At Bedminster, Trump the elephant in the room


BEDMINSTER, N.J. – President Donald Trump’s shadow engulfs this week’s U.S. Women’s Open.

The big question going to Trump National isn’t whether Danielle Kang can win back-to-back major championships, or if Brittany Lang will successfully defend her title, or whether So Yeon Ryu or Lexi Thompson is the player to beat.

It’s whether President Trump will actually show up.

While Trump didn’t attend the Senior PGA Championship at Trump National in Potomac Falls, Va., this spring, he did show up for the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Trump Turnberry while running for president two years ago.

“We simply don’t know if the president plans to attend,” USGA spokeswoman Janeen Driscoll wrote in response to a email query late last week. “But it would not be the first time one has attended our championships.”

Bill Clinton watched Ernie Els win the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club 20 years ago from a special platform built above the 16th green. He’s the last sitting president to attend a USGA event.

The USGA, Town of Bedminster and Somerset County have heightened security measures in preparation for the possibility Trump will attend.

“The security measures for this tournament are presidential level,” said UltraViolet co-founder Shaunna Thomas. “They are definitely planning for him.”

UltraViolet is a national group formed to fight sexism and expand women’s rights. The group is planning to demonstrate in public space near Trump National. Thomas said the permitting process UltraViolet navigated made it clear USGA and local government officials are preparing for the president’s arrival.

In fact, Thomas told that UltraViolet won’t be flying an anti-Trump banner over the U.S. Women’s Open, as it did over the U.S. Open at Erin Hills last month, because the Federal Aviation Administration is restricting the air space over Trump Bedminster this week.

“The air space is secured for a several mile radius,” Thomas said. “It will be impossible to fly a plane over the tournament.”

On Monday, the FAA provided more evidence the president plans to attend, sending a notice to pilots that clears the way for Trump to fly into the Town of Bedminster on Friday and leave on Sunday.

“Obviously, the president, for any number of reasons, might not show up,” Thomas said.

There were 10-mile no-fly restrictions imposed when Trump visited the club in May and again when he visited in June.

That won’t stop UltraViolet from getting its message out in other ways. The women’s rights organization is planning to deliver its protest messages via digital billboard on a truck that will circle the Trump National property.

Trump National Bedminster is being called Trump’s “Summer White House” by locals. With living quarters there, the club serves as a retreat for the president, who has stayed there at least twice since being elected.

“This is going to be the summer of resistance,” New Jersey Family Alliance director Analilia Mejia told NJ Advance Media about regular Saturday protest plans.

UltraViolet’s Thomas expects a large contingent of protesters for Sunday’s final round. Her group has accused the LPGA and the USGA of “giving millions in revenue, free advertising and branding to Trump, a racist, sexist, sexual predator.” UltraViolet also has led a letter campaign pressuring LPGA sponsors.

“The USGA and the LPGA are sending exactly the wrong signal about who they are as institutions and what they want to stand for by hosting a tournament at a golf course that is owned by a sexual harasser and abuser with a long record of racism and misogyny, before he became president,” Thomas said. “I guarantee you there will be many groups protesting the tournament’s relationship with Donald Trump.”

The Bedminster library has been designated by Somerset County officials as the First Amendment gathering place for both Trump protesters and supporters. It is four miles east of the front entrance to the golf course.

The activist groups We The People NJ, New Jersey Working Families, Action Together NJ, and the New Jersey Family Alliance have been among groups protesting nearly every Saturday through the spring at that same library site. The groups staged a rally there in May, when Trump made his first visit to the property after his election. Those groups also formed a motorcade picket, circling the club while honking horns in protest.

Driscoll said about 300 media credentials have been approved for the U.S. Women’s Open, with restrictions to the size constraints of the media center. The USGA gave priority to media “providing immediate championship golf coverage,” with credential review based on the media applicant’s “intent to cover our championship as a first priority.”

Trump was back at the White House on Sunday after a return from last week’s G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany. While Trump has reportedly accepted an invitation from French President Emmanuel Marcon to visit his country for Bastille Day on Friday, Monday’s FAA news makes it appear he may still attend the U.S. Women’s Open.

Trump came under fire from golf fans when video was released three weeks ago showing him driving a golf cart across a green at Trump National in Bedminster, a violation of the game’s etiquette that went viral. His attendance at the U.S. Women’s Open could draw more attention to the championship than it has ever received.

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Two-time major champion Brittany Lincicome found out just how polarizing Trump’s presence could be after a Chicago Tribune reporter asked her about Trump during the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship two weeks ago.

“Hopefully, maybe, he doesn’t show up, and it won’t be a big debacle, and it will be about us and not him,” Lincicome said. “I don’t know him. I have met him probably once. I think it will be fine. We’re going to play an amazing golf course and let our clubs do the talking.”

Lincicome said she wasn’t taking an anti-Trump stand, just a stand against the potentially chaotic work environment Trump’s appearance could create, but she quickly became a target on social media. Trump supporters criticized her for not wanting him there, and Trump opponents criticized her for planning to play there.

Even Champions Tour pro John Daly expressed his displeasure over Lincicome’s comment when she asked him via Twitter on Saturday if he would be willing to play in her charity event.

“Tough to do things when ppl down on 1 of my grt friends,” Daly tweeted back. “Sorry. Some things shouldn’t be said. He has a grt heart & has America 1st always.”

All the backlash led Lincicome to announce Sunday that she was going off Twitter this week.

“I have nothing against him at all,” Lincicome tweeted. “Just don’t want it to be a circus while we work.”

The 156 players who will tee it up aren’t sure what to expect at Trump National, but this looks like it could be a national championship unlike any other.

The U.S. Women’s Open is the most important championship in women’s golf. The $5 million purse is the richest in women’s golf, and the prestige of the trophy may be even more meaningful.

Still, players have never been in a no-win situation quite like this before, as Lincicome discovered while being attacked by both sides of the Trump debate.

Martha Burk, the former chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, didn’t spare the players in her criticism, with the USGA resolving to stick to its plans to play the U.S. Women’s Open on Trump’s course.

“The good girls of golf have always been afraid to cross the guys,” Burk wrote in an article for the Huffington Post.

That’s a frustrating indictment for professional female golfers.

Mo Martin, the 2014 Women’s British Open champion, said the practical implication of skipping the U.S. Women’s Open is incompatible with the larger principles female athletes strive to support.

“There’s been backlash against the president, and a lot of that backlash is people thinking he’s a misogynist,” Martin said. “But from that standpoint, as a female athlete, we need every opportunity we can get. We’re always trailing the men, as far as professional golf opportunities go, and so it makes no sense to me to pressure females to miss an opportunity to try to make a point against a man.”

For so many women tour pros, doing harm to the U.S. Women’s Open would be like cutting off their nose to spite their face.

“What’s great about this country and democracy is that you have the freedom to stand up for your beliefs and to protest things you don’t like,” Hall of Famer Karrie Webb said. “I understand why it has come to this, but it’s a shame it has come to this.

“The U.S. Open is the biggest tournament of the year for us. We base our schedules around the U.S. Open, and I don’t understand what the point would be for any LPGA player to boycott it. At the end of the day, the president is still going to be the president. I think the only losers in boycotting the tournament would be the players.”

UltraViolet’s stance toward women who will tee it up this week has changed. Thomas said the organization has become more understanding of the quandary the players face this week.

Her organization’s complaints are more intensely focused on how the leaders in women’s golf have failed these players by scheduling them to play a Trump course.

“It’s deeply unfair for these players,” she said. “That’s part of the reason we’ve stepped up, and why we are being so relentless with this campaign. These players ought to be able to just show up and play golf this week. This is an unnecessary distraction that the USGA and LPGA have placed them in. They don’t deserve it.”

Trump’s been a friend to women’s golf in the past, including his run as host of the ADT Championship at his Trump International course in West Palm Beach, Fla., from 2000 to 2005.

Natalie Gulbis supported him a speech at the Republican National Convention.

So Yeon Ryu has had a Trump logo among the many logos on her golf bag.

Cristie Kerr and Lexi Thompson are among women who have enjoyed playing privileges at Trump’s courses.

“I’m not close with the president,” Kerr said. “He has been a casual acquaintance I have played golf with in the past, but I don’t see him on a regular basis. He happens to have fantastic golf properties. Trump National in Bedminster is one of his great courses. That’s why we are here.

“If women’s groups want to help women’s sports, they will respect what we do, and they will support women’s sports, instead of putting out such a negative message.”

A lot of players started shutting down their comments about playing Trump National with the championship growing closer. Several players declined to comment when asked about Trump at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, even some of the most outspoken players on tour.

“I’m going there to play the U.S. Women’s Open,” Paula Creamer said. “It’s nothing to do with political views.”

Stacy Lewis also passed when asked about Trump. “Not going to comment,” she said at the Women’s PGA.

The USGA announced plans to play the U.S. Women’s Open at Trump National in Bedminster back in 2012.

When protest of the decision began to grow with Trump’s presidential campaign, the pressure on the USGA to move the event grew.

Early on, even LPGA commissioner Mike Whan pushed to abandon plans to play Trump’s course, and he got lambasted by Trump for it.

When the USGA dug in with the intent to honor its contract and commitment, Whan wasn’t going to harm a loyal partner. Whan stood with the organization.

Today, Whan is faced with a Herculean task, trying to make a championship on a Trump course more about his players than about Trump.

“We have addressed the U.S. Women’s Open multiple times and in multiple interviews,” Whan said in a statement replying to a request for an interview last week. “We are simply not going to engage in any political discussion this week. Instead, we choose to focus on the best female players in the world who have earned their right to compete on one of golf’s grandest stages. Out of respect for these incredible athletes, we will keep our attention on them and the major championship competition at hand.”

While the USGA has publicly addressed some of Trump’s controversial remarks as “being at odds with our belief that golf should be welcoming and inclusive for all,” and has cleared Trump Bedminster as complying with the USGA’s anti-discriminatory policies, the pressure from women activists has been unrelenting.

Davis summed up his approach to this U.S. Women’s Open during media day this spring.

“The USGA, since its founding in 1894, has never been involved in politics,” Davis said. “Our focus is solely on the game of golf.

“We appreciate that there are some out there that want to make this a political event, but this is a golf event for the United States Golf Association.”

Thomas says her organization’s complaints against Trump as host of this championship aren’t about politics. They’re about Trump’s treatment of women.

“The argument they are trying to stay out of politics is almost laughable,” Thomas said. “This is fundamentally about the USGA hosting and promoting a tournament at a golf course owned by a serial sexual abuser. We expect the USGA and LPGA to respect their fans and players enough to give their business to people who are not actively undermining women. They have no business being associated with Donald Trump’s brand.”

That is a storyline that makes this U.S. Women’s Open unlike any other.