BY JILL COLVIN
BEDMINSTER, N.J. (AP) — Spectators crowding around the viewing booth near the 15th green of the U.S. Women’s Open often had their backs turned toward some of the best golfers in the world.
The booth’s large windows offered fishbowl-style views of one of the most powerful men on the planet — also the owner of the golf course itself — as he attended to his affairs.
For hours each of the tournament’s last three days people who had bought tickets to the championship found themselves with front-row seats to President Donald Trump’s glad-handing, chit-chatting, sports watching and french-fry eating.
Usually Trump had his back to the green and the oglers, watching the competition on a TV screen when not greeting a stream of guests and visitors that included golfers and club managers plus his son, daughter-in-law and national security adviser.
Every so often, Trump acknowledged the crowd outside the booth, waving to them, pointing at those wearing Trump campaign merchandise, and offering a thumbs-up or a first bump. That prompted squeals from a group of schoolgirls on Friday and tears from a woman on Saturday. At one point on Sunday, the president drew cheers when he mimicked swinging a golf club.
It wasn’t all smiles under the sun. Trump’s presence drew demonstrators outside the course’s gates to protest the U.S. Golf Association’s decision to hold the event at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster, located about 45 miles west of New York City.
On Sunday, four protesters from the women’s rights group UltraViolet entered the club with event tickets and positioned themselves in front of Trump’s viewing booth wearing purple shirts that read “USGA: DUMP SEXIST TRUMP.”
“We’re here to make sure we’re represented,” said activist Melissa Byrne of Philadelphia. “We wanted to be able to look him in the eye.”
Security guards quickly surrounded the protesters. At times Trump supporters taunted the protesters and criticized reporters for giving them attention. Others welcomed the protesters’ presence. “I’m so glad to see you. Thank you, thank you for being here,” one woman said quietly as she walked by.
It was unclear whether Trump himself saw the protesters from his perch. He did not acknowledge their presence, but they seemed to preoccupy several guests in his booth. The protesters eventually left on their own accord.
Trump had tweeted about protesters on Sunday before leaving his residence on the golf course grounds. “Thank you to all of the supporters, who far out-numbered the protesters, yesterday at the Women’s U.S. Open. Very cool!” he wrote.
Players competed for attention with the course’s namesake. Again and again, club staff and volunteers asked the crowd gathered near Trump to hush so golfers like Lexi Thompson and Stacy Lewis could focus on their game.
Chinese golfer Shanshan Feng told reporters Friday that she could hear crowds screaming for the president. Asked if she could tell which direction the crowds were looking, Thompson told reporters, “Not toward the golf.”
The U.S. Golf Association released a statement Friday welcoming Trump to the open and noting that he is the first sitting president to attend.
“Our focus remains on conducting the championship and ensuring a great experience for the players and fans this week,” it read.
Trump has spent nearly every weekend of his presidency visiting a Trump-owned property, golf course or hotel. Many critics and ethics experts have accused the president of using his position to enrich himself. His presence at the open helped draw attention to the event, which he repeatedly promoted on Twitter.
While some at the course wondered aloud why the leader of the free world didn’t have more important things to do, Anita DiBartolo of Whippany, New Jersey, said she completely understood the president’s decision-making.
“Why,” she asked, “would he be any other place than this paradise today?”
Associated Press writer Tom Canavan contributed to this report.
Follow Colvin on Twitter at https://twitter.com/colvinj
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