BEDMINSTER, N.J. — LIV Golf’s slogan is “golf, but louder” — a 180 from the typically hushed atmosphere at most tournaments.
It certainly sounded like that on Friday when the controversial Saudi-backed league teed off for the opening round at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster.
The noise started long before players even arrived at the course, with the group 9/11 Justice holding an emotional and spirited protest mid-morning just three miles down the road from the club’s entrance. Things only got noisier and at times weirder from there.
Just prior to the afternoon shotgun start, the Beastie Boys’ “Fight For Your Right” played throughout the venue. Then, three paratroopers landed on the property while carrying a huge American flag to kick off the festivities.
With all 12 groups teeing off at the same time — ferried out to their respective holes on a small army of golf carts — Phil Mickelson was about to get underway on the par-3 16th when a man heckled him by shouting, “Do it for the Saudi Royal Family!”
The crowd grumbled, Mickelson backed away from his ball then promptly dumped his tee shot in the sand before making bogey, while security reportedly warned the spectator.
“No,” Mickelson said when asked if it was disappointing to get heckled. “I had a really good day. People here have always treated me well.”
Not that he gave them much to get excited about with a 4-over 75 that left him 11 shots back of individual co-leaders, Patrick Reed and Henrik Stenson, who was making his LIV debut. On the strength of Reed’s 64, his team, which includes Dustin Johnson, Pat Perez and Talor Gooch, led Stenson’s team by a shot.
But Friday was less about what was happening on the golf course in the 54-hole, no-cut tournament, than it was about the scene all around it.
At the center of it all was the man whose name is on the front gate.
The last time the course hosted a tournament — the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open — then-President Trump observed the proceedings from a glass-enclosed balcony. Friday, he was omnipresent on the grounds.
Trump emerged from the clubhouse to visit players on the driving range and watched them tee off on the opening hole, waving to the crowd, many of which cheered him in support. Other times, he chatted with LIV CEO and commissioner Greg Norman as well as Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of the Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund that has provided the backing for LIV with a more-than $2 billion investment.
The former President also moved about the property in his personalized golf cart replete with a presidential seal, while his son, Don Jr., son-in-law and former adviser Jared Kushner and Caitlyn Jenner were among those in attendance.
As for the golf itself, that looked and felt much like any other tournament, though the crowds were more sparse.
There also wasn’t much in the way of heckling. Aside from the initial barb directed at Mickelson, who ditched the PGA Tour for LIV for a reported $200 million guaranteed, most of the fans heaped praise on the 52-year-old six-time major champion who remains popular in the New York Metropolitan area.
Support for other players was also fairly typical, even if the size of the crowd wasn’t big. Translation: There was plenty of elbow room, and close-up views weren’t hard to come by, even for other notables, such as Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Patrick Reed.
That was the case at each of the first two LIV events, too, with discounted or free tickets being hawked on social media.
Another element that made the event different than the rest of golf was the music that was piped in throughout the course during play, lending to the laid-back vibe.
“It was fun,” Charles Howell III, who was making his LIV debut, said. “The music playing, I really liked that. I played a lot of professional events, never played with that.”
Yet at the same time, Howell and others said they found the course to be difficult and found themselves focusing as if it were any other tournament.
“Once we started it was a golf tournament again on a hard golf course,” Howell said.
Added Stenson: “I felt extremely focused today and was really into my game. You can’t ease up your concentration out here.”
But Mickelson said he sees other benefits.
“The reason why I’m so high on LIV Golf is it addresses the two areas that for the 30 years that I played the [PGA] Tour they have tried and struggled,” he said. “Meaning LIV has a chance to bring professional golf throughout the world.
“The players, when they sign up we receive a ton of money and we give up our schedule and we commit to wherever they hold the events. … I think that’s a really big thing.”