Mr Trump is paying a sizeable price for Turnberry’s prestige, says Martyn McLaughlin
When Donald Trump bought Turnberry in April 2014, it joined an array of golfing properties in the billionaire’s portfolio. But as a keen golfer who has reputedly whittled his handicap down to 2.8, Mr Trump knew this was not just another golf course.
As a four time host of the Open Championship, and the setting for the so-called ‘Duel in the Sun’, an epic 1977 battle between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus, the magnate knew he was acquiring something money can seldom buy - prestige.
Even before he embarked on a multimillion pound redevelopment of the resort in South Ayrshire, Mr Trump was fulsome in his praise of Turnberry’s international standing. It was, he declared, “one of golf’s greatest and most exciting properties.” For the princely sum of £34m, he was able to add his name to its facade and bask in its reflected glory.
Yet Turnberry’s allure was not entirely up to Mr Trump’s famously high standards. Two months after taking it over from the Dubai-based Leisurecorp, he indicated he would spend £100m to make the five-star bolthole “the finest resort of its kind anywhere in the world.”
Just four months later, his ambitions for Turnberry had grown, with the renovation bill spiralling to £250m. By September the following year, however, the figure cited was £200m. Last October, his representatives put the number at £150m.
Such fluctuating pledges sowed ambiguity over the extent of Mr Trump’s investment, but annual accounts filed last month with Companies House offer some detail. They show Mr Trump has provided Turnberry with interest-free loans totalling £112m since his buyout - a far cry from a quarter of billion pounds, but a significant investment nonetheless.
That money, or at least some of it, has been spent on an extensive refurbishment programme: Turnberry’s hotel suites and villas have been extensively modernised, its clubhouse refurbished, and its iconic lighthouse transformed into the luxury accommodation.
The most striking change, however, has been to the famous Ailsa course, with alterations overseen by Martin Ebert, the golf course architect. The changes have been widely lauded and in January, Ralph Porciani, Turnberry’s general manager, said the resort was on track to enjoy “its best year of revenue in 100 years.”
However, it has yet to turn a profit for Mr Trump. Operating losses more than doubled last year to £17.62m. While the size of that loss in large part down to the fact Turnberry was partially closed for refurbishment, it fully reopened for the last six months of 2016; during that time, it still ran up an operating loss of £670,000 - for the moment at least, Mr Trump is paying a sizeable price for Turnberry’s prestige.