BEDMINSTER, N.J. – There’s nothing more fascinating in journalism than seeing public people up close. Who knows what’s real and what’s for show these days, especially with someone as media savvy as Donald Trump, who seems to have made a second career out of being a spectacle – this after having established himself as a real estate tycoon. Somewhere along the line he also managed to make himself into a golf entrepreneur. And that’s what brought him (and me) to his Trump National Golf Club here.
The ostensible purpose was a news conference with the U.S. Golf Association to announce that his course has been awarded the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open. Trump, attired in his trademark charcoal suit, white shirt and red tie and with his wedge of sandy red hair perfectly coiffed, clearly was humbled and honored to have made it officially to the national stage.
For anyone who has watched him in one of his feuds with Rosie O’Donnell, demanding to see President Barack Obama’s birth certificate or as mogul in his “Celebrity Apprentice” TV gig, it was almost as if he had been transformed into staid, respectful form. Maybe that’s what the official golf industry seems to demand. If so, he certainly has learned his new role well. Having acquitted himself graciously as host of the 2009 U.S. Girls’ Junior and the U.S. Junior Amateur simultaneously at Trump National, he now has been anointed by the USGA as worthy of a professional major.
Mike Davis, executive director of the USGA, duly noted Trump’s willingness to give back to golf in small ways that don’t garner headlines – through hosting local events, charities and PGA section events. And it helped the USGA’s selection process that the 36-hole facility was ideal for a national major, given its vast infrastructure, location in the metropolitan New York market and ease of access to an adjoining highway and 30-minute drive from the Hudson River tunnels leading to Manhattan. With the USGA Golf House only a 10-minute drive away, it’s Davis’ hope that holding the event here will give Golf House a weeklong chance to showcase its museum and the Research and Test Center. Logistics, however, only are an issue when the golf is of championship standard.
Trump National, with two expansive 18-hole courses, is unusually well suited, thanks to a parkland-style Old Course (2004) and a more links-oriented New Course (2009). For the 2017 Women’s Open, Davis said, “We’ll play the Old Course, but we could play the New Course.”
Trump, when pressed by a questioner, conceded that he would love to see a men’s U.S. Open here, as well. “Trust me,” he said. “We’ll be writing a letter for the U.S. Open, but we can’t say that now.”
If he was subdued in his five minutes speaking extemporaneously and in the follow-up question-and-answer session with reporters, Trump was more animated during an earlier drive around the Old Course with me. There are times when he can be something of the nonstop salesman, a gifted talker with a massive self-promotional mien that one might mistake for hucksterism except that it’s genuinely conveyed, and he obviously believes every word he says.
In a world in which golf still is in something of retreat, Trump has made a reputation as an aggressive pursuer of new opportunities. He has 11 golf properties in his fold, including the newly acquired Doral Resort in Miami and the soon-to-open Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeen, Scotland
Enthusiasm and attention are why he got to Trump National 90 minutes before the news conference. That gave him time to inspect work in progress on the club’s new 10,000-square-foot locker room. And it’s why he insisted on accompanying me on a drive through the back nine of the Old Course. His discourse during such a trip is filled with superlatives, about this being the largest single green in the world and the whole course being the best in all of New Jersey and worthy of a top-10 national ranking. He’s an incessant follower of course ratings and thinks that Golfweek, in rating Trump National-Old at No. 72 Modern, we’ve not shown the course (or him) enough respect.
In fact, the golf course is impressive in scope, length, depth of features and shot-making demands from the back tees. And yes, it’s admirable that the views include rolling hills and mature trees but no houses or surrounding development. And it’s also impressive that the place easily could hold 75,000 spectators, and that its dramatic closing comprises a thrilling three-hole loop of water holes.
But get him back on that podium with the USGA and he becomes a more self-contained person who is humbled by the game. It’s a game he obviously loves and respects. “It’s a game,” Trump said, “that keeps a lot of people out of trouble.”
And when you filter through Trump’s hyperbole and promotionalism, he turns out to be someone who appreciates how golf tames the individual.
“I enjoy golf,” he said during the news conference. “I enjoy the business of golf; it’s not my primary business. Maybe that’s a good thing.”