The president's Scottish resorts: Trump Turnberry, MacLeod & Trump International
Typically, a president’s lifestyle is one of hard work, regular travel and luxurious surroundings. However, this is the lifestyle which the 45th President of the United States has been living for a long time now. Indeed, only the best is good enough for Donald. Trump Turnberry, MacLeod House and Trump International Golf Links perfectly reflect this level of quality.
Golf is one of the president’s passions. So it follows that he would create a business around this. In 2014, he bought Turnberry, a golf course in Scotland’s South Ayrshire for £36 million ($63 million at the time).
Paid for in cash, it didn’t follow his usual approach of using others’ money for risk-free investments (risk-free for him, that is). Furthermore, the vast expansion didn’t look like it could possibly be a profitable operation. But this was Scotland - the homeland of his mother.
“There’s no place like Turnberry,” he said in 2014. “It’s the greatest canvas in the world.” However, Trump had tried to borrow money from a Scottish bank in 2008 and 2009 to redevelop a hotel. So clearly, his interest in Scottish business isn’t truly regenerative.
The negative predictions were correct, however. Up-to-date figures are hard to come by but the resort generated a loss of $36 million in 2016. According to corporate filings in the UK, Turnberry’s debt doubled between 2015 and 2016. That said, financial disclosure forms filed in the US suggest this isn’t so. Yet Trump refuses to release his tax returns to clear up the obvious confusion.
The president’s son, Eric Trump, has said that none of the money to buy Turnberry came from outside investors or from selling other Trump properties. Speaking to an eminent golf writer, he stated that the funding for their golf courses comes from Russia, though he has since denied saying this. The “incredible cash flow”, as he put it, now came from commercial buildings in New York and licencing deals from Trump-branded hotels and merchandise.
Robert Mueller, the special counsel tasked with uncovering possible links between Trump’s campaign and Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, reportedly has investigators looking into whether Trump laundered Russian money using offshore accounts. Considering no one quite seems to know where the money for Turnberry came from, this tearfully heritage-driven investment suddenly doesn’t seem so pure.
"I paid all cash. I then spent a tremendous amount of money on renovating the hotel and the golf courses," the president stated, speaking to Reuters about Trump Turnberry in 2016. "It’s incredible."
Trump claims to have put $265 million in Turnberry’s makeover though his general manager for the resort has stated that it’s more like $185 million. Regardless, these figures include the price of the hotel and the land itself so they are inherently inflated.
Meanwhile, Trump International Golf Links remains a shadow of the promise it has failed to fulfil. Back in 2005, Trump purchased 1,800 acres of land for a brand new 18-hole resort, which he opened in 2012.
The development, located in Balmedie in Scotland’s Aberdeenshire, wasn’t without its critics. However, despite planning to build on environmentally-protected land, he was granted planning permission on the basis that he would create 6,000 to 7,000 jobs - having invested somewhere between one to two billion dollars.
However, he’s created a maximum of 150 jobs and spent, according to his representatives, $140 million. That said, the Washington Post has stated that the actual figure is around $65 million (including the $12.6 million he paid for the land). MacLeod house, which can be hired out in its entirety for weddings and events, perfectly represents this scaled-down version of sprawling splendour.
Scotland’s first minister at the time Alex Salmond overturned a local government decision to block the development. “I found it difficult to believe that somebody could be so brazenly certain of an investment plan at a public local inquiry and then make very little attempt to bring it home,” he later said.
Of course, Trump has a history of making claims which aren’t quite grounded in fact. Near the clubhouse, a plaque states “the world’s largest sand dunes” though they are actually many miles away in Namibia. However, where Turnberry is undoubtedly a world-class course, Trump International is still under construction - as the promised 450-bed hotel and 1,500 luxury homes never materialised.
This could be due, in part, to cash flow. It was a curious place to open a high-end course. Not only are the local golfers a lot more down-to-earth and money-conscious than Trump might like, there are also a number of good golf clubs in the area. Like Turnberry, it wasn’t long before it became clear that Trump International was losing money.
Furthermore, rather than endearing himself to the local populous, Trump managed to fall out with local officials, environmentalists and homeowners alike. One local fisherman, named Michael Forbes, declined Trump’s offer to buy him out. Forbes’ house bordered the course and Trump referred to the residence as a “pigsty”.
Trump even cut off the water supply to Forbes and his extended family however, he refused to budge. He later won an award for his act of defiance and, with neighbour David Milne, flew the Mexican flag when Trump visited the course during the 2016 presidential election. Milne described it as “a show of solidarity with the Mexican people and everyone else that Trump has derided, insulted and intimidated.”
Trump also took offense to the idea of an offshore wind farm due to its proximity from the course. He argued that it would be an eyesore for golfers on his course and that the turbines kill birds. Trump proceeded to have very public fallings out over the issue, including one with British businessman Sir Alan Sugar over Twitter.
“You might have heard of these turbines because a famous golf course owner from America who, I think, has now turned his hand to politics, decided to take the Scottish government to court to try to block these wind turbines because he thought they spoiled the view from his new golf course,” stated Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon at a tech conference. “Just earlier this week, in fact, these amazing wind turbines generated their first electricity. They are marvels of engineering, but, even more importantly than that, very soon they will be generating enough electricity for almost three-quarters of all homes in the city of Aberdeen.”
Trump’s interest in Scottish business does seem to be grounded in something more than raw, unemotional money-making. What looked like highly risky investments proved themselves to be so. So while the many protestors who descended on Turnberry during his recent visit feel Trump screwed over Scotland, his Scottish lineage and his passion for the country have spurred him on to truly screw over himself.