Senior PGA at Trump National D.C. kicks off big summer for Donald Trump’s golf interests

May 24, 2017

This should get interesting.  

The golf-loving president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, said in a Fox News interview on April 28, “I couldn’t care less about golf.” This week, and over the course of the summer, we’ll find out if that was a comment made in passing or what the man really believes. A good guess is that the Trump-golf divorce papers won’t be signed any time soon.  

Not only is golf in Trump’s blood—he is by far our best golfing president—the game is also (presumably) all over his tax returns. His name is attached to close to two dozen golf courses, including four at Trump Doral in South Florida, two at Trump Turnberry in western Scotland and two at Trump National Washington D.C., which is actually in Sterling, Va.    

One of the Sterling layouts, the Championship course, will host the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship this week, beginning on Thursday and concluding on Sunday. Trump is traveling abroad, with a final announced stop in Italy on Saturday, so in theory he could be on hand for the final round. His middle son, Eric, who is running the Trump Organization golf businesses, is expected to attend.  

President Trump would certainly find a friendly reception at the event, the oldest of the three bona fide senior majors (along with the U.S. Senior Open and the Senior British Open). Trump knows well some of the leading figures at the PGA of America, including its CEO, Pete Bevacqua, and Ted Bishop, the Indiana golf-course owner who was the president of the organization in 2014 when the PGA and Trump announced the venue would host this week’s event.  

Trump also knows many players in the field. This is not even close to a complete list: Rocco Mediate, the defending champion; John Nieporte, the head pro at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach; David Frost, who plays often at the West Palm site; Vijay Singh, who offered some advice on the construction of a Trump course in New Jersey; and Colin Montgomerie, who was on hand when Trump opened his course in Aberdeen, Scotland.  

The lure of the event will most likely be strong for Trump. From 2013 through 2016, when there was a PGA Tour stop at Trump Doral, the real estate developer and TV personality always made an appearance, typically a splashy one, on the course, in the clubhouse and in the media room. But he wasn’t president then.  

Now that he is, he has vowed to separate his professional interests from his new life as the leader of the free world. Before he announced his bid for the presidency, Trump would often play two or three times a week, almost always at courses with his name attached to them. He made that couldn’t-care-less comment in the wake of criticism he was playing too much golf as president.  

Some of Trump’s extreme rhetoric—particularly about Mexican immigrants—forced the PGA of America to pull the plug on a 2015 off-season event, the Grand Slam of Golf, which had been scheduled for Trump National Los Angeles. (It was canceled before the PGA decided to end the event regardless of venue.) Despite that decision, in a market with a vast Hispanic population, the PGA of America decided not to move this week’s Senior PGA Championship or the 2022 PGA Championship, which is scheduled for Trump National in Bedminster, N.J.  

When Trump’s vulgar comments about women in the infamous 2005 Access Hollywood tape became public last year, some commentators wondered whether the USGA would attempt to move the U.S. Women’s Open, set to be played at Trump Bedminster in July. But that did not happen, and Trump, whether he attends or not, will be the de facto host, at a course that is about six miles from USGA headquarters in Far Hills, N.J.

Trump will certainly have rooting interests at the Senior PGA. No golf professional has worked for Trump longer than Nieporte, a widely respected PGA pro whose father, Tom, was a legend in the business and the last club pro to win a Tour event, the 1967 Bob Hope Desert Classic.  

The Trump Organization asked the PGA of America to grant a special invitation to John Nieporte, who turned 50 in February. Six other players, none of whom have ties to the Trump Organization, also received special invitations: Steve Flesch and Bill Glasson, Tim Elliott and Craig Parry of Australia, Phillip Price of Wales and Jarmo Sandelin of Sweden.  

Before he ran for president, Trump often said that having a men’s major or a Ryder Cup at one of his courses was on his wish list. Whether that will happen remains to be seen, but come September, Trump can be the unofficial host of another team competition.  

In September, the Presidents Cup, the PGA Tour’s equivalent to the Ryder Cup, will be played at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, N.J. The last two times the Presidents Cup was played in the U.S., in 2009 and 2013, Barack Obama was the honorary chairman. In 2005, George W. Bush was the honorary chairman. The same for Bill Clinton in 2000 and George H.W. Bush in 1996.  

In an email this week, Joel Schuchmann, the Tour’s senior director of communications, wrote, “The invitation is out to Mr. Trump to serve as Honorary Chairman of the Presidents Cup. We’ve always had tremendous relationships with those in office, specifically through the Presidents Cup, and we look forward to him being involved in that event in whatever capacity his schedule allows.”  

It would be hard to imagine Trump not accepting that role, just as it is hard to overstate how deep his relationships in golf run. He considers Phil Mickelson a friend. Years ago, after he participated in a corporate exhibition at Bedminster, Mickelson called Trump to praise the driving range, leaving word on his office voicemail. Months later, Trump still hadn’t deleted the message.  

Last week the winner of the Regions Tradition on the Champions tour was Bernhard Langer, with whom Trump had a much-publicized phone conversation in February.  

And then there’s Mediate. He plays in shirts bearing a Trump golf logo.  

“I’ve been wearing the colors since 2010,” Mediate said in March. “So I’m not one of the bandwagon guys that just jumped on. I’ve been with [Trump] since 2010, because I like his stuff and I like him.”


Michael Bamberger may be reached at [email protected]