Donald Trump spent more than three years trying to establish a “landmark” hotel at the world-famous home of golf, making at least four failed offers for one of Scotland’s showpiece properties, a Scotland on Sunday investigation can reveal.
The US president and his children held high-level talks with senior Scottish banking executives to try and take over Hamilton Hall in St Andrews, one of the most prized venues in world golf, which is now home to some of Scotland’s most expensive properties.
However, Trump was repeatedly rebuffed in his attempts to secure financing for what would have been his first international hotel venture.
The 71-year-old offered to pay as much as £23m to secure the grand 19th century building overlooking the Old Course’s 18th green.
But he insisted on receiving a mortgage and loan totalling £38m, a deal financiers deemed “too risky.”
One Bank of Scotland executive who met the property magnate at Trump Tower claimed he and his executive vice-president asked the bank to foreclose on Hamilton Hall’s owners, and instead deal directly with the Trump Organisation.
The bank executive described such suggestions as “worrying” and “inappropriate,” and expressed concern Trump would hold them to “future ransom.”
The unsuccessful deal raises questions about the notoriously opaque finances of Trump and his network of companies.
Three weeks after trying in vain to secure the Bank of Scotland’s backing, Trump claimed his firm was in a “very, very strong” cash position, while his right-hand man said the company had £1bn in cash.
Until now, the president’s thwarted attempts to add the prestigious property to his portfolio of resorts have been known only to the Trump Organisation and a coterie of corporate bankers and lawyers.
But forensic details of Trump’s dalliance with the home of golf are laid bare in court documents filed with the US district court in Rhode Island.
It is there, in the city of Providence, that the Bank of Scotland filed a civil lawsuit against the Wasserman family, Hamilton Hall’s previous owners, who held extensive talks with Trump about a sale.
The bank went to court seeking millions of pounds it was owed after the Wassmermans’ plans to transform the St Andrews property into a luxury timeshare scheme came undone.
The subsequent slew of correspondence, contracts, and depositions provide a blow by blow account of Trump’s hardline negotiating tactics.
The documentation, obtained by Scotland on Sunday, reveals for the first time the drawn out battle waged by Trump against some of the richest men in the world – including Dermot Desmond, the biggest single shareholder in Celtic Football Club – to secure the title deeds to one of Scotland’s most coveted buildings.
The deal that never was
The story of the deal that never was, which would have seen Trump stamp his surname on golf’s most storied resort, began 12 years ago.
On 28 April 2006, the then 59-year-old made a typically high-profile stop-off at the Old Course in St Andrews as part of a whirlwind tour designed to drum up publicity for his embryonic Trump International Golf Links resort in Aberdeenshire, the plans for which had been made public only weeks before.
Having visited Menie Estate, where his inaugural Scottish development would take shape, he travelled by helicopter to Fife.
At the time, Trump was best known as the protagonist of The Apprentice, the US television show, and he readily indulged in his celebrity status. Wearing a dark suit, black and white striped tie, and a three quarter length black overcoat, he posed for pictures straddling the Old Course’s famous Swilken bridge, delivered his “You’re fired!” catchphrase on demand, and even autographed one reporter’s notebook. The reporter had not asked for his signature.
The purpose of Trump’s visit to was to attend a press conference arranged by tartan-clad VisitScotland officials in the shadow of the Old Course’s 18th green, and hold talks with Peter Dawson, the chief executive of the Royal & Ancient (R&A), the joint governing body of golf worldwide, and Michael Tate, an R&A director.
But during his brief stopover in the auld grey toun, Trump, who had played the Old Course years previously, cannot have helped but notice the imposing structure of the B-listed Hamilton Hall.
In its heyday, the building, designed by Glasgow architect, James Milne Monro, served as The Grand Hotel, an elegant bolthole which welcomed famous guests such as Edward VIII, Rudyard Kipling, and Bing Crosby.
Though it would later become a hall of residence for the University of St Andrews, and suffer a damaging fire started by a careless painter’s blowtorch in 1976, the property’s distinguished shone through. Evidently, it appealed to Trump.
Meet the Wassermans
On 11 August, just 15 weeks after his St Andrews visit, the Trump Organisation entered into a confidentiality agreement with a firm called St Andrews Grand Ventures LLC.
It was run by the Wassermans, a New England family with a modest track record in developing shopping centres and office blocks in their native US.
Brothers David and Richard Wasserman, together with their father, Bernie, had bought Hamilton Hall from the University of St Andrews the previous year, having been alerted to the property by Mike DiCarlo, an investment manager from Boston, Massachusetts. DiCarlo was a regular visitor to the Old Course, and even owned a holiday home in St Andrews.
The Wassermans paid £20m to the University of St Andrews, renamed Hamilton Hall as St Andrews Grand. They set about reconfiguring it into dozens of luxury apartments which would be sold to around 115 wealthy golf aficionados via a “fractionalised ownership” model, allowing them to stay at their apartments for several weeks at a time.
The membership costs betrayed the exclusivity of the Old Course. Prices started at £1m, with annual dues costing as much as £105,000. Phil Mickelson, the five-time major championship winner, was an early backer.
Internal Bank of Scotland documentation, obtained by this newspaper, shows the Wassermans secured a potential loan from the institution for as much as £84.3m, which was to be released in four instalments. The first tranche, worth £27.5m, allowed them to purchase Hamilton Hall and carry out initial planning work.
The release of the second tranche, worth up to £49m, was dependent on the Wassermams securing at least £10m in deposits by 31 October 2006, with a further £4m due by the year’s end.
According to David Wasserman, the principal in the development, he approached Trump directly with a view to getting him on board.
A source party to the initial talks told Scotland on Sunday the two men had known each other socially for several years previously. “They were part of the same scene in New York,” the source said. “They moved in a certain crowd.”
In a series of depositions given as part of his court case against Bank of Scotland, Wasserman said the Trump Organisation had expressed an interest in becoming a partner, or potentially buying control of the St Andrews Grand venture.
Yet the 58-year-old’s initial contact and early talks with Trump’s business did not propose an outright sale. Instead, they envisioned leveraging Trump’s global profile to bolster the project’s equity and marketing potential.
“We determined that Donald was willing to join the project as a limited guarantor, putting his signature behind the project, which is, I would say, equity unto itself,” reasoned Wasserman, a former law firm associate with a penchant for modern art.
“A super luxury membership club”
Over the next several months, the talks between Wasserman and Trump intensified, with the two men finding common ground. The need for outside help was evident in the St Andrews Grand accounts – by 3 January 2007, the Wassermans had just £4m in initial reservation deposits, some £10m less than the Bank of Scotland required.
A few months later, on 23 March 2007, the bank notified them that it reserved its rights due to their failure to meet the deposit threshold. It refused to refinance the deal, but gave the Wassermans until the following April to work on other potential deals. There was one already cooking.
That very day, the Trump Organisation and Wasserman signed a letter of intent proposing a confidential venture agreement. The document, ostensibly a draft licensing arrangement, proposed the creation of a Delaware limited liability company giving Trump’s property empire a 25 per cent stake in St Andrews Grand, with Wasserman holding on to the remaining interest.
The nine-page letter outlining the terms of the agreement stated that the iconic six storey building, constructed in 1896 out of Dumfries red sandstone, would be rechristened once more.
This time, the letter specified, it would “be known by a name to be determined by the parties which shall include the name ‘Trump’.”
While Trump and Wasserman would serve as “co-managers” of the property, billed as a “super luxury membership club” with 23 residences, the agreement stated that Trump would license the use of his name to the joint venture for a nominal sum of £1.
It added: “The venture agreement will make clear that Trump shall not be required to make any capital contribution to the joint venture and shall not be subject to any ‘cram down’ of its equity interest or other remedy or adjustment of Trump’s equity interest in the joint venture for not making such contribution.”
The letter of intent further proposed that wealthy parties interested in buying membership of an apartment at Hamilton Hall would be granted a 30 year-long bond, with Trump and Wasserman entitled to a share of profits – plus a 10 per cent ‘transfer fee’ – if the bond was sold on before its expiry.
Trump was to be given responsibility for all design and architectural plans at the property, and would be tasked with marketing and managing it. In return, he would receive various sales, marketing and management fees.
The letter of intent also specified that Trump personally had to buy his own membership bond of a Hamilton Hall apartment.
The document, written in dry, lifeless legalese and signed on the Trump Organisation’s behalf by Donald Trump Jr, Trump’s eldest son, seemed to leave no stone unturned with regards how the two US property developers would manage – and, in theory, profit from – one of golf’s most lauded addresses. In reality, the negotiations had yet to begin in earnest.
A meeting at Trump Tower
The next month, shortly after he appeared before millions of television viewers at WrestleMania 23, a World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) pay-per-view event in which he repeatedly punched Vince McMahon, WWE’s CEO, before shaving his head with a pair of electric clippers, Trump got down to more subdued business.
At his executive office on the 26th floor of Trump Tower in New York’s Fifth Avenue, a space where sporting memorabilia vies for wall space alongside portraits and framed magazine covers, he welcomed a visiting party.
It included David and Bernie Wasserman and their legal representatives, as well as two Bank of Scotland executives, Charles Wighton and Donald Kerr. The former was an area manager with the bank, while the latter headed up its powerful corporate and commercial division.
Present for the Trump Organisation was Trump, the firm’s chairman and president, his daughter, Ivanka, and his second son, Eric. Donald Jr could not make the meeting in person, but was on speakerphone.
The “open discussion,” Wighton said in his deposition, had one aim. “Donald Trump wanted to meet with us to have an open discussion about whether there was a transaction, there was potential for a transaction to be worked in with his involvement.”
There was no presentation, nor any mention of figures, but according to Wighton, Trump made clear he did not want to simply own a slither of the Fife landmark. “He disagreed with the concept of [the] fractionalised basis of the Hamilton Hall transaction,” Wighton said.
Charles ‘Chip’ Rogers Jr, managing director and legal counsel for the Wassermans, said the meeting in New York with the extended Trump clan ran on for nearly three hours.
The parties first met with Trump himself for between a half hour and 45 minutes, Rogers said, during which time, the billionaire played up to his reputation.
“If you’ve ever watched TV, you know what to expect from Mr Trump, so we got a lot of that, ‘I’m the greatest’ sort of stuff,” he recalled in his deposition.
Rogers added that the meeting was followed by further discussions with Ivanka, Eric, and Donald Jr, which lasted around two hours.
Wasserman said that the only people who walked away with something from the meeting were Wighton and Kerr. Both men, he alleged, requested souvenirs of their transatlantic trip, and were indulged by their larger than life host.
“They walked away with autographed Donald Trump pictures, they were so elated to be there,” he said in his deposition. “Two or three people from the bank, Charles Wighton and his boss, Donald something, they were very excited about their World Wrestling Federation 8 x 10″ glossies signed by Trump.”
Another source told Scotland on Sunday the bankers did not request the photographs, but accepted by them after Trump offered them as a gift.
Lloyds Banking Group, owners of the Bank of Scotland, said it would not comment on the claims in Wasserman’s deposition.
A spokesman said: “Whilst litigation in relation to this matter has concluded to the satisfaction of both parties it is subject to a confidential settlement agreement so it would be inappropriate to comment further.”
Trump St Andrews Hotel
However the mementoes exchanged hands, no contracts followed suit. But the deal was very much alive. Over the next year or so, Wighton said he held several telephone conversations with Trump.
“They were chiefly one way in terms of Trump saying, you know, for him to get involved in the transaction, he needed the bank’s support to do so,” he recalled.
At the time, Trump’s contentious plans for his inaugural Scottish golf resort were ensnared in the public inquiry process. But for all his bombast in public, behind the scenes Trump was quietly setting about turning his ambitions for Hamilton Hall into a reality.
Companies House records show that Trump incorporated a new firm on 23 May 2008. Registered at offices in Edinburgh’s Castle Terrace, it went by the name of Trump Hotel St Andrews Limited.
Its directors included Trump, Donald Jr, Eric, Ivanka, and Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organisation’s chief financial officer. George Sorial, the firm”s executive vice president and counsel, was named as the secretary.
By then, the once venerable Hamilton Hall was in dire need of care and attention. The building had found its way onto the Scottish Civic Trust’s inglorious buildings at risk register. Trump wanted to be the building’s sole saviour, and he prepared his first bid proper.
This time, he did not propose going into a partnership with the Wassermans. Instead, he looked to take the property off their hands lock, stock, and barrel.
The offer was not made through a legal firm or a property agent, but in a two-page letter signed personally by Trump.
The document, sent on 15 October 2008 to Wighton at the bank’s corporate headquarters in Edinburgh, detailed Trump’s intention to pay £23m for the property and “immediately commence construction on what will be known as the Trump St Andrews Hotel.”
He added: “It is our hope to have the hotel completed prior to the 2010 Open Championship.”
The deal, however, was not as straightforward as Trump’s rhetoric suggested.
The letter saw him ask the Bank of Scotland to take back the purchase price in the form of a 15 year mortgage for £23m, with the loan incurring no interest for the first two years.
After that, he proposed the interest rate be set at five per cent for five years, rising a further percentage point for the duration of the term.
Trump was not finished. He also made it a condition of his offer that the bank provide him with a construction loan for £15m, attracting identical rates of interest and terms to the mortgage.
Such sums, the tycoon insisted, were necessary to bring Hamilton Hall up to scratch. Not unreasonably, he declared the building to be in a “very bad state of decay,” citing its broken windows, unsound roofs, and other problems which, unless rectified, would “rapidly lead to its total disintegration.”
However, if the bank agreed to his requests, Trump promised it – and the homeland of his mother – a gilded transformation. “You will have a secure first mortgage on a beautiful and completed luxury hotel that will be a great source of pride for Scotland,” he told Wighton.
The second last paragraph of his letter contained one final sweetener. “We would be honoured to use the Bank of Scotland as our primary bank for all of our United Kingdom enterprises, in particular, the Aberdeen development,” it stated.
Bucking the ‘king of debt’ trend
In hindsight, that particular inducement seems unusual, given Trump’s recent track record in eschewing lenders when it comes to acquisitions. Out of every deal he has struck in Scotland and Ireland over the past 12 years, not once has he borrowed from the banks, a trend which has sparked debate in the US Congress and further afield about where the money is coming from.
The disparate parcels of land in Menie Estate which formed his inaugural Scottish golf course were purchased for £9.5m in cash, and Trump bought the South Ayrshire jewel of Turnberry in a £35.7m cash deal.
The use of money instead of mortgages is also true of his worldwide business affairs over the same period. A recent Washington Post investigation detailed how, in the nine years before Trump ran for the presidency, the Trump Organisation spent upwards of £400m in cash to acquire various properties.
For the bellicose developer who once described himself as the “king of debt,” the Hamilton Hall deal bucked a trend, almost signalling a return to this formative years in New York.
The question of why that was the case may be answered in part by a legal dispute at the time between Trump and Deutsche Bank, his lender of choice.
On 7 November 2008, Trump had been due to pay the German firm £30m he had personally guaranteed on a £481m construction loan given to him for his Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago.
With the recession biting, Trump made a bold move. He filed a lawsuit and, citing a “force majeure” clause, demanded the bank pay him £2.26bn for undermining the project and damaging his reputation.
Deutsche Bank, in turn, sued Trump, and the two parties were locked in dispute before eventually reaching an out of court settlement in 2010, with the loan extended for five years.
Did that episode impact on the Trump Organisation’s ability to raise finance? Not according to Trump and Mr Sorial, both of whom claimed at the time that the firm had no problems with finding money.
On 3 November, the day the Scottish Government granted outline planning permission for his Aberdeenshire course, and less than three weeks after he asked the Bank of Scotland for the mortgage and construction loan to bankroll his purchase of Hamilton Hall, Trump painted a rosy picture of his company’s finances in an interview with The Scotsman.
Even as the world economy endured a torrid time, he insisted the Trump Organisation was immune to the woes.
“The world has changed financially and the banks are all in such trouble, but the good news is that we are doing very well as a company and we are in a very, very strong cash position,” he said.
Some 13 days later, Sorial also gave an interview to The Scotsman. In it, he stressed that Trump had £1bn in cash “sitting in the bank and ready to go” to finance his Aberdeenshire course, pointing out that Trump had “recently increased his cash position,” meaning there was “no need for a bank loan.”
“The money is there, ready to be wired at any time,” Sorial explained. “I am not discussing where it is, whether it is in a Scottish bank or what, but it is earmarked for this project.
“If we needed to put the development up tomorrow, we have the cash to do that. It is sitting there in the bank and is ready to go.
“I don’t think anyone in Scotland has anything to worry about.”
Rejected by the bank
If that was true, no one told the Bank of Scotland. For his part, Wighton expressed misgivings over Trump’s proposal for Hamilton Hall and emailed the Trump Organisation asking it to clarify its plans for the hotel in greater detail, above and beyond a basic cash flow.
His request heralded another letter from Trump. This time, the tone was altogether less convivial. “I am surprised by your email,” Trump replied on 22 October. “First of all, you are asking us to provide detailed plans ‘for the entire project’ when in fact we haven’t even hired a development team and are offering a deal with minimal due diligence that can be closed within the next 24 hours.”
Trump told Wighton that “I don’t see what our proposed transaction has to do with David Wasserman,” stating that Wighton told him the real estate developer has “already defaulted” on his mortgage and had “no chance of getting this job done.”
Trump added: “I must reiterate that were asking to move forward with a fast and fair deal or we have no interest in pursuing this any further. We have already offered far more than the property is worth.
“Once again, we will quickly restore this beautiful building and create a landmark that will be enjoyed by many future generations who visit the birthplace of golf.”
Five days later, Trump’s mixture of promises and threats had failed to offer the bank’s executives the reassurances they were seeking.
Wighton wrote in private to his colleagues, Glenn Alexander, an associate director at the bank, and Bill Campbell, part of its risk management division, explaining that he felt the deal was “too risky.”
Wighton took the view that the £25m debt owed to the bank meant that, if Trump’s deal went through, it stood to take a £2m hit on Hamilton Hall. He also had concerns over the interest arrangements requested by Trump, which were, he reasoned, tantamount to a “free loan.”
He warned that the bank, should it go with Trump’s offer, would be in danger of being “held to future ransom.”
Indeed, in his deposition, Wighton made clear that Trump would have preferred any deal to have been struck directly between the Trump Organisation and the Bank of Scotland, even though the latter maintained it was the Wassermans who actually owned Hamilton Hall.
He said: “With regard to the default, Donald would regularly say to me, make a statement of fact that the Wassermans had defaulted on the transaction and I would never, I would never agree or I would never comment, sorry, that that was the case.”
He added that Trump wanted “to do the deal cleanly with the bank which we were not in a position to do.”
In another email to colleagues, Wighton wrote: “Slightly worrying is that he (George Sorial) mentioned to David Wasserman that we could foreclose but do a deal with Trump which apparently David is okay with.”
The email later adds: “Told George that this was inappropriate and BoS had not made any suggestion to him that this is something that we would do.”
In his deposition, Wighton returned to the theme, stating: “Trump was looking at us to just foreclose as it suggests – ‘demand your debt and then we’ll do a deal with you separately’.”
According to Willie Rennie, the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and the MSP for North East Fife, such conduct was underhand.
“This bully boy behaviour is typical of how Donald Trump behaved in business across the globe,” he said.
“no cash investment from the purchaser”
The Trump Organisation was not discouraged. At the year’s end, Wighton and a colleague met up with Sorial, around which time the basis of the transaction “changed on several occasions,” according to the banker.
Wighton went on to receive a “preliminary projection” drawn up by Sorial, detailing yet another offer from Trump’s camp.
It proposed a licensing-style arrangement whereby Trump would provide his name, and the bank would stump up the cash. Sorial sold it as “a 50/50 joint venture or partnership between Trump Hotel St Andrews Limited and HBOS, with HBOS providing the financing for all related construction costs in exchange for use of the Trump brand name, Trump management of the hotel refurbishment and the eventual oversight of all hotel operations and marketing.”
Sorial, now the Trump Organisation’s chief compliance counsel, suggested the average room rate at Trump Hotel St Andrews would be around £400 per night, but stressed that estimate was “extremely conservative.”
He added: “Based upon our performance in numerous global markets and the current strength of the Trump brand name in Scotland and worldwide, we are confident that the realised numbers will be significantly higher. There are no other developers who can achieve these values.”
He went on: “We have been negotiating with you directly for several weeks and have presented numerous offers without any hard response or reasonable counter-offer.”
The correspondence went in vain. Wighton even drafted an email to Sorial, offering a breakdown of the bank’s concerns.
“If you look at Bank of Scotland’s position if this deal was acceptable to all parties, you will be in possession of an iconic site, have an interest free loan for a period, have funding in place at exceptional rates for development etc,” he advised.
“The difficulty is that there is no cash investment from the purchaser. The name and expertise are fully acknowledged, however even with our top tier investors, with who we operate very closely with, the 100% fully funded and therefore all risk held with the bank is not the format of our lending criteria.”
Wighton added: “Your involvement in this project and the fact that such a once in a lifetime build would be in your possession I am sure would be a great addition to the Trump portfolio. We do though need to get the deal right from our side.”
It is not known whether Wighton ever sent the draft email to Sorial.
As the Wassermans’ hopes of clinging onto Hamilton Hall faded, the Bank of Scotland lost patience.
A condition report of Hamilton Hall carried out by Savills at the bank’s behest depicted a grim picture of its worsening condition. It identified water damage, pest infestation, and parts of the property that were “open to the elements.” The repair bill simply to render the structure wind and watertight was put at £25,247.
By 2 February 2009, long after the Wassermans had defaulted on the terms of their loan, the bank issued a calling up notice, asking them to repay £25,337,318 within two months. Otherwise, it said, Hamilton Hall may be sold.
Around that time, other parties intrigued by the property’s profile and potential came to the table. The Wassermans held talks with Vikare St Andrews – an investment vehicle formed by Scots Steven Carmichael, a property agent, and Neil McAllister, a financial advisor.
Vikare claimed that informal talks had identified several prospective buyers for residences, including Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president of Kazakhstan, who has been accused of serial human rights abuses during his long authoritarian rule.
The deal never came off, but the Wassermans had other irons in the fire.
Some 18 months previously, Dermot Desmond, one of Ireland’s richest men and the financial powerhouse behind Celtic FC, wrote to David Wasserman to discuss the potential purchase of a £5m flat.
The letter, sent on 29 August 2007, saw, Desmond express doubts over the arrangement.
He pointed out that if he bought the flat, then later sold it for £7m, the Wassermans would be entitled of around £960,000 of the profit. “It seems inequitable that a purchaser would benefit so little in the uplift in value of the original investment,” Desmond observed.
Come the end of October, the Wassermans sent the billionaire a term sheet, proposing he pay £17.5m for a 50 per cent stake in the project, which would see Hamilton Hall developed into 11 to 13 units.
Two months later, Maria O’Sullivan, Desmond’s legal assistant, returned a revised term sheet. It too stated that Desmond would take a 50 per cent share in Hamilton Hall, but for just £6.75m, with his International Investment and Underwriting (IIU) private equity firm assuming half the debt.
Another term sheet drawn up on 26 August that year proposed that IIU would pay £23.5m for Hamilton Hall, a deal which involved sharing the profits from future sales with the Wassermans. It too never went the distance.
Trump family deny Hamilton Hall link
Instead, during the first half of 2009, the conservation area property was marketed as part of the calling-up and foreclosure process, with interested parties eventually asked to make offers as part of an open auction. Once again, Trump discreetly re-entered the fray, even though his son said otherwise.
On 8 August, Donald Trump Jr, who was in Scotland to check up on the progress of Trump International Golf Links, “categorically” denied his family had entered the bidding war for Hamilton Hall.
“Once the Trump name is linked to a property then suddenly there is a lot of interest in the sale,” he told reporters.
It is unclear if Donald Jr was being coy, or was whether he was simply unaware of his father’s intentions, but six days later, on the closing date for bids, Dundas & Wilson, a Glasgow firm of solicitors, sent an “urgent” offer for Hamilton Hall to the selling agents, Jones Lang LaSalle, on behalf of Trump Hotel St Andrews Limited.
It specified not one purchase price, but two. The first, for £10m, came with strings attached; namely, that Trump’s recently incorporated firm would, in turn, receive a £9m loan from Bank of Scotland, repayable over a decade at an interest rate a percentage point above LIBOR.
The second offer, a straight cash deal, was for just £4m, and insisted that Trump’s people should gain access to Hamilton Hall 14 days after the conclusion of missives.
Neither bid found favour with the Bank of Scotland. A list of the officers received by end of the day, compiled by bank staff and seen by Scotland on Sunday, shows that there were nine bids in all.
The successful bidder, Herb Kohler, a US plumbing magnate who owned the nearby Old Course Hotel, triumphed with a £11m cash offer.
Others who tried – and failed – to buy Hamilton Hall included the Scots tycoon, John Boyle, a former Motherwell FC chairman and Direct Holidays founder turned investor, whose Hamilton Portfolio vehicle offered £10.1m, and the University of St Andrews, which offered £4.1m.
Although Desmond did not lodge an offer, David Wasserman’s deposition claims the Irishman was prepared to beat Kohler’s bid by £2m.
Scottish property sales record smashed
With that, Trump’s efforts to wrest control of one of golf’s most sacred sites were over. Kohler was officially announced as Hamilton Hall’s new owner in December 2009. Two months later, Trump, Donald Jr, and Ivanka applied to have Trump Hotel St Andrews Limited voluntarily struck off. Companies House records show it was formally dissolved on 18 June 2010.
After an extensive refurbishment, the building, renamed Hamilton Grand, was officially reopened in May 2013, since which time Kohler has enjoyed widespread praise for his renovation of the St Andrews icon.
Under his stewardship, the building has been turned into 26 luxury flats, with prices ranging from £1.05m for a two-bedroom apartment to £4.1m for a four-bedroom unit. Within a month of opening, nearly half the properties had been bought or reserved.
Last December, it emerged that demand at the development has become so intense that it set a new Scottish property sales record of £2,490 per square foot, with the well-heeled owners hailing from as far afield as the US, Japan, Sweden, Hong Kong, and Switzerland.
On a fine summer afternoon last week, tourists from US on a pilgrimage to the Old Course were surprised to learn that Trump had tried to buy a prime slice of St Andrews real estate. Many, irrespective of their politics, thought the Trump St Andrews hotel would have been a hit.
“I wouldn’t have anything against that,” reflected Donal O’Shea from North Carolina. “I’m not a fan of his – I think a lot of people are not fans of his – but I’ve played his courses, and I would kind of hope he’d stick to golf courses and hotels.”
Others, however, believe the timeless charm of St Andrews would have been compromised by their president.
“Well, first of all I guess he should have gone to his Russian pals and got a loan, I’m surprised he didn’t get that,” said Melinda McRae from California.
“I certainly would have taken a long route around [it] if that was the Trump hotel. It would have left a really terrible taste in my mouth.”
Both Willie Rennie and Stephen Gethins, the SNP MP for North East Fife, believe their constituents got off lucky.
“I am glad that he didn’t get away with it at this iconic location at the home of golf,” said Rennie. “St Andrews may be a very different place today if he had strong armed and bounced the bank and the owners of Hamilton Hall.
“Everyone in St Andrews works hard to protect what is great and special about the town. Donald Trump could have wrecked that.”
Gethins, his party’s foreign affairs spokesman, said: “It is worrying but not surprising that Mr Trump wanted to buy property here and Hamilton Hall, as it was called then, is a prestigious building in a prime location. I’m sure many will feel St Andrews has had a lucky escape from someone who simply thinks he can buy influence.”
He added: “St Andrews’ golf courses are publicly owned and public involvement in golf is very important. Everyone is welcome, including the wealthy and not so wealthy but first and foremost, St Andrews is somewhere open to everyone and it’s important it does not become exclusive.”
Is the deal dead?
Amanda Miller, senior vice-president of marketing and corporate communications at the Trump Organisation, did not respond to a series of questions put to her by Scotland on Sunday.
But even years after all those fraught negotiations came to nothing, David Wasserman said the man who would ultimately rise to the most powerful office in the world never quite ceded hope of owning the most famous property in the world of golf.
“They have never to this day said that they didn’t want to enter into an agreement with us or with the Bank of Scotland,” he said of the Trump Organisation in his 2011 deposition. “They continue to this day to wish that they could have been part of this transaction, or even today would like to be part of the transaction, even though we no longer own the property. Their interest has never waned.”
Trump’s already extraordinary career has moved on since then, and with the prestigious Turnberry resort under his ownership, it remains to be seen whether he will ever consider making another offer for Hamilton Hall, although the fact The Open is set to return to St Andrews in 2021 may be a factor.
So too, might the note in the latest annual report of Kohler’s company, which points out that Brexit poses a “risk” to its ongoing ability to sell apartments.
In a September 2015 interview with Golf Magazine, Trump named the Old Course as among his favourite five courses anywhere in the world. There was one caveat in that the courses he chose had to be owned by someone else. Even so, Trump was uncharacteristically generous in praising a competitor, describing the famous links as “very special.”
Whatever the future holds, the 45th president of the United States is not the first golf enthusiast to be defeated by the blasted heaths and blessed greens of the Old Lady. Nor will he be the last.
As the great golf writer, Pat Ward-Thomas, once observed of the cradle of golf: “She can be as tantalising as a beautiful woman, whose smile at once is a temptation and a snare, concealing heartbreak and frustration for some, joy and fulfilment for others, but possession only for the very fortunate few.”