The Oldie - - CONTENTS - Jim White

It has not been a good year for Don­ald Trump’s pair of Scot­tish golf cour­ses.

Trump In­ter­na­tional Golf Links, a course he built from scratch on dune land near Aberdeen, opened in 2012 af­ter a six-year scrap with stub­born lo­cal landown­ers not keen on the Don­ald park­ing his holes on their doorstep.

Then, in 2014, he added to his Scot­tish port­fo­lio by buy­ing Turn­berry, the course that has staged the Open four times. With char­ac­ter­is­tic self-ef­face­ment, he changed the name to Trump Turn­berry.

When he was elected in 2016, Trump had to pass day-to-day own­er­ship of the cour­ses to his sons, Don­ald Jnr and Eric, though he re­tains ul­ti­mate con­trol through a com­plex, tiered ar­range­ment of hold­ing com­pa­nies.

But who­ever is in charge, fi­nan­cially things aren’t go­ing well. He spent north of £152 mil­lion buy­ing and de­vel­op­ing the prop­er­ties. And last year, Turn­berry lost a whop­ping £17 mil­lion on turnover of just £9 mil­lion. Los­ing twice as much as you earn: that is some go­ing from the great deal­maker.

And what makes those fig­ures all the more sur­pris­ing is that Trump and his cour­ses seem to be set­ting them­selves against a grow­ing trend in the game. The sad truth is, in this era of time poverty, fewer and fewer peo­ple in the UK are pre­pared to ded­i­cate them­selves to a round of golf. Some 200,000 fewer are play­ing eigh­teen holes reg­u­larly than just seven years ago. That is less a de­cline and more a fall­ing off a cliff.

But then, coun­ter­in­tu­itively, last year saw a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in those tak­ing out a mem­ber­ship of a golf club. Af­ter sev­eral years of fall­ing num­bers, some 40,000 more peo­ple signed on the dot­ted line to be­come mem­bers. It seems that those who have the in­cli­na­tion for a round may be dwin­dling but, if any­one does take up putting and driv­ing (or in my case hack­ing and slic­ing), they are more likely to do it reg­u­larly.

Ex­cept, that is, at Turn­berry. Or as its owner in­sists it should be called, per­haps giv­ing an in­di­ca­tion why peo­ple pre­fer to stay away, Trump Turn­berry. Here ev­ery­thing is in de­cline, from the num­bers play­ing to the cash go­ing through the till. Ev­ery­thing that is, ex­cept the owner’s un­dentable sense of self­worth. What he could do with – and what he has been lob­by­ing for for some time – is the Open to come to one of his cour­ses. Hav­ing the world’s best golfers chal­lenged by his greens and bunkers is by far the best way for the owner to ad­ver­tise its charms; not just as a golf course, but as a con­fer­ence and wed­ding venue.

The Open has not been to Turn­berry since 2009. It was due to be staged there in 2020, which would have been a life-saver for the business. But the R&A changed its plans, switch­ing the 2020 venue to Royal St Ge­orge’s at Sand­wich. Not renowned as the most lib­eral of or­gan­i­sa­tions (women were only gifted mem­ber­ship of its head­quar­ters club, St Andrews, in 2014 and are still obliged to change else­where), the R&A pulled the plug af­ter Trump made deroga­tory com­ments about Mus­lims. You sus­pect the or­gan­i­sa­tion fore­saw the in­evitable visit from the owner dur­ing the event and pre­ferred to do with­out the as­so­ci­a­tion.

Trump has got no luck­ier with the Ry­der Cup. The bi­en­nial com­pe­ti­tion be­tween the United States and Europe has its host venues sorted un­til 2032. And none of them is Trump Turn­berry.

Still, the Trump or­gan­i­sa­tion seems un­per­turbed by the down­turn in prof­its. Eric Trump re­cently an­nounced fur­ther de­vel­op­ment at the ho­tel that serves as Turn­berry’s nine­teenth hole. Asked how this was be­ing fi­nanced, he said the group had size­able back­ing from an over­seas in­vestor; who, he added, came from Moscow.

Rus­sian money be­hind a Trump ven­ture – who would have thought it?

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