This week Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster will play host to the U.S. Women’s Open. It’s not the first Trump-owned venue to host one of the women’s majors and, as Matt Cooper explains, the last time it happened golf was left in the shadows.
When it was first announced that the 2015 Ricoh Womens British Open would be played at Turnberry there was natural excitement that one of the world’s finest courses had joined the tournament’s rota.
A year later Donald Trump’s purchase of the resort prompted a few doubts, but many thought there was a potential flipside – that his profile might generate attention for the Ladies European Tour, a circuit which needs all the help it can get. Sometimes any attention is better than none, right?
Yeah, and sometimes you should be very careful what you wish for.
As the tournament neared Trump ceased to be a loudmouth reality TV star, having stepped into the role of potential Presidential candidate.
As the months before the first tee time became weeks his campaign began to move through the gears. Vague assertions about foreigners became specific accusations of Mexicans.
At St Andrews, during the Open Championship two weeks beforehand, there were rumours that he wouldn’t make the trip to Turnberry; suggestions from those inside his own camp at Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeen that the bad publicity might not be worth it.
As we suspected at the time, and have definitely learned subsequently, that’s unlikely to have ever been a serious consideration for Trump.
For those not in the know, Turnberry sits on rolling terrain by the sea. It is framed by a vast terraced hill which sits behind the 18th green, on top of which sits a large hotel.
It’s a bold, statement building, but not bold enough for Trump who ordered a Saltire flag for the first tee. Not just any Saltire though. He demanded the biggest Saltire in Scotland. Large enough, in fact, to cover all the Scotsmen and women cringing at the sight of it, had it broken free of the enormous flag pole it was attached to.
It should be noted that rich fools with a tendency for grandiose symbols of how considerably richer than the rest of us they are have always owned major tournament-hosting golf clubs. It’s not so much an exception as a given.
What had never happened in the past, however, is that one of these rich fools had treated the tournament and the players with the contempt Trump was about to.
On the first morning the course was abuzz with the news of his imminent arrival. It became something of a joke. Foolishly we continued to view him as a comic character, someone who would clown around, but not actually disturb the golf itself.
When he eventually showed it was in a helicopter which hovered over the course, sweeping towards the lighthouse and then returning along the back nine.
Yes, that’s right: whilst a major championship was taking place. Never mind the golfers chasing glory and history, the owner wanted a bird’s eye view.
Later he held a press conference at the hotel so we trooped up the hill, to the statement building, past the helicopter, all the while looking out across the sea, to the distant, mysterious island of Ailsa Craig, noting the Royal Navy battleship sail by, all of us preparing to listen to an outrageous-looking, egomaniac billionaire talk about his desire to become leader of the free world.
The only people not thinking “James Bond villain” in those minutes were the people who had never heard of James Bond.
A presidential candidate’s press conference is something of a bolt from the blue for a golf hack. At the bottom of the hill, behind the 18th green in the media interview room, there were 60 seats, rarely more than one-third of them in use for those occasions when we asked if a player was disappointed to have three-putted the last.
By contrast in the hotel ballroom there was a bank of TV cameras and flashlights. Cameramen and presenters were peering around with hungry eyes. There were seats for hundreds and most were taken with journalists having earnest conversations on their mobiles or scribbling urgent notes.
The RWBO press corps tends to resemble a group of hardy hobbyists who meet in a village hall to play with metal detectors, this lot were straight out of central casting. Earlier Lizette Salas, an American player with Mexican heritage, had encountered the frenzy. The questions shouted at her regarding Trump’s opinions (and the answers almost dementedly demanded of her by one news reporter in particular) had caused fury among the golf journalists who witnessed it.
Trump was late. “Trump’s always late,” said a knowing TV voice. “It’s what he does.”
Finally a door opened, he entered the room and a scrum of photographers pounced; snapping and flashing away. He paused with his chest out, chin out, eyes theatrically narrowed, lips pouting.
When he took to the stage he peered round, noting aloud the presence of reporters he didn’t care for. The pretence of talking about the golf and the golf course soon gave way to being rude to the pressmen and women he recognised – and rude to those he didn’t know as well.
That led to questions about what he’d do if he became president. “I will arm the United States like it’s never been armed,” he said, head bobbing with pleasure at itself. “And then no-one will mess with us.”
At this moment, deep into his cut and thrust with the news press, the golf journalists resembled the spinster aunts at a wedding reception when the DJ plays Firestarter by the Prodigy. Sat bolt upright, a baffled, faraway look in our eyes, we were out of our depth.
At which point he suggested we all get back to what mattered: the golf, the tournament, the golfers, the major championship. As if it were everyone else’s fault that he had called a press conference on a championship day, delayed his arrival and showboated.
As if it were the world’s fault that the golfers, the sponsors, the organisers, the Ladies Golf Union, the LPGA, the LET and the championship had been reduced to a sideshow.
Later, as he hung out behind the first tee, his phone went off as a player prepared to hit.
One spectator shook his head and said: “You know there’s always one idiot on the course? The one who isn’t concerned with showing the tournament or the players any respect? This idiot isn’t just on the course, he owns it.”
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