Much has changed since May 1, 2014, when the PGA of America announced that it was beginning a partnership with the Trump Organization. The PGA selected Trump National Golf Club-Bedminster in New Jersey to host the 2022 PGA Championship and Trump National Golf Club-Washington, D.C., in Potomac Falls, Va., as the site of the 2017 Senior PGA, which begins today.
Most notably, the clubs’ owner and host, Donald Trump, is now the U.S. president. That was not on anybody’s radar in the spring of 2014. The road traveled from then to now has been filled with a few chuckholes that the PGA of America has maneuvered around. The Trump relationship also was predicated on a four-year sponsorship of the now-defunct PGA Grand Slam of Golf. After Trump’s 2015 remarks about illegal immigrants were deemed by the PGA and many others to be insensitive to Hispanics, the Grand Slam at Trump L.A. was shelved. Later, the PGA scrapped the event altogether.
So, this week will be the first of the scheduled major championships delivered by the PGA and Trump properties. Three years ago, it was a given that Donald Trump would be highly visible at these events and his fingerprints would be all over them. However, President Trump embarked on his first foreign trip May 19. He is scheduled to be on the Italian island of Sicily on Friday and Saturday for meetings with the Group of 7 major industrial democracies and visit U.S. troops stationed at Sigonella Naval Air Station.
Any chance that President Trump might make a last-minute visit to the Senior PGA on Sunday? Trump, an avid golfer whose business empire includes ownership of 16 courses, no doubt would love to make an appearance. Would it be deemed a conflict of interest, given his role as the nation’s chief executive and his detachment from his businesses, if he were to do so?
“Unfortunately, I wouldn’t know the answer to that one as it is ‘church and state,’ and I have not spoken with him,” said Larry Glick, an executive vice president with Trump Organization.
So, how did the Senior PGA Championship wind up at Trump National-D.C.?
KitchenAid sponsors the tournament. Company officials worked closely with the PGA of America in 2014, and the Washington market fit the business objectives of KitchenAid, a home-appliance division of Whirlpool Corp., so Jeff Fettig, Whirlpool’s chief executive, gave his approval. Next, Kerry Haigh, the PGA’s chief championships officer, deemed the site worthy of hosting a Senior PGA. The venue, about 30 miles northwest of the nation’s capital, was no stranger to the PGA, which held its 2013 PGA Junior Championship at Trump D.C.
Conservationists opposed Trump’s golf course, claiming that it threatens the Potomac River’s habitat. The Tom Fazio-designed layout, which abuts the historic river, was built amid controversy when hundreds of trees were cleared, opening sightlines along the riverbank.
Hedrick Belin, president of the Potomac Conservancy, told news media that the removal of 465 mature trees during course construction exposed 1.5 miles of shoreline, enhancing water pollution through chemical runoff from the golf course and adjacent farms. The Trump Organization, which said it spent about $1 million removing the trees and cleaning debris from the riverbank, acted unilaterally but within Loudoun County law. Trump officials maintain that the Potomac is better off without the trees, many of which they claim were unhealthy.
Did Trump have to host the Senior PGA in order to get the 2022 PGA Championship at Bedminster? No. The two came as a package deal because the PGA felt confident that the venues were major-championship-worthy. There also was some sizzle in hosting the Senior PGA during Memorial Day weekend in our nation’s capital, a short distance from Arlington National Cemetery.
Since 2012, the Senior PGA has been held every other year at The Golf Club at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, Mich., the corporate home for KitchenAid. Trump National-D.C. is an upgrade and seems to be well received by the players. Asked to describe this year’s venue, two-time Senior PGA champion Tom Watson said, “Very good and tough.”
When it comes to Trump, the PGA of America has maintained a stance of separating politics from golf. That is somewhat hypocritical based on its having yanked the Grand Slam from Trump L.A. The Trump Organization will give the PGA of America and the players a great venue and a superb experience this week.
I just hope that Air Force One offers a red-eye this weekend and the president gets a chance to see his dream of a golf major championship come true.
Ted Bishop, who owns and operates The Legends Golf Club in Franklin, Ind., and is the author of “Unfriended,” was president of the PGA of America in 2013-14. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @tedbishop38pga