In the summer of 2008, a month before my senior year of high school and the hastening of the global financial crisis, I took a job caddying at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. I had never caddied in my life, but that's not what I told the dude who hired me. I had tons of experience, I asserted, offering no evidence.
What I didn't say was that, though I had played high school golf for the past three years, I didn't do so for the love of the game. I had joined, like most of my teammates, because it was low pressure, we could smoke weed, and we didn't have to go home to our families after school. The boys and I, we crashed carts, ripped bowls on the seventh hole, whipped putters at rivals. At one point, during my junior year, four of the six members of the Varsity crew couldn't play, either because they were academically ineligible or had been arrested. One of my teammates was disqualified from a conference championship because he ran out of balls to play with. I wasn't, then, confident in my ability to read greens or gage distance or suggest irons to anyone other than my frequently not sober self.
On my first day at Trump National, I sat around in the shack, observing my new co-workers, these old embittered fucks, slam coffee and finish crossword puzzles, talking about caddying as if it was a real occupation. They were wearing, as I was, the standard uniform—an all-white cloth jumpsuit, a sort of formal-esque onesie. I was the youngest by probably 20 years.
Before I eventually went out, a skinny caddy, who seemed to have aged as well as Lord Voldemort, came up to me.
"Never have any change," he said.
"What?" I asked.
"Change," he repeated. "Don't have it."
I made thousands of dollars in tips over four weeks. If anyone recognized me as a fraud, they didn't say a word about it. In this way, we were providing the same service for one another. I learned how to keep extra balls in my pocket, so I could drop them at the edge of the rough and claim I found golfers' shanked shots, which had clearly landed in the woods. "Good one," I'd say, when their drives were just shy of terrible. I'd talk to them about their kids' private school education and their apartments in the West Village and their favorite restaurants I had never heard of or couldn't afford. I pretended to give a shit. Massaging their egos was a bigger part of the job than carrying the bags.
These types, these loaded shadowy gentlemen, were the fathers and the mansion owners and the Little League coaches in my hometown, Bridgewater, a relatively Republican enclave around ten miles from Trump’s Bedminster course. It's a township that's best described the way I just described it—in proximity to other things. When asked where I grew up, I usually explain Bridgewater's centrality—it's smack dab in the middle of the state—and how it's about an hour from New York City and 90 minutes from Philadelphia.
It was never, in other words, a frequent dateline—as it was last summer, when Trump threatened North Korea with potential “fire and fury” and stayed mum on the actions of white supremacists in Charlottesville. (Imagine the president of the United States, casually and informally, bringing us to the brink of nuclear destruction in the bumblefuck place where you grew up.)
Of Bedminster, the mayor, Steven Parker, told the New York Times, "You are just as likely to see a horse coming down the road as a Range Rover." This, in a nutshell, is Central New Jersey—a cocktail of classes, a region where horses and Range Rovers (try to) coexist. And it was the men coming down the road in the latter I schlepped bags for. They, like the owner of the club they frequented, were blunt and boisterous and loaded. I witnessed these men walk around the clubhouse and the course as if they owned it.
I let a businessman, who had helicoptered into Jersey from Manhattan to play 18 holes and stay overnight in one of the five cottages or 11 suites sprinkled on the property, buy me five hot dogs at the turn, because, he said, I was "a skinny, little bitch."
I witnessed a married man basically run to get a view of Ivanka exiting her vehicle.
I spotted Trump pull up in a Rolls-Royce and then, if rumors are to be believed, toss the keys to a random valet to go put gas in it at the nearby Exxon.
Unlike a lot of Trump’s properties, National—occasionally dubbed his "Summer White House"—is not obnoxiously ostentatious, even though its website lists amenities such as a “Business Center with Helipad.” Memberships at the club come in around $350,000.
The clubhouse is not, like most things in TrumpLand, covered in gold-plated glitz. It is not, like most Trump properties, tacky. (Which is even more of an amazing feat, considering the club's previous owner, the founder of DeLorean, was charged with conspiring to sell millions of dollars worth of cocaine to keep his ugly car–producing company afloat.)
It's well-concealed, too—a single sign denoting where to turn down off a winding road and onto a long drive. The only reason I'm able to find it without my iPhone is because it's vaguely near a Burger King and skatepark, both of which I frequented as a teen. Eight years before Trump was president, there was a lone security guard at the entrance.
Now, of course, things are not the same—or do not appear to be. According to Politico, a three-day journey Trump took as president-elect in November 2016 "cost $3,683 in local police overtime," and Parker wrote in a letter to Leonard Lance, the Republican congressman of the district, "that seven 72-hour Trump visits could run the tab up to more than $300,000."
Like the residents here, Parker's got mixed feelings about the whole thing—he is, in any case, used to being around the One Percent.
"We've got lots of folks who've got a little bit of notoriety in town," Parker told Politico in April 2017, citing former New Jersey governor Tom Kean and billionaire Steve Forbes as examples. Trump’s frequent visits, then, are "just regular business for Bedminster."
That's true, and it's not. My aunt's Facebook wasn't always littered with videos she shot of Donald's motorcade whipping down the highway. Visits home to my mother's weren't always interrupted by a fleet of helicopters zipping by and slowly descending into the trees as we shot the shit on the patio. The luxury cars, the private planes, the men who decide the fate of the international economy while swinging clubs at little white balls in the woods, they've always been there. Now, like the once hidden-away Trump National itself, they're just much more noticeable. I think often of those beleaguered workers, cleaning clubs, biting their tongues, saying all the opposite things of how they really feel. ("Excellent putt, Dave!")
And I think, too, about one of my last days in the white jumpsuit. I went out on the links with a higher-up from a financial institution, the name of which I don't remember. I showered him with praise, though he struck me, almost immediately, as a stiff. Most players would buy the caddies lunch. He did not.
At the end of the round, he whipped out a $100 bill.
"Do you have any change?" He asked.
"I'm sorry," I said, not missing a beat. "I don't."
He gave me the money and walked away.
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