even after the release of Obama’s long-form birth certificate and didn’t concede that the 44th president was born in Hawaii until two months before the 2016 election. He never publicly apologized for the smear.
Although the USGA was among the golf organizations that criticized Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants, it has attempted to separate golf and the complexities of the larger world. “We’re a golf organization,” Davis said at a U.S. Women’s Open media conference in late May. “We’re simply not going to cross that line into politics. We can appreciate that some people do – and that’s what’s great about this country, that everybody has their own political views – but we are a golf association, and we’re sticking to golf.”
In his extensive interview with Golf Digest, Davis said that once Trump was elected, the USGA debated moving the Women’s Open “but it became such a complicated thing that we decided we’re going to move forward. No matter what we did, people would be upset.”
The relationship of women’s golf to President Donald Trump dates to 2001, long before he became the leader of the free world. Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla., began an eight-year run as home of the LPGA’s season-ending event. Mar-a-Lago was the scene of the tour’s awards evening, with Trump’s lavish resort being quite an upgrade from a hotel banquet room. Trump befriended LPGA players. Cristie Kerr, who won the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open, is a member at Trump National Bedminster. Natalie Gulbis spoke on Trump’s behalf at the 2016 Republican National Convention.
In 2009, Trump National Golf Club Bedminster hosted the U.S. Junior Amateur and U.S. Girls’ Junior. As with the LPGA event, Trump, who loves golf, was a gracious host, and the success of those junior championships paved the way for the U.S. Women’s Open.
In the run-up to their biggest week of the year – a $5 million purse that dwarfs any other women’s event despite being less than half of the recent U.S. Open prize money – LPGA players have been reluctant to talk about the intersection of a major championship with a polarizing politician. During the KPMG Women’s PGA two weeks ago, the Chicago Tribune got only one player, Brittany Lincicome, to speak at length for a story on the subject.
“Hopefully maybe he [President Trump] doesn’t show up and it won’t be a big debacle and it will be about us and not him,” Lincicome told the Tribune, an honest wish by a golfer caught in the middle, a golfer not musing over a White House visit but wondering about the competitive atmosphere. Other outlets picked up Lincicome’s comments last week, where they predictably reverberated on social media. “It’s my job to make money playing golf lol,” Lincicome tweeted. “I can’t not play. It’s my favorite event of the year. Just unfortunate it might be overshadowed.”
Let’s hope for Lincicome’s sake – and the other 155 golfers in the field – that what happens on the course isn’t overshadowed by a sideshow. They don’t deserve that. Neither do the many staff and volunteers dedicated to making the event a success, most of whom had nothing to do with deciding to take the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open to a Trump course or keeping it there despite logical and legitimate arguments on the other side.
Etiquette – not what has to be done but what should be done – is a pillar of golf. Long after the last putt is holed at a course bearing the name of this lightning rod of an American president, it will be fair to wonder whether the USGA did the right thing.
Bill Fields has covered golf since the mid-1980s, with much of his career spent at Golf World magazine as a writer and editor. A native North Carolinian, he lives in Fairfield, Conn. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @BillFields1