Why Turnberry can't stage The Open as long as it is part of Trump brand

Just over five years ago, I predicted in this column that it would be “at least a decade” before we could expect to see an Open Championship back at Turnberry. It turns out that I was being optimistic.
Donald Trump holds a press conference on the ninth tee at the official opening of the Trump Turnberry resort in June, 2016. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images.Donald Trump holds a press conference on the ninth tee at the official opening of the Trump Turnberry resort in June, 2016. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images.
Donald Trump holds a press conference on the ninth tee at the official opening of the Trump Turnberry resort in June, 2016. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images.

In fact, I’m now fearing that the Ayrshire venue, scene of one of the game’s greatest battles between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson in 1977, might never stage the Claret Jug event again, sad and disappointing as though that prospect sounds.

Back in 2015, when he was still on the presidential campaign in the US, golf-mad Donald Trump had already made it very difficult indeed for the R&A, or any other golfing organisation for that matter, to be aligning themselves with venues carrying his name.

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The American billionaire had come out with some unsavoury comments about Mexicans before he seemed to keep tossing fuel on the fire and, sorry, but you just knew his golf properties were going to suffer.

Fast forward and the Trump brand is now being viewed as potentially damaging by some of the game’s key stakeholders.

On the back of last Wednesday’s shocking events in Washington, where a mob attacked the US Capitol after being incited by the outgoing president, the PGA of America has pulled the plug on hosting the 2022 PGA Championship at Trump National at Bedminster in New Jersey.

"It has become clear that conducting the PGA Championship at Trump Bedminster would be detrimental to the PGA of America brand,” said president Jim Richerson in announcing that decision. “It would put at risk the PGA's ability to deliver our many programmes and sustain the longevity of our mission.”

The Trump Organisation said it is “incredibly disappointed”, having had a “beautiful partnership” with the PGA of America. That may have been the case back in 2012, when the initial decision was made, but things have changed.

There is no way that the PGA of America, the organisation that runs the Ryder Cup on the other side of the Atlantic, could have contemplated pushing ahead with plans to stage a major at one of Trump’s courses.

For the exact same reason, there now seems no prospect at all of the R&A taking The Open back to Turnberry, where the event was last held in 2009, as long as the venue has the Trump name associated with it.

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Even back in 2015, it was claimed that the R&A had already “privately decided that his reputation is now so toxic that the newly-renamed Trump Turnberry can no longer host the game’s most prestigious tournament”.

The St Andrews-based organisation has now admitted publicly that it has no plans to stage The Open or any of its other championships there in the “foreseeable future”.

What’s more, it will not return until convinced that the “focus will be on the championship, the players and the course itself and we do not believe that is achievable in the current circumstances”. That effectively means it will not allow The Open, or Women’s Open for that matter, to be turned into a sideshow by Trump.

Troon, the other Ayrshire venue used by the R&A for the event, was used as recently as 2016 and has now been lined up for 2024, which would have been 2023 but for the Covid-19 pandemic.

Would that have been the case if Turnberry wasn’t owned by Trump? Probably not, though, at the same time, it could well be the case that The Open, certainly as a commercial beast, has outgrown Turnberry.

It was already a venue that was low on numbers before the R&A upped the ante in terms of how much revenue it now looks to squeeze out of the event and, purely from a location point of view, there is nothing to suggest that fans that have stayed away in the past at Turnberry would suddenly start flocking there.

The sad thing, of course, about it effectively being out in the wilderness as far as tournament golf is concerned - and the same, I’m afraid, goes for Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeen - is that the game’s top players are currently being denied the opportunity to compete on a fabulous golf course.

Changes made to the Ailsa Course by Martin Ebert since Stewart Cink denied Tom Watson a fairytale sixth Open success at the age of 59 in 2009 are simply sensational and, quite frankly, deserve to be showcased to the world in their full glory at some point.

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Alas, Trump deciding to run for president after he bought Turnberry and, consequently, polished up what had become a fading gem and, even more so now, his part in a shameful episode in US history has left the much-loved venue with a worrying future until that name is no longer linked in any way to it.

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