With an expanding collection of courses and resorts around the world, Donald Trump has become a player in the golf industry.
But what about when Trump sheds the business clothes, slips on his golf shoes, and heads to the first tee? What kind of player is he then?
Better than decent, it appears. Trump has a handicap index of 3.0, he made the first hole-in-one at his newest public course near New York City, and as he boasted on Tuesday, he has lifted more than a few golf trophies.
“I know how to win. I’ve won . . . these people will tell you. Have I won many club championships? Does Trump know how to close?” he said at a victory rally after cementing his lead for the Republican Party presidential nomination with victories in the Michigan and Mississippi primaries. “Winning is winning. It’s not easy to win club championships, believe me. And I’m not talking about with strokes. I’m talking with no strokes.”
Fact-checking a candidate during a campaign is par for the course — pardon the pun — but some of Trump’s claims can be confirmed. His name is included with the list of club champions at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. A plaque recognizing his hole-in-one on the 12th hole at Trump Golf Links Ferry Point in the Bronx has been added to the tee box (8-iron, 149 yards, Oct. 9, 2013). His GHIN handicap index — available for perusal to anyone with Internet access — shows the 20 most recent 18-hole scores Trump has posted. The low, a 70, is from August 2013, and came in a tournament; the highest, an 86, was posted in October 2014.
It has taken him a while to get 20 rounds; he didn’t post any scores in 2010, and entered only two in 2015. Of those 20 scores, 10 ranged from 70 to 79, and 10 ranged from 81 to 86.
Yes, but are they legitimate? Whispers of rules-bending have followed Trump — conceding putts while not playing a match, to give one example — but he’s certainly not alone there. Plenty of golfers, politicians or not, cheat when playing the game, if we’re holding them up against the Rules of Golf. Breakfast balls off the first tee, preferred lies, fuzzy math. Politicians have been guilty of all those infractions, as have businessmen (how does Trump identify himself these days?) and many, many others from all walks of life.
For his book, “Who’s Your Caddy?” Rick Reilly spent a round caddying for a number of people, Trump included. Reilly writes that, “When it comes to cheating, [Trump] is 11 on a scale of 1 to 10.” What would that make Kim Jong-Il, the former North Korean leader who made five aces in his first round of golf, shooting a 38-under-par score of 34. Very, um, impressive.
Unlike Kim’s record round, Trump’s interest and involvement in the game can’t be questioned. His portfolio of golf properties currently numbers 17. He bought Doral, site of last week’s PGA Tour event won by Adam Scott (with Trump in attendance on Sunday). He bought Turnberry, which has hosted four British Opens and is one of two courses Trump owns in Scotland. He purchased Doonbeg in Ireland, owns two courses in Dubai, and has 12 in the US, including tracks in New York, California, Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia. He expressed interest in buying Boston Golf Club some years back, but the Hingham club was sold instead to a group of members in 2012.
Jumping into golf when so many are jumping out and courses are experiencing financial trouble is commendable, and Trump has grand plans for his involvement with the game. He wants his courses to host major championships; Turnberry last held the British Open in 2009, before Trump purchased the resort, and could return to the rota. Trump National in Bedminster has been awarded the 2022 PGA Championship (the same year that the US Open is scheduled to be played at The Country Club in Brookline).
As much good as Trump has done for golf — he has spent millions refurbishing those purchased properties, he’ll be the first to tell you — he has forced some to distance themselves from him based on anti-immigration comments he’s made, specifically regarding Mexicans. The 2015 Grand Slam of Golf, which was slated for Trump National Golf Club in Los Angeles, was first taken from the course by the PGA of America, then canceled. As expected, Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric hasn’t played well in Dubai, where he owns two golf properties.
But let’s leave the political fallout to others. Trump has always been loud and boastful. Anything he puts his name on — and all 17 golf properties have it — is the best, in his opinion, and golf is no different. He called last week’s tournament at Trump National Doral a major championship, to the bemusement of many. There are only four majors, we all know, but only one Trump.
Bombastic? For sure. A bully? Maybe. But the man loves his golf, and by many accounts has a good bit of skill when playing.
Voters will decide if Trump earns the Republican nomination, or if his next residence will be the White House. The presidency is an office with a long connection to golf, dating to the days of Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama more recently. Presidents play golf.
Is Trump next?