Letter from St. Andrews: Trump Tales

Talk about COINCIDENCE. I’m in the middle of writing this very column—about Donald Trump—when the phone rings and who is it? Donald Trump. He’d just seen the LINKS 100 lists of the top courses in the world and U.S and he wasn’t pleased.

“I can’t believe none of my courses are on those lists,” he said. “I have the best course in Florida, one of the best in New York, two of the best in Jersey, and a spectacular course on spectacular land in California. They should all be on your lists and none of them are.”

Then he proceeded to ask a series of pointed questions about how the LINKS lists were compiled, what courses were on the ballot, who had voted, what the selection criteria were, etc. The Donald, despite his image as a guy whose only concern is headlines, is in reality a details guy, especially when it comes to the projects that are closest to his heart—his golf courses.

Then he launched into a self-love song to his “greatest course in the world” (and subject of our cover article) the soon-to-debut Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeen, Scotland.

“George, of all the construction projects I’ve ever done—never have I heard advance reviews like the ones I’m getting for this golf course. Everyone loves it. Everyone. Did you see what [European Tour Chief Executive] George O’Grady said? He walked the course with me for more than three hours, then said it’s one of the top three courses he’d ever seen.”

I didn’t need convincing. Having walked the course several times, I knew Trump has something special—the immense natural dunes, the commanding sea views, and a restrained yet imaginative routing by Martin Hawtree. Trump International Golf Links has a surreal, larger-than-life quality, just like its owner. Indeed, this is a course construction project perhaps only Donald Trump could have pulled off, and while it won’t be replacing Cypress Point as number one on the LINKS 100 lists anytime soon, I do think it will make its way onto those lists, maybe even at a high level.

Whether it will ever hold an Open Championship, as Trump so dearly wants, is much more questionable. A decade ago, back in the days when The Donald was making news as much for his flamboyant social life as for his business acumen, I played with him at his then-new course in New York’s West-chester County. After the round he asked me my impression.

“It has everything,” I said. “Interesting holes, great conditioning, a bit of flash, and plenty of difficulty.”

“Do you think it can hold a PGA Tour event or maybe a U.S. Open?” he asked.

“I doubt it,” said I.

“Why not?”

“Because it’s your golf course.”

He thought for a moment, then delivered a line that could have come only from him.  “You know, I’m a double-edged sword. People love me because everything I do is the very best quality, and they hate me because I like to date super models.”

It brought to mind a moment during an AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

I was enjoying a Forrest Gump week and at that moment found myself hitting balls at the far end of the practice range beside my partner that week Curtis Strange and Tom Kite. We were the last three in a line of 50 or 60 other pros and ams (the range used for the AT&T is actually a converted polo field, so it’s enormous).

At one point the continuous thwock of practice balls ebbed and an odd quiet fell over the range. I turned to see what had happened and noticed that every golfer in back of me had done the same thing. One by one, they had turned their backs to the range and stared at something. It was like a synchronized chorus line—or “the wave” at a football stadium—player after player pivoting and gaping.

The object of attention was Trump, making his way down the range. Well, not really Trump but the startlingly attractive (and braless) young woman bouncing along with him, his date for the week.

As they neared us, I alerted Curtis who alerted Kite, and the three of us played our parts in the lecherous choreography, smiling and chuckling as they passed by.

“Did you hear,” I said to the two pros, “Yesterday Trump made a hole-in-one on the 12th at Spyglass.”

Strange shook his head, but Kite took on a sort of crestfallen look.

“You know something,” he said. “It’s just not fair…”

Indeed, Donald Trump would seem to have more than his share of everything. He’s an alpha male with an overload of money, power, charisma, and chutzpah, a hyperbole-spewing, self-promoting supersalesman whose greatest joy is in his performance art—playing Donald Trump—charming and conning just about everyone he meets.

When you’re charmed/conned by The Donald, he knows he’s doing it and you know he’s doing it but you both sort of enjoy it—he’s that good. Besides, you sense that down deep, beneath the blather and wink-and-nod bravado, he believes what he’s saying. There’s a strange sort of genuineness about him—he never tries to be anything other than what he is. Less known but more important, there’s a generous side—a side that donates millions to charities and selflessly comes to the aid of those in need.

There was a business executive whose job as head of the division of a large conglomerate was in jeopardy. One day, a column in the business section of the New York Post contained an item speculating on the executive’s demise. That same morning, his phone rang—it was Trump and he was on a mission.

“What’s this b-s about you losing your job?  Do they realize what you’ve done for that company—do they realize what will happen if you leave? Are they nuts?  I’m going to make you an offer. If you will allow me, I will make a phone call to my good friend Dick [the company CEO] and in 15 minutes your problems will be over.”

Donald Trump barely knew this guy, and he had nothing to gain from making this gesture. He’d reached out simply because he thought it was the right thing to do. In the end, the fellow didn’t allow him to make that call, and things worked out just fine. But he has never forgotten the gesture. Nor should he—after all, it may be easy to forget those who chime in with congratulations when things are rosy, but we never forget someone who reaches out to us when things are tough. I can attest to this because the guy Trump called that morning was George Peper.