BEDMINSTER, N.J. — Some of the best golfers in the world are competing in New Jersey this weekend — and vying for attention with a guy whose best finish was an age-group club title.
That would be President Donald Trump.
The president’s arrival at his club on Friday created such a commotion that crowds at the U.S. Women’s Open were asked to keep it down as golfers Lexi Thompson, Brooke Henderson and Stacy Lewis approached the 15th green.
Trump, fresh off a quick trip to France, turned up in a glassed-off patio of the clubhouse with son Eric by his side.
Acknowledging the crowds, the president waved, pointed and gave a thumbs-up, prompting squeals from a group of schoolgirls. Dozens of people swarmed around the clubhouse snapping photos and waving as the president occasionally approached the window.
Trump’s presence did pose a distraction to players. Chinese golfer Shanshan Feng said she could hear crowds screaming for the president from the 15th green.
And asked if she could tell which direction the crowds were looking, Thompson told reporters, "not toward the golf."
Trump’s visit during the weekend tournament also poses a security challenge because his residence is on the course, where fans and players pass by throughout the day.
But the tournament’s director said of Trump’s visit: "We’re ready."
The event was expected to draw protesters critical of the U.S. Golf Association, which operates the tournament, for not moving it to a different venue after audio surfaced last year in which Trump made derogatory comments about women.
Trump has a history of making lewd and highly sexual comments toward and about women. An Access Hollywood tape released a month before the 2016 presidential election caught him bragging about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women who were not his wife.
Trump has spent several weekends at the club since his election in November but none during an event of this magnitude: 156 golfers and their entourages, and thousands of fans.
He’s the first sitting president to attend the U.S. Women’s Open and the third to attend a USGA event. Warren G. Harding in 1921 and Bill Clinton in 1997 also attended a USGA event while serving as president, viewing the U.S. Open.
While the connection between American presidents and major sporting events is well-established — the tradition of throwing out the first pitch on baseball’s opening day dates back to the early 20th century, for example — so are the security challenges.
Trump’s residence at the course sits on more than 600 acres of rolling hills in central New Jersey farmland, where a steady stream of players and fans will be walking throughout the four days.
Maintaining boundaries between the president and the public is crucial, as is being able to adjust on the fly, according to Thom Bolsch, a retired Secret Service agent who served under Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
"Any movement that a protectee makes, the script is probably about 95 per cent solid, where we know what he’s doing and we’ve briefed the staff and the staff has briefed him," Bolsch told The Associated Press. "But they’re human and a lot of times they see people they know, or they see a crowd. They’re politicians and they need to go and kiss babies, and they’re going to go do it."
At a visit last month, for instance, Trump surprised a couple celebrating their wedding at the club and posed for pictures with them.