TRUMP’S GOLF SCORE? SAD!
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?