Turnberry's Turn?

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R&A's clear line in sand to former President
Posted on
July 22, 2021
by
M. James Ward in
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Site selection for major championships is a complex matter. Generally, juggling issues tied to the quality of the course and a hodge-podge of crucial logistics takes center stage. However, other considerations are now factored -- for example -- can political overtones seriously undermine the fundamental visibility of a marquee event.

The Open - Turnberry's Turn?
(Andrew Matthews/PA)

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

 

After the conclusion of the 149th Open Championship at Royal St. George's, the golf world's attention will turn to the much anticipated 150th anniversary of the oldest major event which takes place in July 2022 at the famed Old Course at St. Andrews.

But, missing on the rota in the years thereafter is one of the most acclaimed layouts in golf -- the Ailsa Course at Turnberry in Scotland.

The Ailsa Course has hosted four Open Championships -- the most recent in '09 when a 59-year-old five-time winner Tom Watson nearly created monumental golf and sports history in winning a record tying 6th Claret Jug. Watson would lose a three-hole aggregate playoff to fellow American Stewart Cink but the riveting drama captured the attention of a worldwide audience and showcased the beauty of one of golf's most beloved sites.

Watson was also a central figure at Turnberry when he outlasted Jack Nicklaus in the famed "Duel in the Sun" showdown where the Missourian outlasted the Golden Bear right down to the final putt on the final green.

 

 

Now enter Donald Trump.

The avid golfer purchased the property in 2014 for a reported $200 million.

The following year the famed Scottish resort hosted the then Ricoh Women's British Open in late July. By that time Trump had already announced his intention to run for President with elections slated for November. During a visit to Europe, Trump opted to visit Turnberry while the championship was in progress.

However, his visit was anything but low key. Opting to helicopter onto the site -- and with media alerted to his arrival -- the fanfare was nothing short of organized chaos. Players competing in the event were upstaged and the R&A was said to be fuming that their showcase event for the best female players in the world had to take a backseat to Donald's unquenchable thirst for attention.

Upon his arrival the assembled press corps simply engulfed Trump -- as he likely envisioned -- and the resulting scrum quickly submerged the event and included a range of non-golf topics such as immigration.

Trump said his presence at Turnberry was simple. "Everybody asked me to be here. The world has asked me to be here." At no time was "everybody" identified or for that matter those from the "world" as well.

The Open - Turnberry's Turn?
US President Donald Trump plays a round of golf on the Trump Turnberry resort
(Alex Brandon/PA)

For the R&A -- once burned now means forever learned.

Following the 2021 storming of the United States Capitol, the R&A announced it had no plans to stage any of its competitions at Turnberry and would not do so "until we are convinced that the focus will be on the championship, the players, and the course itself." The final portion of the statement made by Martin Slumbers, R&A Chief Executive was telling, "We (R&A) do not believe that is available in the current circumstances."

That statement was the most pronounced issued by the R&A on the subject of Trump and Turnberry.

Never to be upstaged. Trump opted for the right moment to reassert himself because candidly he did not purchase Turnberry to simply placate ordinary golfers on holiday. The ultimate prize remains hosting The Open at his playground just south of Glasgow.

The Open - Turnberry's Turn?
Martin Slumbers (David Davies/PA)

On July 17 Trump issued a statement which in part stated -- "But this course (Turnberry) was not chosen for The Open because they (R&A) consider a wonderful person, and many time Club Champion, named Donald J. Trump, to be too controversial, this is, of course, a false reputation caused mainly by the Fake News Media. Remember, though, controversy only makes things "hotter."

"Hotter" is precisely the unstated reason for the R&A in keeping Turnberry indefinitely on the sidelines.

Trump closed out his statement by commenting -- "The Open will be back at Turnberry."

That may be so -- but for the R&A that may not happen till Trump relinquishes ownership of the property. For no matter how much Trump huffs and puffs it is the R&A which has the ultimate say in where its storied Open Championship is held.

Consider the history since the 2015 Women's British Open.

The United States Golf Association (USGA) had its premier event for female players -- the Women's U.S. Open staged at Trump Bedminster in New Jersey in 2017. But this time the Trump presence came while in office as President. Trump stayed behind a bulletproof glass window and was able to wave to contestants and spectators. The resulting "buzz" was once again on him being at the event.

Trump had been most active in courting the USGA for a possible host role for its flagship event -- the U.S. Open. In years past, Trump had hosted at his New Jersey club other USGA championships. Given the calendar, the likelihood of America's national championship being staged at a Trump property is nil.

In just four days following the storming of the Capitol -- the PGA of America opted to cancel its main event -- the 2022 PGA Championship -- at Trump Bedminster and head to Southern Hills CC in Tulsa, OK.  PGA CEO Seth Waugh in an interview with The Associated Press stated "We find ourselves in a political situation not of our making. We're fiduciaries for our members, for the game, for our mission and for our brand. And how do we best protect that? Our feeling was given the tragic events of Wednesday (January 6, 2021) that we could no longer hold it at Bedminster. The damage could have been irreparable. The only real course of action was to leave."

 

For the major golf organizations, it is now clear -- you host an event at a Trump property and your event is completely submerged under his desire to speak on any topic -- at any time. The thought of such events being consumed by protesters standing outside the gates is not the kind of optics any of the key golf groups want to have associated with their efforts.

At this point -- Turnberry must relish its past moments in staging The Open Championship.

How ironic a man who made famous the phrase "you're fired" via his reality television show now finds himself being told those same words by leaders in the golf world who he wishes would validate his passion for the sport. 

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About M. James Ward

A GWAA and MGWA member, the 66-year-old from the USA has covered golf in all facets since 1980, notably the major championships and other high level events. He has played over 2,000 courses globally and has competed in USGA Championships.

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