Donald Trump’s multi-million pound investment at Turnberry saved the Ayrshire venue from potentially being dropped from the Open Championship, it was claimed today.
Speaking on the eve of the Ailsa Course re-opening following its major makeover, course designer Martin Ebert said Trump acquiring Turnberry had bolstered, not hampered, its chances of continuing to stage the world’s oldest major.
The American billionaire’s outspoken comments in his bid to become US President has led to calls for the R&A to drop Turnberry, where the Claret Jug joust has been held four times, from its rota for the event.
Despite reports to the contrary, that step has not been taken by the St Andrews-based organisation and Ebert is hoping that widespread course changes that have been carried out since last September will convince the R&A overlook any other issues when the time comes for Turnberry to be considered again for its marquee tournament.
Those changes include the ninth being turned into a par-3 with a green close to the iconic lighthouse, the 10th becoming what Ebert hopes will prove to be “one of the best par-5s in golf” and the 11th, another short hole, being shifted closer to the water.
“I would hope so,” said Ebert this morning at a media event to mark the grand re-opening when asked if he thought the course on its own would be the deciding factor for The Open, with the first available slot on the schedule likely to be 2022.
“In Portrush (where the event is returning in 2019 after last being held there in 1951) and Turnberry, I would argue they are the two most scenic of the Open venues.
“In an age of television and the tv contracts being so important, I would hope that has some bearing. I know it’s largely down to the stars that play in the event but to have a canvass like that to present them upon I would hope have some allure from the R&A.”
Asked if he was worried if some of Trump’s controversial comments about Mexicans and Muslims could put a spanner in the works, he added: “It’s up to the R&A to judge. I hope the course and Turnberry as well is what counts here.
“I don’t think we should fool ourselves that without Mr Trump’s investment at Turnberry, it might have lost its Open status with such a lack of investment.
“When he came in and bought the place he immediately bought (golf course & estate manager) Allan Patterson a full set of maintenance equipment, immediately commissioned a new irrigation system for Ailsa.
“It wasn’t being looked after as it should have been at that stage. It was always a jewel, but it was fading and the investment that’s been made in all the right directions in my view should be the focus.”
The course officially opens tomorrow with members already having played it and given the changes their seal of approval. “Members can often be the harshest critics but to have them singing praise gives us confidence,” said Ebert.
“We hope people still think we have retained the character of Turnberry but built on that by using some incredible landscape and seascape.”
The hotel at the Ayrshire venue is also due to re-open tomorrow, with the biggest noticeable change to that, from the outside at least, being a big extension.
“After starting out on an exciting journey in 2014, D-Day is now,” said general manager Ralph Porciani.
“D-Day is now. We are about to open the main building. Turnberry has had three owners in the last 15-20 years and all have been fabulous in their own way.
“But the others haven’t had Mr Trump’s passion or expertise in golf. He is inspirational and has formed a phenomenal partnership with Martin Ebert. Turnberry could not be in better hands.”