In Trump’s UK visit, some see promotion for money-losing golf resort
GLASGOW — Days before his closely watched meeting with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, President Trump was focused Saturday promoting his Turnberry golf resort, describing it as “magical.”
Before arriving in Scotland — the birthplace of his mother and of Trump’s preferred pastime — the president repeatedly plugged Turnberry, one of two Scottish resorts that bear his name, as he dealt with some of the most pressing diplomacy problems facing his administration.
It is a tactic that has alarmed ethics watchdogs, who say he is using his presidential platform to promote a resort that, according to financial filings, has been a burden on the family business.
While the president has blazed a chaotic streak through Europe this past week, Turnberry has received special recognition amid other Trump-issued sound bites that analysts say have undermined the United States’ relationships with close NATO allies.
At a hastily arranged news conference in Brussels, when asked to discuss his message for Britain on its exit from the European Union, Trump said he had none — a thought he would later undermine in stunning fashion in an interview splashed on the cover of The Sun.
Then, Trump wove in a reference to Turnberry, on breathtaking bluffs and cliffs on the western coast of Scotland, calling it “magical” and “one of my favorite places.”
“I’m going there for two days while I wait for the Monday meeting” with Putin, the president told the news media.
Trump said he would be taking calls and meetings before the planned gathering with Putin in Helsinki. But around the time he hit one of the resort’s two golf courses Saturday, his official account began posting on Twitter.
In two tweets, he blamed the Obama administration, not Russia, for the hacking of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee and again suggested that a Democratic “deep state” was afoot.
He also plugged the Turnberry golf course again: “The weather is beautiful,” he wrote on Twitter, “and this place is incredible!”
Ethicists tend to be cynical about the president’s sentimental references to his resort: His arrival at Turnberry marks the 169th day during his presidency that he has visited a property owned, managed or branded by the Trump Organization. Financial records show the resort has lost money since Trump purchased it in 2014.
“I view this as kind of a forced subsidy of an infomercial for his properties,” Norman L. Eisen, chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said in an interview Friday. “He’s attempting to utilize his trip to get beneficial PR.”
Before Trump left for Scotland on Friday, he again brought up Turnberry during a news conference in England with Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain.
“I was opening Turnberry the day before Brexit,” Trump said, “and all they wanted to talk about was Brexit, and I said, ‘I think Brexit would happen,’ and it did happen.”
Trump, in fact, arrived at Turnberry the day after Britons voted in 2016 to leave the European Union, but he spoke about his resort for 15 minutes before he took questions on Brexit at a news conference.
He also expressed skepticism when asked if the referendum would send shock waves through the global markets.
“Look, if the pound goes down, they’re going to do more business,” Trump said then. “When the pound goes down, more people are coming to Turnberry, frankly.”
Although Trump has claimed to have spent at least 200 million pounds, about $264 million, on Turnberry to buy and renovate it since 2014 — a figure that has not been verified independently — the course has yet to turn a profit.
In fact, the Turnberry operation has lost tens of millions of pounds since he purchased it, filings in Britain show: about 17 million pounds in 2016, the last year for which such comprehensive records are available.
For 2017, Trump’s government ethics filing discloses only how much revenue the course generated — $20.4 million — not whether it had earned a profit.
When reached for comment about Turnberry on Friday, the Trump Organization described a success story.
In an e-mail, Amanda Miller, a spokeswoman, pointed to some of Turnberry’s golf lore — including the much-publicized 1977 British Open championship between legendary golfers Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus.
“Turnberry is an icon in the golf world, and we are incredibly proud of its continued success,” Miller wrote. The resort’s famed Ailsa golf course, she said, was “home to four Open Championships, including the famous 1977 ‘Duel in the Sun.’”
Miller did not respond to a request for comment about how the company gauged success if records showed it was losing money.
Trump appears to hold a special place in his heart for Turnberry, perhaps because of his love of golf and because his mother, Mary Anne MacLeod Trump, who was born in Tong, a village about 300 miles from Turnberry, in the north of Scotland.
“I feel very comfortable here,” Donald Trump said to reporters during a 2008 visit to Tong, on the island of Lewis, where he spent about 90 seconds in the modest cottage where his mother was born. “It’s interesting when your mother, who was such a terrific woman, comes from a specific location, you tend to like that location. I think I do feel Scottish.”