TRUMP - Is Golf's Divorce a Permanent One?

Home > Opinion > TRUMP - Is Golf's Divorce a Permanent One?
What role will he play in years to come?
Posted on
January 26, 2021
M. James Ward in
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

January 20 marked the final day for Donald J. Trump's USA Presidency. But the departure that ended after one four-year term still leaves unanswered what role the former President and his various global properties will play in a golf world that had embraced him initially and is now looking to create a wall, no pun intended, in the years to come.

TRUMP - Is Golf's Divorce a Permanent One?
Since leaving the White House key golf organizations have limited the pathway for the former President's grand ambition in having his properties host key future golf events. (PA)

Before his exit from Washington, D.C., Trump was personally affronted when the PGA of America leadership opted to cancel the 2022 PGA Championship planned for Trump National Bedminster and now plans to stage the event at Southern Hills CC in Oklahoma. The reason? The insurrection that stormed the US Capitol on January 6 was incited by the former President. Rather than dealing with countless questions asking why Trump's layout in New Jersey remained as host, the PGA of America simply cut ties. Interestingly, the PGA of America had staged one of its premier events in 2017, the Kitchen-Aid Senior PGA Championship at Trump National just outside of Washington.

The waters involving Trump and golf only became choppier in the days that followed the January 6 riot. Martin Slumbers, R&A Chief Executive issued a statement on the Monday following the storming of the US Capitol stating a clear and unequivocal statement -- "We will not return (visit to Turnberry) until we are convinced that the focus will be on the championship, the players and the course itself," Slumbers said, "and we do not believe that is achievable in the current circumstances." One can only wonder how Trump reacted to hearing those words when told given the investment in dollars and time he has brought forward in Scotland with the Turnberry property and with Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeen.

Trump had always hoped his ownership of the famed Turnberry property would inevitably mean a future Open Championship given the pedigree of the course. Turnberry has hosted four previous Opens as well as the 2015 Ricoh Women's Open Championship. In addition, rave reviews came forward via a well-received design updating by architect Martin Hawtree -- the man responsible for other Open venue tweaks. 

The R&A's memory of the 2015 event left an indelible impression that clearly resurrected themselves upon seeing events unfold at the U.S. Capitol. When Trump attended the 2015 event his grandiose helicopter landing simply overwhelmed those involved. Event organizers had asked him to confine his comments to the actual event itself. That desire was summarily rebuffed by Trump.

Leading up to Slumbers' pronouncement, the R&A previously stated a future Open championship at the famed Scottish layout was impacted by lower fan turnout given logistical issues tied to road access in and out of the facility. The most recent statement was a clear rebuke of Trump without stating the former president by name.

The fanfare tied to a Trump property was also experienced by the United States Golf Association (USGA) during the playing of the Women's Open in 2017 at Trump National Bedminster in New Jersey. This time his visit came with him situated in the White House.

Over a period of several years, Trump had successfully elevated his connection to the USGA in hosting earlier national championships and staging the Women's Open was a clear boost up the ladder in his fervent desire in landing a future U.S. Open.

Trump watched players via a bulletproof enclosure situated immediately adjacent to the course. Those competing were asked how they justified playing in the event given Trump's past disparaging comments about women yet players did not boycott the event. The focus, once again, centered around Trump -- the actual event submerged under his presence.

The USGA issued a statement prior to the event seeking to create a clear separation between Trump's comments and the event itself. "We do not share his views, and that is still true." Nonetheless, the powers-that-be in Far Hills were clearly put off that one of their primary events become a public relations boost for one man at their expense. Given the stance taken by the PGA of America, it is likely the USGA will seek a similar distance from Trump and keep its flagship event -- the U.S. Open - from being played at a Trump property.

The PGA Tour was also embroiled with Trump through his ownership of Doral in Miami starting in 2012. The WGC-Cadillac Championship became the official name of the event in 2011 and continued through 2016 when sponsorship by the car company ended. In 2015 derogatory comments by then candidate Donald Trump about Mexicans seeking to come to the USA were especially critical.

The Tour's leadership stated the lack of a title sponsor at the end of Cadillac's contract necessitated a change of venue after 54 years at Doral, but the timing for such a move was clearly meant to distance the Tour from Trump. Ironically, the event was moved to Mexico City where it has been held since. Trump quipped on the Sean Hannity show on Fox the day prior to the official announcement: "I just heard, that the PGA Tour is taking their tournament out of Miami and moving it to Mexico as an example. They're moving it to Mexico City which, by the way, I hope they have kidnapping insurance."

TRUMP - Is Golf's Divorce a Permanent One?
During the course of his four-year Presidency, Donald Trump reportedly was on the grounds of his golf courses or played golf elsewhere over 300 times. (PA)

The distancing from Trump went beyond just the major golf organizations. New York City, announced shortly after the storming of the U.S. Capitol that it would be cancelling its connection to the Trump organizations through an 18-hole property located in the Bronx that bears the former President's name. Trump wasted no time in responding saying the decision would be contested in court.

Within his golf portfolio 11 are wholly owned properties by the Trump organization. Three other properties are leased and it has contracts to manage or license its name to several other existing or planned golf properties.

Trump's passion for the game is well known. Despite his criticism of former President Barack Obama playing golf while in office, Trump reportedly was on the grounds of his golf courses or played golf elsewhere over 300 times. Often times, various spokespeople for Trump would downplay the amount of time taken up in playing golf touting the networking opportunities the former President was achieving in getting his agenda passed by Congress.

Securing a host role for golf's key events is no small feat. The inner sanctum of power brokers is quite opaque to outsiders given the high-level jockeying that takes place. Trump smartly sought to validate his standing -- both in the business and golf domains -- and the wherewithal to do so clearly positioned the Trump brand for a far higher status. That legitimization provided Trump with added value for membership and real estate purchases adjoining his golf properties.

While the present situation of isolating Trump from a major host role is clearly happening there's no real finality to the possibility that such matters can change in the years to come. But, the alliance of golf's major organizations against Trump's comments, whether as candidate or President, have certainly pushed that likelihood towards the remote side of happening.

None of those actions prevent Trump from staging his own events as he sees fit at his properties. However, gaining a permanent foothold in golf history in having staged a men's major championship is the ultimate prize for Trump who values winning over anything else. The sting of such an ostracizing has meant that a man famous for uttering the words -- "you're fired" -- has to come to terms with those same words now stated to him.

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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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