Stuffy golfing industry could do with billionaire Donald Trump’s chutzpah says Kirsty Dorsey
IF THE reported figures are true, it would appear The Trumpster has bagged himself a bargain at Turnberry. Less than six years after the Dubai government shelled out £52 million for the iconic golf resort, the US billionaire has secured ownership of the Open Championship venue at a knock-down £35m.
Confirmation of the deal sent shudders of dread through many of golfing’s faithful last week, with mounting speculation as to what chintz Donald Trump might stamp upon one of Scotland’s most precious golfing treasures. His wrangling with the government over offshore wind farms in Aberdeenshire also featured prominently.
But that sale price wasn’t struck by accident. For all its renown, Turnberry has had its share of troubles.
Its stunning location on the South Ayrshire coastline is notoriously difficult to access, and is one of the main reasons why attendances and revenues fell off at the 2009 Open. That year also marked the start of one of the most prolonged recessions in history, which took a heavy toll on the hotel and leisure sectors. Turnberry was no exception.
With losses mounting, owner Leisurecorp – one arm of the state investment juggernaut Dubai World – adopted a new strategy that included a push into the “family-friendly” market. This met with some success, with Turnberry reportedly moving back into the realms of break-even.
It’s doubtful whether treading water will be adequate for Trump, who has made his fortune by turning a healthy profit from his development projects. He has promised to spend millions at Turnberry, but with little tinkering required on the championship and accompanying courses, the focus will be on other aspects of the South Ayrshire resort.
Though a highly adept golfer, Trump knows that expectations run beyond the quality of the fairways and greens. Guests today demand an excellent all-round experience – an axiom that too many amateur clubs have yet to fully embrace.
The majority of the nearly 600 courses in operation across Scotland are run as members’ clubs, forming the backbone of an industry that generates more than £1 billion in revenues for the wider economy. This core industry is worth more than golfing tourists and tournaments combined. But it is struggling as new course openings outpace growth in the number of golfers playing the game.
Hamish Grey, chief executive of the Scottish Golf Union, has called upon clubs to adopt more welcoming policies. Unfortunately, many remain reminiscent of a 1950s gentlemen’s guild. Despite the desperate need to bring younger people into the game, the presence of children is too often frowned upon.
Is Trump egotistical? You bet. In your face? Oh yeah. But at least he recognises and caters to what his customers want. His brash approach may be more than some can stomach, but a dollop of Trump’s audacity is what club golf is in need of. «