Over 18 holes, Trump praises LIV Golf, its Saudi backers, and his own courses

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During his four years in office, former president Donald Trump visited Trump National Golf Club outside of Washington more than 100 times, according to TrumpGolfCount.com, which kept meticulous track of such outings. Since then, Trump has still played plenty of golf — just not at the private course he owns in Loudoun County, about 25 miles from the White House.

Former president Donald Trump said he was happy to be back at his Northern Virginia club on Thursday. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

“I used to play it a little bit when I was in office. It’s like 22 minutes from the White House. I do miss it,” he said. “I haven’t seen it in a little while.”

Even as myriad legal cases, criminal investigations and presidential campaign swirl around him, Trump returned to his Northern Virginia course Thursday to play in a pro-am tournament ahead of the LIV Golf event that will be held Friday through Sunday at Trump National. While he had plenty to say about recent political headlines while chatting with reporters between drives and putts — from the Republican presidential campaign launch of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (“a disaster”) to the investigation into his handling of classified documents (“a con job”) — Trump focused mainly on golf. He lauded the Saudi benefactors who bankroll LIV while lobbing criticism at the PGA Tour, which is battling the controversial upstart league in federal court.

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“I suspect the Tour’s going to want to merge pretty soon, because they can’t keep going like this,” Trump predicted.

Meanwhile, the future for LIV Golf, which is six events into its first full season and has struggled to keep the spotlight focused on its actual golf product, is “good,” according to the former president, in part because its Saudi benefactors have particularly deep pockets.

“Unlimited money. I think the Tour made a major mistake by playing games,” he said. “They have unlimited money, and they love it, and it’s been great publicity for Saudi Arabia.”

Trump has aligned himself closely with LIV. His courses hosted two events last year and will host three this season. Thursday marked the third LIV pro-am event for Trump, who played alongside Patrick Reed for nine holes and then Graeme McDowell for the back nine. Eric Trump and Bob Koepka — father of Brooks Koepka, last weekend’s PGA Championship winner — rounded out the group.

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Hosting LIV events is believed to be a lucrative arrangement for Trump, though neither side has revealed details. Trump downplayed the impact on his own bank account, calling it “peanuts for me,” and said he didn’t think the Saudis were doing anything untoward by lining the pockets of a former president — and the Republican front-runner for the 2024 election.

“They pay a rental fee. They want to use my properties because they’re the best properties,” Trump said. “There’s no property like this.”

Trump played nine holes with Patrick Reed and nine with Graeme McDowell on Thursday. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

The relationship has drawn the ire of critics, including some families of 9/11 victims who have protested at LIV events and this month wrote a letter to Trump requesting a meeting at his course.

“I fully understand them and we love them,” Trump said of the 9/11 families. “But it’s tremendous economic development, tremendous number of jobs, just for an event like this — it’s a big event. Tremendous number of jobs. But I fully understand them, actually.”

Trump spent much of his round bragging about his courses, particularly Trump National, a long, expansive course that runs alongside the Potomac River. He called it the top club in the Washington area, better than Congressional Country Club, which has hosted three U.S. Opens.

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“This blows Congressional away. … Congressional cannot compete with this,” Trump said.

Bravado aside, Trump’s courses have not hosted a major championship. The Virginia course hosted the 2017 Senior PGA Championship, and the PGA of America was supposed to stage its 2022 PGA Championship at his course in Bedminster, N.J., but it stripped Trump of hosting honors five days after January 6 insurrection.

“They had to pay me a lot of money, as you know,” he said. “It was a stupid thing and I guarantee you if they had it to do again, they wouldn’t have done that.”

Trump said he is hopeful, if not confident, that one of his properties will yet host a major.

“They love the courses,” he said of golf’s ruling bodies. “But I think they probably consider me a little bit controversial right now, which is foolish. You can make a lot of money with controversy. They love the courses. They actually love me, but they don’t want to have to say that publicly.”

Trump’s play was steady Thursday in the modified best-ball scramble event, which was closed to the public. He took selfies with volunteers and was chummy with the small pack of spectators inside the club’s gates.

This weekend’s event will be LIV’s first since Koepka won his fifth major, boosting the LIV brand. It also comes as the sport’s stakeholders wrestle with whether to include the circuit’s golfers in the Ryder Cup.

“It hurts the Ryder Cup, terribly. You have so many players — the greatest players,” Trump said. “And there’s some other big signings happening, from what I hear. Very, very big signings. Like, really big. Better than top 10. That’s just what I hear.”

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