Trump's Golf Courses Have Struggled to Attract Professional Tournaments

Aside from his fondness of Twitter and TV ratings, few aspects of President Donald Trump's life have received as much attention as his passion for golf.

A keen golfer, Trump has been spotted on the green with some of the sport's biggest stars, from Tiger Woods to Rory McIlroy and the time he spends on the golf course has long been source of debate—at the end of May, CNN data showed Trump had visited one of his 16 golf courses on 266 different occasions since his inauguration in January 2017.

The president's interests in golf made the headlines again on Wednesday morning, when The New York Times reported he had asked Robert Wood "Woody" Johnson, the U.S. ambassador to Britain, to find out whether the British government would be open to help steer The Open Championship—also known as the British Open—to his Trump Turnberry resort in Scotland.

According to the report, Johnson discussed the proposal with David Mundell, the secretary of state for Scotland. It added the British government had issued a statement clarifying that Johnson "made no request of Mr. Mundell regarding the British Open or any other sporting event."

"You can't put politics aside"

Turnberry first hosted The Open—the only tournament of the golf's four majors to be held outside the U.S.—in 1977, when Tom Watson edged Jack Nicklaus by a shot after a memorable duel that stretched over the final two rounds and again in 1986, when Greg Norman secured his first major title. Eight years later, Nick Price claimed the second of his three majors as he triumphed at Turnberry, before Stewart Clink clinched his only major in 2009 after defeating Watson after a four-hole playoff.

Turnberry hasn't been on the The Open rotation since and its chances to host the event again appeared to drastically diminish after Trump purchased the course in 2014 and changed the name to "Trump Turnberry".

A year later, members of the R&A, The Open's organizers and one of the most powerful bodies in world golf, announced Turnberry was out of the rotation because of controversial comments Trump had made on his campaign trail, which had hampered the course's chances to host The Open in 2020.

"Those who forecast worse would come, including warnings from our American cousins have been proved correct," one R&A official told The Independent on Sunday at the time, while another added that "2020 will not happen here" and that "Turnberry will be back. But perhaps not Trump Turnberry."

The R&A's decision was a major blow to Trump, particularly as newly-appointed chief executive Martin Slumbers had been expected to endorse the course, which hosted the women's British Open in 2015, as one of the possible venues for the 2020 edition of The Open.

Trump's family has invested heavily at Turnberry, delivering an upgrade on course and facilities worth north of $150 million. According to the most recent annual report available, however, the course made $19 million in sales in 2018 but reported a loss of almost $1 million.

Trump Turnberry, Donald Trump
A general view of Trump Hotel on June 14 in Turnberry, Scotland. The Trump Turnberry is planning an expansion of its resort, targeting retirees and wealthy golf enthusiasts with a planned coastal retreat which would see hundreds of private houses, luxury apartments, and retirement villas built at its world-famous Turnberry resort. Jeff J Mitchell/Getty

Trump International Scotland, the president's other Scottish golf course, hasn't fared much better. In 2017, organizers of the Scottish Open made clear they were reluctant to associate themselves with Trump.

"Politics aside, Trump [International Scotland] would be an ideal venue," Martin Gilbert, the CEO of Aberdeen Asset Management, the tournament's lead sponsor, said at the time.

"But you can't put politics aside."

Only two tournaments since Trump's election

Of the 16 golf courses owned by the Trump family, only two hosted international events since he was elected president in 2016. The Trump National Golf Course in Washington, D.C. hosted the Senior PGA Championship in 2017—it had previously hosted the 2013 Junior PGA Championship—while the Trump National Golf Course in Bedminster, New Jersey, hosted the Women's U.S. Open in the same year after hosting the USGA Junior Amateur Championship in 2009 and the Met Open Championship in 2014.

The one course that bucked the trend, Trump National Doral, eventually led to Trump and the PGA Tour exchanging verbal salvos when the event was moved to Mexico from the 2017 season.

The course in Miami had hosted the Doral Open between 1962 and 2006 and subsequently was home to the WGC-Cadillac Championship from 2007 until 2016, when Cadillac opted not to renew its sponsorship.

"The PGA Tour is taking their tournament out of Miami and moving it to Mexico," Trump told Sean Hannity on Fox News in June 2016.

"It's the Cadillac World Golf Championship, and Cadillac's been a great sponsor, but they're moving it to Mexico. [...] By the way, I hope they have kidnapping insurance."

The then-presumptive Republican presidential nominee then accused the PGA Tour of showing disregard for American workers in the name of profits.

"It is a sad day for Miami, the United States and the game of golf, to have the PGA Tour consider moving the World Golf Championships, which has been hosted in Miami for the last 55 years, to Mexico," he continued.

"No different than Nabisco, Carrier and so many other American companies, the PGA Tour has put profit ahead of thousands of American jobs, millions of dollars in revenue for local communities and charities."

Trump purchased the course in 2012, before signing a 10-year extension with the PGA Tour the following year to keep the event at Doral. The agreement, however, stipulated that if no replacements for Cadillac were forthcoming, the Tour could move onto greener pastures.

Then-PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, however, pointed out that "from a political standpoint, we are neutral" and that the "PGA Tour has never been involved or cares to be involved in presidential politics."

Speaking ahead of the 2016 Memorial Tournament, he elaborated even further.

"Some of the reaction revolves around the feeling that somehow this is a political exercise, and it is not that in any way, shape, or form," he explained.

"It is fundamentally a sponsorship issue. We are a conservative organization. We value dollars for our players."

One of Trump's courses, however, will eventually get to host a major. In 2022, Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster will be home to the PGA Championship.