SANDY Jones, chief executive of the Professional Golfers’ Association, has said it would be “tragic” if Turnberry was dropped from the Open Championship rota on the back of it being bought by Donald Trump.
The American property tycoon’s purchase of the Ayrshire resort for a rumoured £35 million shouldn’t change anything in terms of it being one of the courses used by the R&A for the world’s oldest major.
After all, four Claret Jug jousts have been held there in the past when it was under private ownership, the most recent – Stewart Cink’s 2009 win – having been with Dubai-based group Leisurecorp at the helm.
There seems no reason anything should change simply because it is coming under Trump’s control, although, at the same time, the R&A could, if it wants, try to use that as lever to get the course dropped from the rota.
It’s no secret that Open attendances at Turnberry, due to its location, are considerably smaller than most of the other venues and that means reduced revenue whenever it goes there.
Also, Royal Portrush is waiting in the wings and, based on it staging the Irish Open two years ago, fans would flock there if it was restored to the rota for the first time since 1951. Royal Porthcawl in Wales is also making a pitch for the R&A’s flagship event.
Turnberry’s first big tournament under the Trump banner will come next year, when the Ailsa Course stages the Ricoh Women’s British Open. Based on what is now roughly a ten-year cycle, it would then be in the frame again for the Open Championship in 2019.
Jones, one of the game’s leading officials, gave his seal of approval to the ownership change during a visit to the Scottish Parliament yesterday to launch a Ryder Cup Heritage Exhibition.
“I see positives in it,” he said of a move that has come fairly hot on the heels of Trump adding Doonbeg in Ireland to a portfolio that also includes Doral in Miami and, of course, his championship links at Menie Estate north of Aberdeen.
“Turnberry is an iconic venue,” added Jones. “It’s also a great venue and I believe it will become an even greater one [with Trump in charge]. Everywhere he’s taken over a course that wasn’t working, he’s made it work. So his track record on that is good. Can Donald and the R&A work together? Donald would love to work with the R&A. I know that. Whether the R&A will want to work with Donald, I can’t answer that. I’m a member of the club, but I’m not in a position to know.
“Donald is a brand in himself. The PGA of America used not to go near him because they felt he would be bigger than them. That was what people believed, so I don’t know how the R&A will react to that. But I don’t see that it should make any difference [in terms of The Open]. There will be those who sit on a committee and make a decision, but I think it would be tragic if Turnberry was dropped on the basis of Donald Trump ownership.”
Trump bought Doral for £89m two years ago then spent just under £150m on an overhaul, which was unveiled when the Blue Monster course staged the WGC Cadillac Championship in March. “Doral had a grand old course and a grand old hotel, but it needed investment,” noted Jones. “Trump has done that and created a really good facility and tournament.”
His intention to now apply the “Trump treatment” to Turnberry has come despite him indicating it seemed unlikely he’d be spending any more money in Scotland after falling out with First Minister Alex Salmond over wind farms.
“Clearly Alex and Donald are not the best of friends at the moment, which for me without getting involved in the politics and all that, I think it’s sad,” said Jones. “I think they [wind turbines] are unsightly and that’s what Donald said. I just think it’s a shame [that they do not agree] because they are two very powerful people for Scotland.”