Trump elec­tion no boon for LA golf course

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM - DAVID A. FAHRENTHOLD AND ROB KUZNIA The Wash­ing­ton Post Hol­ly­wood Re­porter Post In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Alice Crites and Steven Rich of The Wash­ing­ton Post.

At Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s golf club in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, there is a driv­ing range on a cliff, with a stun­ning view of the blue Pa­cific. There’s room for 24 golfers.

But, on a re­cent af­ter­noon, there was only one.

And he was play­ing with a guilty con­science.

“I feel like I’m cheat­ing on my wife,” said Richard Sul­li­van, a 59-year-old doc­tor.

His wife is a fierce op­po­nent of the pres­i­dent’s pol­i­tics. She’d re­cently caught Sul­li­van with a free­bie water bot­tle with the Trump logo. “Don’t ever go to Trump again,” she or­dered. Sul­li­van had stopped play­ing full $300 rounds of golf here, but sneaked back to the range.

He of­ten found it empty. “It’s just dead all the time,” Sul­li­van said.

For two years, Don­ald Trump has been run­ning a first-of-its-kind Amer­i­can ex­per­i­ment. Can one man be the face of a po­lar­iz­ing po­lit­i­cal move­ment and a suc­cess­ful hos­pi­tal­ity busi­ness?

Cer­tainly, some parts of Trump’s em­pire stand to ben­e­fit from his new power. His Mar-a-Lago Club serves as a “win­ter White House,” where pay­ing guests might watch a na­tional-se­cu­rity meet­ing un­fold over din­ner. Trump tweeted re­peat­edly from his Bed­min­ster, N.J., course ear­lier this month pro­mot­ing the U.S. Women’s Open tour­na­ment that was hap­pen­ing there.

But in Los An­ge­les County, the ex­per­i­ment doesn’t seem to be go­ing well.

Since Trump en­tered the pres­i­den­tial race in June 2015, rev­enues from greens fees at the club just out­side Los An­ge­les have dropped by 13 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures from the city gov­ern­ment.

Char­ity golf tour­na­ments, an­other core piece of the club’s busi­ness, have moved away: ESPN moved its celebrity tour­na­ment. The L.A. Galaxy soc­cer team with­drew. The Los An­ge­les Uni­fied School District also moved, for­feit­ing a $7,500 de­posit it had al­ready paid Trump’s course.

Hol­ly­wood, an­other source of rev­enue for the club, has largely stopped com­ing to film TV shows and movies, ac­cord­ing to city per­mit records.

And the club’s wed­ding busi­ness seems to have been af­fected as well. Cou­ples used to hold big out­door cer­e­monies at a city park across the street, then re­turn to Trump Na­tional for a re­cep­tion.

No­body has done that since Novem­ber, ac­cord­ing to city records.

The trou­bles at the L.A. club mir­ror those that have been re­ported at some other Trump prop­er­ties. To­gether, they il­lus­trate an un­ex­pected side ef­fect of the pres­i­dency: In some cases, it has proved a chal­lenge to sell the pres­i­dent’s brand, with­out of­fer­ing prox­im­ity to the pres­i­dency it­self.

In Man­hat­tan, the ban­quet busi­ness is down at the Trump SoHo ho­tel, ac­cord­ing to ra­dio sta­tion WNYC. In the Bronx, golf and ban­quet rev­enue are down at Trump’s golf course, ac­cord­ing to records re­leased by the city of New York. reached out to four of­fi­cials at the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion with ques­tions about the Cal­i­for­nia course. Just one re­sponded.

“David — please stop reach­ing out to me. Thank you,” Eric Trump, the pres­i­dent’s son, wrote in an email mes­sage.

The chal­lenges fac­ing Trump’s course can be seen in a se­ries of pub­lic records pro­vided by the city of Ran­cho Pa­los Verdes, Calif., and Los An­ge­les County, which col­lect taxes from the course and is­sue per­mits for some ac­tiv­i­ties there.

To­gether, they of­fer a por­trait of a busi­ness that seems to be strug­gling un­der the weight of its name.

Trump’s course is set on Pa­cific cliffs, about 30 miles south of down­town Los An­ge­les. The area is heav­ily Demo­cratic, rep­re­sented in Congress by a fierce Trump critic, Demo­cratic Rep. Ted Lieu. Since Trump won the elec­tion, the club has been the scene of small acts of de­fi­ance — the

re­ported that it saw some­one uri­nate on the sign — and a large, ex­pen­sive act of van­dal­ism.

In March, Trump’s course was van­dal­ized by peo­ple call­ing them­selves en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists, who carved the words “No More Tigers. No More Woods.” into the turf at the 5th green. The crime, which has not been solved, caused about $20,000 in dam­age, ac­cord­ing to the sher­iff’s de­part­ment.

Trump says he spent $27 mil­lion to buy this course, and $250-plus mil­lion to re­pair it and re­open it in 2006. Un­der the pre­vi­ous owner, the 18th fair­way had fallen into the ocean. “The most ex­pen­sive golf course ever built,” Trump has called it. Un­like most other Trump clubs, it is open to the pub­lic in­stead of be­ing lim­ited to dues-pay­ing mem­bers.

The course has some disad­van­tages that pre­date Trump’s po­lit­i­cal rise. It is mad­den­ingly dif­fi­cult, with skinny fair­ways and shot-bend­ing wind gusts off the ocean. And it costs up to $300 a player. A county course nearby charges $45 for a round.

“Most peo­ple don’t play it reg­u­larly. It’s a one-off kind of golf ex­pe­ri­ence,” for tourists or golfers look­ing for a splurge, said Gene Kreko­rian, a Cal­i­for­nia golf-course ap­praiser who has as­sessed this course. “It’s a spec­tac­u­lar fa­cil­ity, but it’s way over­priced.”

When Trump en­tered the pres­i­den­tial race, with fiery pop­ulist rhetoric and speeches blast­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grants, it played poorly with the cus­tomers he had cul­ti­vated for this Cal­i­for­nia course: Hol­ly­wood, ath­letes, rich Cal­i­for­ni­ans and young peo­ple plan­ning wed­dings.

Within a month, ESPN had can­celed. So had the school district, whose stu­dents are 74 per­cent His­panic. “There was ab­so­lutely no rea­son to host our largest fundraiser at a Trump fa­cil­ity,” an of­fi­cial said. The L.A. Galaxy said Trump’s re­marks “do not re­flect our club’s val­ues of re­spect and di­ver­sity.”

In all, 12 tour­na­ments or char­ity events stopped re­turn­ing to the Trump course in 2015 or 2016, ac­cord­ing to a

sur­vey of groups that had staged events there.

In the same pe­riod, cityis­sued per­mits for film­ing at Trump Na­tional also showed a de­cline. There were 28 is­sued in the two years be­fore Trump en­tered the race. In the two years after­ward, there were only 11.

“We got a lot of flak for shoot­ing there. Re­ally, you know, ‘What are you do­ing?’ There are a lot of Democrats in my busi­ness,” said Kent Feuer­ring, a pro­ducer who helped ar­range one of those shoots, a com­mer­cial for Sam­sung TVs that was filmed at the course in Fe­bru­ary 2016.

Even get­ting peo­ple to come and play golf ap­pears to be dif­fi­cult these days.

On the same day that Sul­li­van was play­ing alone on the Trump driv­ing range, 30-yearold Sherry Park of West Hol­ly­wood was prac­tic­ing putts at Los Verdes, the Trump course’s crosstown ri­val.

“I’m a flam­ing lib­eral, so I can’t go there,” Park said. Trump’s course, she added, is “beau­ti­ful. If he weren’t pres­i­dent, I would def­i­nitely go.”

The Trump course’s rev­enue from greens fees and golf-cart rentals fell about 12 per­cent, from about $3.3 mil­lion be­fore Trump en­tered the race to about $2.9 mil­lion in each of the two years since. Those fig­ures can be cal­cu­lated from the money that the City of Ran­cho Pa­los Verdes gets from its “golf tax,” a 10 per­cent levy on greens fees and cart rentals.

Dur­ing the same pe­riod, golf courses around South­ern Cal­i­for­nia ex­pe­ri­enced a slight up­swing in busi­ness, said Craig Kessler of the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Golf As­so­ci­a­tion, re­ly­ing on fig­ures pro­vided by pub­lic golf courses across the re­gion. So the Trump course’s de­cline doesn’t seem to match a broader trend.

“It’s un­der-per­formed the mar­ket since 2015,” Kessler said. “Just at the time when the rest of the in­dus­try was start­ing to see some upticks … it seems to have gone into a de­cline.”

On one re­cent sum­mer Satur­day, it was easy to spot signs of the Trump course’s trou­bles. Just be­fore 7 a.m., for in­stance, the course’s on­line sched­ule showed 40 of the day’s 65 tee times were still avail­able.

Later that same night — when golf clubs be­come so­cial hubs here — the con­trast was even more ob­vi­ous.

At Los Verdes, the club­house bus­tled with prepa­ra­tions for a wed­ding re­cep­tion. At Ter­ranea Re­sort, an­other nearby club, there was an­other wed­ding re­cep­tion, a band and a men­tal­ist per­form­ing for a crowd. Cars cir­cled the park­ing lot.

At the Trump club, the park­ing lot was a quar­ter-full.

The ball­rooms were empty and quiet. No wed­dings.

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