What to do about Donald Trump? It is a question many in the world have been asking, of late, and although his presidency campaign has barged into areas rightly deemed more important than sport, there can be no doubt professional golf is at a loss.
Consider the contradictory stance taken by the PGA Tour in trying to negotiate the decidedly tricky scenario of Trump owning Doral, the venue of the prestigious WGC Cadillac Championship.
Late last year, after Trump had made those disparaging remarks about Mexicans and then Muslims, the Tour distanced itself from the inflammatory comments and warned that ‘immediately after the completion of the 2016 tournament, we will explore all options regarding the event’s future’.
But there was Tim Finchem, the Tour’s commissioner, at the tournament in March saying Trump was ‘good for golf’. Granted, Finchem is a politician with the manoeuvrability to feel snug in a nest of vipers, but what else could he do? In November, this man could be president of the United States and is the game really going to alienate such a powerful supporter?
I was originally of the opinion that Trump could be a positive force for the sport as he invested in resorts such as Doral and Turnberry, which were in such danger of turning into faded glories. Yet right from the off, there were howls of derision.
The horror that greeted his $60-million purchase of Turnberry was akin to the reaction which would be inspired by Paris Hilton buying a nunnery or Simon Cowell wresting control of the London Philharmonic. He would surely ruin the place, put watermills all over the hallowed ground – which witnessed the 1977 Duel In The Sun between Tom Watson and Nicklaus – tear down the lighthouse and erect an 80-foot statue of himself in its place.
Campaigns were launched (on that platform of courageous crusade known as ‘social media’, naturally) with people genuinely concerned about what this would mean for a national treasure that would surely face the acronymical humiliation of being rechristened Trump International Turnberry.
The outrage was comical in some senses but misplaced in so many others.
Trump was not waving a huge pile of greenbacks in front of a down-at-heel Scottish clan who had for centuries owned that piece of land overlooking the Firth of Clyde. He was not waving his wad in front of the Turnberry members. Trump was not even securing the resort off some greedy local council, in the manner of a property developer sending their bulldozers on to school playing fields.
Trump was buying it off Dubai.
Yes, Turnberry was no longer to be owned by an oil-rich country with a somewhat dubious history of human rights, but by an individual who had never outlawed homosexuality or been castigated by multiple international agencies for his wretched treatment of migrant workers.
As far as I could deduce, Trump had yet to imprison a woman for reporting a rape. Yet he does have a funny comb-over.
But then, his opponents pointed to Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, and tell you to watch the 2011 documentary You’ve Been Trumped and to consider the rights of the humans who have always lived between the dunes on the Menie Estate.
Like many, I winced when I saw the little old lady bemoaning the excavators which had suddenly invaded her previously blissful peace and blighted her vista. It did not seem fair.
Still, nor does the fact each and every big development has a negative effect on somebody, somewhere. Blame the planning authorities, the environmental agencies, the politicians, not Trump. He is a developer. He develops.
He also improves golf resorts. Doral was a crumbling mess before he bought it out of bankruptcy. The place is unrecognisable half a decade later. The same is true of the majority of his 16 golf courses. Trump buys resorts in distress and does them up.
It’s a simple game plan for which golf should have been very thankful. The game does not need quality courses descending into disrepair. Doonbeg, his $20-million acquisition, in Co Clare, Ireland, will be the latest to benefit from his big vision, if and when he wins planning consent.
And even though he had accused Mexico ‘of bringing drugs, crime, rapists’ into the US and even though he opined that ‘tremendous infectious disease is pouring across the border’, my suspicion was that the game should hesitate from taking the high ground. Otherwise, with all its ills and with all the questionable countries it visits, that tremendously infectious disease ‘called’ hypocrisy could pour across its borders.
But then, Trump so scandalously turned Turnberry – beautiful Turnberry – into part of his election trail at the Women’s British Open in August and the penny dropped. Seeing Lizette Salas, the daughter of two Mexican immigrants, being mobbed by news crews immediately after her first round was one of the most pitiful scenes I’ve seen in sport. Salas was there to compete, not to defend her heritage against Trump, but as soon as his helicopter whirred into view for all the publicity shots, it was inevitable she would be hounded.
Then came his wretched call for Muslims to be denied entry into the US and soon after came the Tour’s announcement that it was considering moving the WGC event from Doral. That caused a ripple throughout the professional game which could so easily have turned into a tide of disapproval that even the cunning of the billionaire developer would have been unable to counter.
The European Tour would, nominally, also have some say in the WGC’s future, although it, too, was apparently ready to cut links with Trump. He claimed the Scottish Open would soon be held at the Trump International Links but it is understood that plans for 2017 were ripped up. When I contacted them, a spokesperson for the European Tour said: ‘In 2016 the European Tour will play in 26 countries across five continents. We are proud of this cultural diversity which is one of our many strengths and therefore we do not condone the comments made by Mr Trump. In terms of the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open, we are still considering future locations and will make an announcement on that in due course.’
Slowly, but seemingly surely, the sport was beginning to side against Trump, with his home circuit set to lead the way. ‘Mr Trump’s comments are inconsistent with our strong commitment to an inclusive and welcoming environment in the game of golf,’ the PGA Tour said via its statement.
‘The PGA Tour has had a 53-year commitment to the Doral community, the greater Miami area and the charities that have benefited from the tournament. Given this commitment, we are moving forward with holding the 2016 event at the “Blue Monster”. Immediately after the completion of the 2016 tournament, we will explore all options regarding the event’s future.’
As one of the top 10 tournaments in the male game, the WGC week has undoubtedly raised Trump’s credibility and a humiliating switch would almost certainly affect his hopes of staging Majors at his other courses. Trump National in Bedminister, New Jersey, is due to host the 2017 US Women’s Open, as well as the 2022 PGA Championship. Then there is thorny problem of Turnberry.
The beloved Ayrshire links is on the Open roster. But in February when the R&A – the custodians of The Open – announced that Turnberry would not be host for at least the next five years many took that to mean it was being banished. However, Martin Slumbers, the recently installed chief executive, was keen to explain that the decision was not connected to Trump’s controversial remarks on the election trail. ‘We’ve announced Open venues through to 2019 and are in advance negotiations around ’20 and ’21, one of which will be in England,’ he said.
It is believed Royal St George’s in Kent will stage the 2020 Open, leaving St Andrews, the home of golf, to host the 150th Championship the following year. Slumbers added: ‘2022 and beyond is something we don’t have to think about for a few years.’
The R does not wish to be dragged into the circus surrounding Trump. Unfortunately for the PGA Tour, questions must be answered sooner than that.
Yes, the PGA Tour is rampantly Republican, so why should it not welcome Donald with open arms and open wallets? The truth is it probably will if the master of the clubhouse becomes the master of the White House – it would have little option but to. Except the problem is that will not be decided until November, so what does it do before then, having backed itself into a corner? The PGA Tour must look at the R&A and think you lucky, lucky buggers.
But maybe there is some hope for the PGA Tour and for all those who do not wish once again to witness the putrid sight of Trump overshadowing a golf competition. His golf portfolio is an important part of his dynasty. He values his 17 courses to be worth approximately $1.8-billion, meaning – that by his own estimations – they form almost a quarter of his total assets. But when talking about this extensive collection recently, Trump said: ‘I don’t care about that stuff any more. It is like small potatoes, right? I’ll let my kids run it, have fun with it … I don’t care about it. I care about making America great again.’
It is perhaps as much as the sport could possibly hope – he has bigger to fish to fry. The world’s huge loss could just turn out to be golf’s huge gain. But with Trump, all the game – and namely the PGA Tour – can do is wait and seethe and pray the association does not become any more toxic.
HIS TOP 10 COURSES
1 Trump National GC, Bedminster
2 Winged Foot
3 Trump National GC, Westchester
4 Trump International GC, West Palm Beach
5 Augusta National
6 Cypress Point
7 Trump National GC, Los Angeles
9 Trump National GC, Philadelphia
10 Pebble Beach
REACTING TO ‘YOU’VE BEEN TRUMPED’
‘[Documentary director] Anthony Baxter is a stupid fool. I tried to watch the film but fell asleep. All the morons that cause the controversy in Scotland have made my development far more successful than anticipated. Your documentary has died many deaths. You have, in my opinion, zero talent’ – October 2012
By James Corrigan