BEDMINSTER, N.J. — It would be an overstatement to say that President Donald J. Trump’s appearance during the second round of the U.S. Women’s Open hijacked the championship, as some feared it might. But his impending arrival did, on what was otherwise a dreary afternoon at his glitzy club on a bucolic swath of horse country, create a palpable sense of suspense.
When, oh when, would the commander in chief arrive?
The answer came a few ticks after 3:30 p.m. when a motorcade of black Suburbans wheeled onto the property, the grinning, waving, pointing prez fresh off a flight from gay Paris. All week players had been peppered with questions about what it would mean—on many different levels—to play the president’s course in front of the president himself. Some dodged and demurred, others saw only positives. (Many seemed mildly irked on Friday that ramped-up security measures required them to arrive at the course 20 minutes earlier than they had planned.)
“I respect the office of the president, always have,” said Angela Stanford, playing in her 18th U.S. Open. “How many chances are you going to get to play on a president's golf course during a U.S. Open?”
She added with a smile, “I secretly want to be a Secret Service agent. So I'm kind of hoping to see one at some point.”
If Stanford had been hanging around the 16th tee at about 5:15 p.m., her wish would have been granted. She also might have spotted the president as he made his way from behind the clubhouse and up set of stairs into a bulletproof viewing pen adorned with American flag bunting. The makeshift skybox, replete with flatscreens and a fridge loaded with beverages, offers panoramic views of the 15th green and the picturesque hole that follows it, a watery par 3 with a wide, shallow green that pitches right to left.
In Trump’s cadre were his son, Eric, who runs the family’s 18 golf properties, and Trump Bedminster general manger David Schutzenhofer. As the president settled in, spectators began to gather and gawk, craning their necks for a glimpse. No matter that American stars Lexi Thompson and Stacy Lewis were putting out on the 15th green—all eyes, and selfies, were on the luxe Trumpbox, which most assuredly will serve as the epicenter of the championship this weekend.
The box sits adjacent to the clubhouse where VIPs sipping Moscow Mules on the balcony had an excellent view into the president’s suite. At one point Trump rose from his seat, shimmied over to the corner of his pavilion and waved at the onlookers as if he were at a campaign rally. The crowd roared.
Down on the ground, a father and his young son tried to get the president’s attention by madly waving at him.
“Let’s see if he’ll wave at us, Kyle,” the man said.
Indeed, Trump did.
“Did you see that, Kyle! Did you see that! That was for us!”
It was on odd scene, like a mass of museum-goers milling around an installation.
When leader Shanshan Feng stepped off the 15th green at eight-under for the championship, she noted the gathering crowds and heard shrieks.
“I was trying to find out why people were screaming,” she said after her round. (Needless to say, they weren’t delayed cheers for Feng’s birdies back at 10 and 11.)
“Remarkable,” is how Marina Alex described the energy. Alex is a fourth-year LPGA pro who grew up just 35 miles up the road from here, in Wayne. She has plenty of support on hand at Bedminster, and as far as she's concerned, having a sitting president on site—for the time ever at a U.S. Women’s Open and the first time at any Open since President Clinton dropped by the ’97 edition at Congressional—serves as a powerful support mechanism for the women’s game.
“Regardless of your political affiliation and whether you are a fan of Trump or you're not a fan of Trump, having a president at a women's golf event is pretty remarkable,” she said. “We have an unbelievable group of talented women playing golf right now. If it's allowing more people to see us play our game, I don't see anything wrong with that.”
Neither did Shelly Donaldson, a retired nurse and lifelong golf fan from suburban Philadelphia who had made the drive up to Bedminster with her sister on Friday morning to take in the second round. Early Friday evening, Donaldson was among the crowd congregated around the Trumpbox. She had her phone out like most of the other fans but once she got her snap, she said, she was heading back to the course.
“I suppose he could help bring more eyeballs,” she said. “But I’m not here for him, I’m here for the golf.”