Donald Trump on business with Saudis, Ron DeSantis and why he thinks LIV is great for golf

STERLING, Va. — Former president Donald Trump praised LIV Golf and defended his business relationship with the controversial Saudi-funded tour during a pro-am event at Trump National Golf Club on Thursday.

Trump fielded questions from a small group of reporters while playing a round with Patrick Reed, Graeme McDowell, his son, Eric, and Bob Koepka, the father of recent PGA Championship winner – and LIV golfer – Brooks Koepka.

He frequently stopped to praise and point out the features of the course, which is nestled along the Potomac River, and offer his thoughts on everything from the dangers of canoeing in the area to the future of LIV Golf, which he characterized as "very good" because it has "unlimited money."

"I think the (PGA) Tour made a major mistake by playing games," Trump told reporters. "They have unlimited money, and they love it. And it's been great publicity for Saudi Arabia.

"They've been great for golf. The Saudis have been fantastic for golf. And they're going to make it a big part of, inside their country, they're going to do some great courses."

The LIV Golf league is financed by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund and has been criticized as an example of sportswashing – using sports to divert attention from the country's human rights abuses.

Saudi Arabia has been accused of wide-ranging human rights abuses, including politically motivated killings, torture, forced disappearances and inhumane treatment of prisoners. And members of the royal family and Saudi government were accused of involvement in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist.

LIV Golf is midway through its second season, and this weekend's event at Trump National Golf Club is the third such tournament it has held at a property owned by the former president. It also has upcoming stops scheduled at his courses in Bedminster, New Jersey and Miami, Florida later this year.

When asked if he believes the LIV events are being held at his courses as some sort of reward for policies he enacted while in office that were favorable to Saudi Arabia, Trump said "not at all." He said the courses receive a rental fee from LIV Golf but declined to specify how much money changes hands.

"It's peanuts for me. This is peanuts," he said. "... They use (Trump courses) because they're the best courses. It's pretty simple."

Trump went out of his way at multiple points over the course of his round to marvel at the course. He also opined that it is superior to Congressional Country Club, another area course that routinely hosts major professional events.

"It's the best course. It's not even a contest," he said. "I think it's one of the best properties anywhere in the world. You have the Potomac River. Not just any river. You have the Potomac River. There's no other golf course that can be on the Potomac. And certainly no other golf course like this."

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Former President Donald Trump looks on from the first tee during the Pro-Am tournament at LIV Golf.

Trump has broadly praised LIV Golf since the tour began last year. Before hosting an event in July at Trump National Golf Bedminster in New Jersey, the former president implored golfers to take the guaranteed money the tour offers, which have been reported as eight- and nine-figure sums in some cases. Trump also said the people of Saudi Arabia have "been friends of mine for a long time" at last year's event.

A New York Times report earlier this month said the U.S. Department of Justice subpoenaed the Trump Organization for records regarding LIV Golf and Trump’s ties to the tour.

"I guess they're doing that because of what's happening with (President Joe) Biden. That's their retribution," Trump claimed, without citing any evidence to support that claim. "Because we did nothing wrong. That's their retribution. That's the way they try and get even."

Donald Trump on his play during LIV Golf pro-am

An avid golfer, Trump lamented that he is no longer able to play at Trump National as regularly as he did when he was in office. The course is a short drive northwest of Washington.

"It's fine," Trump said of his play. "We're just having fun. We're playing best ball, I guess."

The Washington Post reported that, after a nice drive on the fifth hole, he gestured to reporters gathered along the course and said, "And they’ll write stories that I can’t (expletive) play."

Donald Trump calls Ron DeSantis a 'very disloyal person'

Trump was asked about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who announced his presidential campaign for the 2024 election Wednesday and is largely seen as Trump's biggest opponent in the Republican Party.

He called DeSantis a "very disloyal person" and described his announcement as a disaster after several technical problems plagued the Twitter event.

"The guy had a disaster last night," Trump said.

"... But no, I think he's very disloyal. He's got no personality. If you don't have personality, politics is a very hard business. I have a wonderful personality."

Trump also was asked about his potential running mates in 2024. He said there are "a lot of good candidates" but Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., is not in the mix.

"I mean, I like her a lot," Trump said. "I hadn't thought of that. But she's a great person, in my opinion. We have a lot of great candidates."

Donald Trump says LIV Golf has helped U.S.

While generally singing LIV Golf's praises, Trump also said it has benefited both the sport of golf and the U.S. When asked why, he pointed to an unspecified economic impact.

"All the jobs. All the economic development," he said. "Look at this. Look at what they've built here in four weeks. Tremendous numbers of jobs. Great economic development. They've been really great to do business with."

Trump was also asked if he would halt his business relationship with LIV Golf, should he return to the White House. He did not directly answer the question.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump praises LIV Golf: 'Great publicity for Saudi Arabia'