News & Opinion

It’s beginning of end for Donald Trump’s golf empire

72nd U.S. Women's Open Championship
The 1st hole at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., which played host to the 2017 U.S.. Women's Open but will not be the site of the 2022 PGA Championship

PGA of America pulls 2022 PGA Championship, and R&A blacklists Turnberry, signaling Trump is persona non grata in golf

I can remember when stories were written 10-plus years ago that focused on Donald Trump being the savior of golf.

It was a time when the game’s popularity was sliding as rounds played and equipment sales tumbled.

It was a bad time for the sport.

Many observers saw Trump, a businessman who was soaring in popularity via his starring role on the hit reality-TV show “The Apprentice,” as a brash showman who spoke his mind and brought a bravado to course ownership.

As recently as 2015, in the second round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Trump-owned Doral, Rory McIlroy plunked his second shot into a greenside pond at the par-5 eighth hole. The ball wasn’t submerged alone for long as McIlroy helicoptered his offending 3-iron into the water. Fast forward two days to Doral’s practice range, where Trump rolled up to present McIlroy with the 3-iron that had been heaved into the water.

Trump, ever the showman, commissioned a diver to retrieve the club, had it cleaned and then returned it to McIlroy, a four-time major champion who at the time was the No. 1-ranked player in the world.

McIlroy ended up tying for ninth, eight strokes behind winner Dustin Johnson, but Trump stole the show.

Almost six years later, the savior has become a pariah in the game. The PGA of America announced late Sunday that it has pulled its 2022 PGA Championship from Trump National Golf Club Bedminster. (Editor’s note: Alex Miceli called for the move in this commentary in Friday’s Morning Read.)

That news was followed the next morning by this R&A statement, attributed to chief executive Martin Slumbers, regarding Scotland’s Trump Turnberry, which the owner has sought to be restored to British Open rotation:

“We had no plans to stage any of our championships at Turnberry and will not do so in the foreseeable future. We will not return until we are convinced that the focus will be on the championship, the players and the course itself and we do not believe that is achievable in the current circumstances.”

Reading between the lines, Trump’s ego is too big for the R&A.

Golf, as well as a majority of the U.S. population, has caught on, as evidenced by the president’s recent failed bid for re-election. Though Trump purchased numerous golf properties during the past 10-plus years with the hope of making them profitable, he now owns or leases courses worldwide that suffer because of the name attached to them.

Trump’s public-relations problem can be traced to the campaign trail, when he denigrated various groups of people from different countries and nationalities, and it continued to be a problem for the golf community during his past four years in the Oval Office.

I can remember when the European Tour was within a whisker of naming Trump International Aberdeen as the host of an upcoming Scottish Open. It would have been a perfect site and an ideal course as a tuneup for the British Open, which traditionally is played the following week.

But as we have experienced during the past four years, Trump – be it in a tweet, TV interview or during a news conference – too often speaks without regard to the consequences.

Golf is a sport of integrity and civility, which is why Trump’s golf properties reportedly have struggled financially. His 15 properties in the U.S., Scotland and Ireland lost $315.6 million since 2000, according to Trump’s tax documents cited by The New York Times. Those losses are not because the courses are not beautifully maintained or offer memorable experiences.

Golf had Trump’s number early on. The PGA Tour pulled the WGC Cadillac from Doral; the R&A refused to bring the British Open back to a retooled Turnberry, which would have been one of the best courses on the Open rotation; and the European Tour ignored a Scottish gem at Aberdeen. It was all because of Trump.

It took last week’s failed insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, which was instigated by the president and led to five deaths, before the PGA of America decided to dump Trump.

Of course, I might not be giving the PGA enough credit. Rumors had been circulating that a potential move from Bedminster had been in the works before last week’s stunning incident played out in real time on TV.

Either way, on Jan. 20, Trump no longer will be the president and presumably will return to running his business empire, which includes some of the world’s best courses.

The question is, will anyone involved with golf be willing to work with him? I say no, and then the fire sale will start.

Golf is a gentlemen’s game, and Trump has proved that he falls far short of that quality. Golf can wait no longer for the 74-year-old to grow up. The game simply wants him gone.

Or, as a reality-show star used to bark at failed contestants on a popular prime-time TV series from the early 2000s, “You’re fired!”

(Editor’s note: Agree or disagree with this commentary? Join in the discussion that began with reader comments in Monday’s Morning Read. Write to editor Steve Harmon at steve@morningread.com. Please include your full name and city and state of residence.)

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