Glyn Pritchard looks how the latest financial losses for President Trump’s Scottish golf resorts will impact further development and the prospects for the Scottish Open being hosted at Trump International Golf Links.
After I stepped down as editor of GOLF RETAILING my first article for this regular column was about how inappropriate course development was getting golf a bad name. A large section of that first article was about the controversy surrounding Donald Trump’s Menie Estate development in Aberdeenshire. Concluding the section about Trump International Golf Links at the Menie Estate I wrote: “Trump has now abandoned plans for a second golf course at the Menie Estate and turned his attention instead to running the United States.”
At the time, in the spring of 2016, that comment was meant to be funny and ironic. But the final irony is that Trump is now indeed running the United States, although his Scottish golf developments are not faring so well.
Accounts for the last trading year show the Menie Estate lost £1.4 million, while Trump Turnberry in Ayrshire lost £17.6 million, more than double the previous year’s loss. The losses at Trump Turnberry were in part due to its six-month closure for renovation work and also because of the slump in the value of the pound since Brexit.
While the trading loss at the Menie Estate Trump International Golf Links was smaller it casts doubt on further development. Originally there were plans for a five-star hotel, timeshare flats and private villas. A second 18-hole course was to be built soon after the first course was complete, but the recession placed development on hold. Then Trump lost a long legal dispute with the Scottish government over a £230 million offshore wind turbine farm which would have been visible from his development. Now the downturn in the North Sea oil industry, which is the backbone of the Aberdeenshire economy, threatens the viability of a second course.
The planning application for the second course at Menie was submitted two years ago, but has run into difficulty over environmental issues. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) requires a detailed environmental management plan for construction of the new course, which the Trump organisation has rejected. SEPA also wants the Trump organisation to connect both courses, the clubhouse and staff housing to the public sewage system. Currently a soak-away drain is used for sewerage at the site.
Aberdeenshire council planning committee has postponed consideration of the application twice this year because of the SEPA requirements and also Scottish Natural Heritage objections. Over 94,000 people have signed a petition organised by the online campaigners SumOfUs opposing the development.
While the prestige of the office of the President of the United States would normally have a positive effect on the incumbent’s reputation, the particular nature of the Trump presidency seems to be having the opposite effect in Scotland. Trump’s policies, particularly towards migrants, have seen the Scottish government rescind his title as business ambassador for Scotland and Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University has revoked an honorary degree.
The Trump organisation has been pushing to host the Scottish Open at Menie with Trump – showcasing his usual understatement – commenting two years ago, “The Scottish Open is coming. The Scottish Open wants to be here forever, they think this is the best course they’ve ever seen.”
However, Martin Gilbert, CEO of Aberdeen Asset Management, main sponsor of the Scottish Open, said at this year’s event: “Trump, I don’t need to tell you, is a great golf course, but there are issues if we went there. The worst thing would be if he came! No decision has been made, but look there are clear issues. Politics aside, Trump would be an ideal venue, but you can’t put politics aside. That is the issue so we will wait and see.” And this is despite the fact that Martin Gilbert was invited to Trump’s inauguration in January.
As the Scottish Open is now part of the Rolex Series, the watch company would need to approve Menie. But as the Scottish Government is also one of the event’s partners the likelihood of Menie holding the event in 2019 seems highly unlikely.
Whatever challenges he faces with golf course development (not to mention North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan etc) on the course The Donald is enjoying success. Recently Senator Lindsey Graham said the President shot 73 when the two played together at one of Trump’s courses, a claim Golf Magazine in the States described as “patently unbelievable to many golfers”.
In his election campaign Trump repeatedly criticised President Obama for playing too much golf, telling voters, “I’m going to be working for you. I’m not going to have time to go play golf.” However, there is already a website keeping track of President Trump’s frequent golf rounds: trumpgolfcount.com