Down Time

Inside Bedminster, President Trump’s New Jersey Pleasure Palace

Expect President Trump to kick back this summer at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Its members hope the Secret Service will keep a low profile.

During the summer season at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, Donald Trump would finish a round and head toward the pool, where he greeted members individually.

According to a member of the club, speaking on condition of anonymity, Trump would stride toward them at their poolside lunch tables with his arms up, like an orchestra conductor preparing for the downbeat.

“You’re a Bedminster family!” he’d roar, before making the rounds.

The member, a woman in her late twenties, likened him to an exuberant restaurant manager. “He was an entertainer,” she said, and he was proud of his golf club estate in rural New Jersey, roughly an hour’s drive from Manhattan.

That was before Trump launched his quixotic presidential campaign, and long before he moved into the Oval Office.

Nowadays, he can’t go to the pool without Secret Service agents at his side, as they were last summer during the campaign.

The club had a hard time adjusting to security presence at first, the member told The Daily Beast, before there was a noticeable transition: Secret Service personnel started wearing sports jackets around the club, and made an effort to be friendlier to members and guests.

Although he was in the Middle East last weekend on his first international trip, President Trump will reportedly be spending summer weekends at his Bedminster club after wintering at Mar-a-Lago.

He made his first visit to Bedminster in early May, and may relish spending more time there, given the various political travails assailing his administration.

Members are concerned that the club’s all-in-the-family atmosphere will change with increased security and gawker-attracting publicity.

“Hopefully the staff is being pressed to remember people’s faces,” the member said, anxious that club staff be on the lookout for interlopers.

Indeed, they were standing guard in early May at the club’s entrance off a two-lane road in the horse country town of Bedminster, where neighboring estates have names like “Hoopstick Farm,” “Stone Meadow,” “The Oaks Farm,” and “Red Tail Farm.”

Get The Beast In Your Inbox!

Daily Digest

Start and finish your day with the top stories from The Daily Beast.

Cheat Sheet

A speedy, smart summary of all the news you need to know (and nothing you don't).

By clicking “Subscribe,” you agree to have read the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy
Thank You!
You are now subscribed to the Daily Digest and Cheat Sheet. We will not share your email with anyone for any reason.

I’d come to inquire about a membership, I explained to a young man wearing a white polo shirt with “Trump National Golf Club” embroidered in gold script letters above his right breast.

He asked that I kindly leave the property and contact the director of membership, before handing me her business card. A voice message with the director of membership asking for a tour of the premises went unanswered.

The member said staffers have always welcomed members and guests at the front gate—a miniature club house of sorts—just inside the property.

But potential trespassers will now be intimidated by the Secret Service SVU frequently parked ahead of the entrance gate, as it was when I visited, on the side of the tree-lined driveway that winds past several holes and up to the imposing main clubhouse, a Georgian Revival-style mansion with a red brick facade and large white columns. The Trump Organization bought the property and its roughly 500 acres of land in 2002 for some $35 million.

Country club amenities abound: two golf courses, eight practice greens, eight tennis courts, a fitness center, conference center, helipad, basketball course, a 25-meter pool with two surrounding hot tubs and a poolside “Bistro” restaurant.

The clubhouse in particular has many Trumpian flourishes, according to one young woman whose father is a longtime member: a colossal chandelier in the foyer, gilded finishes, and shiny marble floors.

“It’s like a McMansion,” said the woman who, like others quoted in this story, asked not to be publicly identified. “He doesn’t cheap out on the fixtures or the flooring, and the food is excellent,” she said, citing “Mrs. Trump’s Meatloaf” as a popular menu item last year.

The clubhouse walls are crowded with photographs and paintings of Trump, she said, from the famous 1990 cover of Playboy magazine to a portrait from his Apprentice days, along with pictures of his heroes (Muhammad Ali) and enemies (a triptych caricature of Hillary Clinton’s face, crossed out and framed with the words “Crooked Hillary”).

“It’s not a liberal place at all,” the woman said, describing her own father as “the most conservative person you’ll ever meet.” She said the club has a lot of “young Republican members, too, most of whom surely support Donald as president.” If there are members who didn’t vote for him, “they wouldn’t admit to it,” she said.

The club’s website advertises a “grand ballroom and bar” on the ground floor of the clubhouse, as well as a smaller indoor dining room.

A large spiral staircase winds up to the second-floor lounge and outdoor patio, which looks out on the 16th tee. Members can also spend the night in one of the club’s single room suites or five “luxury” cottages.

Trump has long stayed at his own villa on the property, though plans for substantial additions to his digs were recently approved by the Bedminster land use board. And Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, who were married at the club in 2009, are reportedly tacking on five bedrooms to their current two-bedroom cottage on club grounds.

Last summer, Ivanka’s older two children set up a lemonade stand and “donated the money to other children who don’t have food in Africa,” according to one member, who gushed that the entrepreneurial young philanthropists are “sweet, good-hearted” kids.

“The club caters to families,” the member added, citing events like “father-daughter dance night” and “father-son sleepover night.”

The same member described the club vibe as more "relaxed" compared to the Mar-a-Lago club in West Palm Beach, which has reciprocity with Trump National in Bedminster.

While women frequently wear stilettos and sequins to the pool at Mar-a-Lago, they lounge in flip flops and jean shorts at Bedminster’s “sick pool” and—said the member—sip vodka “Transfusion” cocktails known as “trannies.”

“People don’t try super hard,” she said. “You’re more likely to see a woman in riding clothes than in heels during the day. It’s about fitting into the lifestyle out here.”

The member demographic is less Nantucket Reds-preppy than traditional country clubs, including Somerset Hills Country Club in the neighboring town of Bernardsville. There’s no codified dress code at Trump National in Bedminster, and staffers don’t police cellphone use by the pool or in the clubhouse. (Trump himself has never cared much for observing proprieties, after all).

A former tennis coach who worked there in the late 2000s said that Trump was wary of staffers ripping him off.

“He’d complain about tennis balls being given away for free and was always barking about something,” said the former coach, remarking that Trump’s management style was exactly as he described it in his books (“I can be a screamer when I want to be,” he writes in The Art of the Deal).

The club was like Trump’s “kingdom,” the former coach said; Trump would “fly in on a helicopter” and “was worshipped by all the members at the club. But the people he paid the most attention to were the ones who he knew would run up the biggest bills.”

Things may well have changed in the years since he worked there, the former coach acknowledged, though he remembered the club having a “frat house atmosphere. You could hire a girl to carry your beer around the golf course for you.”

Mike Bonnin, who was executive chef at Trump’s Bedminster club from 2006 until 2014, was intimately familiar with Trump’s appetite for junk food (“He must have had four hamburgers and four hot dogs every day that he golfed”) and finicky tastebuds (“If he ordered off the menu he would always bastardize it”).

Bonnin initially thought it odd when other staffers advised him not to shake the boss’ hand, but accommodating Trump’s germaphobia was part of the job.

“We had to bring him his Diet Coke in an unopened bottle, not a can, and the straw with the wrapper on it,” said Bonnin, noting that his former boss’ fussiness was reliably arbitrary. “I’d give him the exact same sausage at breakfast every morning, and for whatever reason it was either too well done or not well done enough.”

And it wasn’t just the food. When Trump noticed a spot of rust on a stairwell railing one summer, the entire stairwell had to go: “$40,000 later we had new set of steps outside the locker room,” Bonnin said.

He recalled, with a certain fondness, how his former boss would “dump a ton of money on something like the steps and then be picky about small stuff.”

But Trump generously rewarded staffers who were hardworking and loyal, according to Bonnin, who claimed Trump would “give me $500 in a paper clip every now and then.” (The Daily Beast asked the club to confirm this, and did not receive a response by press time.)

***

While old-school country clubs tend to be allergic to fanfare, Trump National in Bedminster welcomed it: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Brett Favre were some of the many professional athletes who frequented the club, the former tennis coach told The Daily Beast. (In 2015, Brady applied for membership at The Country Club—a bastion of blue-blood privilege in Brookline, Massachusetts, where he lives—and was reportedly met with pushback from longtime members who didn’t want the celebrity attention.)

“Joe Pesci was there a lot too,” the former coach added, noting that the club had a new-money vibe. “Imagine if Rodney Dangerfield from Caddyshack designed a club in his vision,” he said, referencing the 1980 comedy that lampooned WASP-y country club culture.

Dangerfield plays a garish, nouveau riche lout who threatens the staid, old-money enclave with his loud outfits and crassness.

“It wasn’t taboo to talk about money at Trump National or to try to solicit people for investments on the golf course,” said the former coach. “They let anyone in the door who can pay the initiation fee—anyone who can feed the belly of the Trump Corporation beast.”

Trump suggested as much in How To Get Rich (2004), boasting of “sell[ing] memberships while I am hitting balls on the practice range. People approach me and hand me checks.” He described an incident at his Florida golf club when “a group of four wealthy friends came to me with checks of $300,000 each… I’m playing a game I love and going home with $1,200,000 in my pocket.”

Previous media outlets have reported $300,000 initiation fees at Bedminster, though several members who spoke to The Washington Post said they paid between $75,000 and $100,000, on top of the $22,100 in annual dues. (The club did not respond to a Daily Beast email inquiring about membership and fees.)

By comparison, Mar-a-Lago’s membership fees cost a reported $200,000, though Trump National in Bedminster is among the pricier in the Trump Golf Club empire.

The club’s dual, 18-hole golf courses have won Trump National Bedminster more accolades than any of its other fancy amenities.

Both courses were designed by Tom Fazio II, who has been called the “Babe Ruth of golf course architects” and the “Tiffany of golf course designers,” and the first course—known as the “Old Course”—has repeatedly been named among Golf magazine’s top 100 golf courses in the country. Garden State Golf magazine has called it “a pure gem.”

The Old Course will also play host to the U.S. Women’s Open this coming July, and to the 2022 PGA Championship. The USGA headquarters in Far Hills, New Jersey, is only a few miles down the road from Trump National in Bedminster. Trump told Golf.com in 2011 that the club doesn’t offer corporate memberships, though it makes an exception for USGA executives.

The club reportedly counts Bill Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, Todd Christie (Gov. Chris Christie’s brother), Yankees manager Joe Torre, New York Jets football player Nick Mangold, and Peyton Manning among its 425 members.

***

Trump’s Bedminster summering plans has certainly led to more noise in the otherwise sleepy town.

After Trump’s arrival one recent weekend, a group of protesters staged their own 30-car motorcade two weekends ago, according to organizer Jim Girvan.

The 64-year-old retiree from nearby Branchfurd rode through Bedminster with some 50 other protesters before stopping to rally at Bedminster Library.

One Trump fan who had been trailing the motorcade got out of her car there to make herself heard, Girvan said, and was joined by a handful of others within the hour. The demonstrations were peaceful with the exception of a skirmish between two women from opposite sides of the political spectrum (a local photographer caught them mid-confrontation).

“We plan to do this every Saturday, whether Trump’s there or not,” said Girvan, “though our tactics may be different if he’s not there.” Secret Service prevented them from protesting too close to the club grounds on Saturday, Girvan said, though he believes they’ll be able to get closer to the entrance of the club when Trump isn’t in town.

Bill Leavens, founding director of the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Coalition, said the president’s visits will take a toll on small businesses.

“Outside of a 10-mile circle around the club, Secret Service imposes fairly strict flight rules when Trump comes to town. It essentially shuts down small airports, and 50 percent of small aircraft flights are related to business activity.”

Trump’s regular visits could end up costing the small but wealthy town—which has a population of 8,200 people and a median household income of $96,600 (the Forbes family owns property there)—more than its property tax cap budget affords.

“New Jersey is a high property tax state, and for six years we’ve been under a 2 percent property tax budget cap,” said Steven Parker, Bedminster’s mayor. “We only have 16 people on our police department, so we were worried about how we would pay for security reinforcement when he visited in November.”

Parker and other local officials estimated that seven total visits to Bedminster could cost the town up to $300,000. Congressman Leonard Lance (R-NJ) recently announced that the U.S. Department of Justice had permitted New Jersey, New York, and Florida to apply for federal funding related to the protection of President Trump during the presidential transition period.

“This is the right and fair course of action for the Department of Justice to be taking. New Jersey law enforcement is entitled to the same treatment Chicago and Hawaii received during the Obama Administration. Protecting the President, the First Family and other dignitaries is an important federal responsibility,” Lance, the federal representative for Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, said in a statement.

“Somerset County Prosecutor Robertson and the excellent law enforcement personnel in New Jersey will assist in these duties and I am pleased the federal government is taking steps to ensure reimbursement so local taxpayers are protected from paying costs associated with this expenditure.”

New Jersey, New York, and Florida have not yet been reimbursed for trips Trump has made to those states since his presidential inauguration.

Lance’s office is currently cooperating with the Secret Service, which ultimately decides whether New Jersey will meet the “second residence” requirement for security reimbursement going forward—a decision which may even involve the president himself.

Trump’s soft spot for his Bedminster club has been well-documented. At one point, he expressed a desire to be buried on the property—an ashes-scattered-on-the-9th-hole cliché. Last November, then President-elect Trump told the crowd at a members’ reception in November: “This is my real group… You are the special people.”

Indeed, members of Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster seem to feel the same. Reached by The Daily Beast, several refused to speak because they claimed they were friends, or on friendly terms, with the president and first lady Melania Trump.

The twentysomething member who spoke to The Daily Beast declined to say whether she voted for Trump or not.

“Members like what services the club offers and they don’t need to attach that to their political preference,” she said, before conceding that most members likely cast their votes for Trump last November.