DETERMINING TURNBERRY’S OPEN FATE
If the R&A truly has a Donald Trump problem, it will be mostly of its own making.The consensus is clear:The Ailsa course at Trump Turnberry, which Trump purchased in 2014 and just finished revitalising, is more majestic than ever, and needs to remain on the Open rota.
Trump and his team have turned what was an iconic but tired facility into an engagingly re-imagined property.Though always a beautiful setting thanks to views of the Ailsa Craig off the Firth of Clyde and the resort’s majestic lighthouse, the old Turnberry featured no shortage of uninspired holes and – despite being home to four of the Open Championship’s most exciting finishes – a bland back nine.
After a complete overhaul,Trump’s version of Turnberry sports almost no weak moments, the course sprinkled with classic fringed bunkering and an abundance of thrilling shot-making opportunities.
The work at Turnberry also extended to James Miller’s 1906 hotel design, which previous went through too many renovations to retain its sense of place and the grandeur intended by its creator. But Trump, who is most proud of his eye for construction presentation, essentially rebuilt the hotel, highlighting the view out to the links and lighthouse with large bay windows. No money went unspent upgrading rooms and design, unifying the aesthetic with a modern, luxurious look that never clashes with the resort’s countryside setting.
Still, Turnberry faces an uphill battle to host the Open because of the R&A’s aversion to the New York real-estate magnate’s inflammatory campaign-trail rhetoric and his potential for upstaging an event. Few in Scotland have forgotten the then-new candidate’s helicopter entrance and appearance at the Women’s British Open atTurnberry last July, or his premature mention of Trump International Links in Aberdeen landing a three-year deal to host the Scottish Open. (That deal is dead after Aberdeen Asset Management’s head man, Martin Gilbert, signalled his company was looking at other venues for the event.)
Last December, the Independent on Sunday reported that Trump Turnberry was out of the Open rota over various incendiary comments by the candidate. However, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers denied that during the 145th Open at Royal Troon.
“Turnberry was and is part of the pool of courses for the Open Championship,” Slumbers said. “There are at the moment nine courses, and Turnberry is one of those.”
Slumbers pointed out that the Open is booked between now and 2021. Only the 2020 and 2021 locations are to be announced, with an English course (presumably Royal St Georges) and St Andrews the likely venues, the latter to celebrate the 150th Open in 2021. Others already announced include Royal Birkdale (2017), Carnoustie (2018) and Royal Portrush (2019). Muirfield, the host of 16 Opens since 1892, is currently out of the rota because of its vote earlier in the year not to accept woman members. However, the club is expected to reverse that result with a re-vote before the end of the year.
It means the R&A will be able to wait until Trump is presumably less polarising to make a decision on Turnberry. Or as Slumbers said, “We don’t have to consider beyond that for a couple of years, and we’ll pick that up in a couple of years’ time.”
If the R&A stays away from the iconic venue of the 1977 Tom Watson-Jack Nicklaus “Duel in the Sun,” as well as Watson’s near-miracle at age 59 in 2009, the last time the course hosted the Open, it will deprive players and spectators from seeing a radically improved coastline stretch of three holes that are comparable to Augusta National’s Amen Corner. Turnberry’s ninth, now a dramatic par 3, can play as long as 227 metres, with the green adjacent to the lighthouse. The 10th, now a dogleg-left par 5, finishes tantalisingly on the water. And the 11th, still a par 3, is moved closer to the rocks.
The R&A endorsed the Turnberry changes and conveyed many other good ideas through architect Martin Ebert. But it was Trump who set an agenda that finally made the exceptional canvas a masterpiece. In doing so, he also wrote no shortage of cheques, as the place exudes a no-detailleft-behind vibe.
Significantly, Trump’s name is only prominently displayed at the resort entrance and in select locations throughout the property. Otherwise, the branding focus is on the Turnberry name, legacy and lighthouse.The golf shop largely carries merchandise sporting the resort’s classic lighthouse logo.Trump’s willingness to turn the focus to dignified luxury and history (notwithstanding the two ornate fountains he apparently couldn’t resist installing) should signal thatTurnberry is about the golf,as well as a resort worthy of five-star status.
Down one iconic links with Muirfield’s current sabbatical, the R&A needs to make history more important than ego and lock up Turnberry for another Open Championship.