Golf World sat down with Donald Trump for an exclusive interview ahead of the opening of Trump International in Scotland.
Can you place your level of excitement as the course is poised to open in comparison with the excitement you get from your other interests?
I have had great success with my businesses and golf is only a very small part of my business, but that’s why I can afford what we have in Scotland without a mortgage – I don’t have any finance on it and no debt on it. For example, the road in to the property is costing £2m – someone else would spend £2m building the actual course. Or two courses. The road is a mile-and-a-half long and it will be incredible when you see it – you get amazing sea views as you come down it. I am able to do that because of my success in my other businesses but I would say that I am excited with this course and when people come and say this could be the greatest course in the world, I’d say that is an even greater form of excitement.
As a keen golfer yourself, it must be nice to be able to combine business with one of your pleasures?
Yes it is. I enjoy golf and have been a good golfer and have won club championships and so on. It helps build a course like this; I’ve given Martin Hawtree plenty of suggestions! I’ve been really happy with Martin, I can’t think of anybody who could have done the job he’s done – he’s done it in a very sensitive way, we didn’t rip up the dunes and move them over, we worked round them. They are too big to do that with anyway – it’d take two years to do one dune!
Has the course surpassed even your expectations?
Yes it has. You can only do a course on great land and when I was able to get this land I was delighted. Bandon Dunes is a great place, but their largest dune is smaller than our smallest dune. And it’s like a toy in comparison. That’s why I wanted to do it right and so I went to the R&A and asked who they would recommend and Peter Dawson suggested Martin. It was a great choice. I’m very pleased with it.
Have the obstacles you have faced – and continue to face with the wind farm proposals – during the process made the imminent unveiling of such a stunning course even more satisfying?
Yes it has. But my whole life is obstacles, everybody’s life is obstacles. And it has made it more satisfying. When I bought it people said it would be impossible to build a course there because of all the environmental issues which I understand, but we managed to get the permits. Then they said you’ll never build it because it’s a huge construction job – but we built it. We are opening six months ahead of schedule, which is always good. And we’re pleased with how it’s been done.
Your other courses are American parklands. Now you have a links, which type of golf do you prefer?
Both. I love the Augusta feel also, but I love the links. It depends on your mood. Up by MacLeod House, which is the old castle, I have a lovely woodland area where you could build an amazing course. But people tell me no matter how good it was people wouldn’t play it – they’d all want to come down to the links.
Has your experience to date of building a course in Aberdeen increased your enthusiasm for getting involved in another golf project – new or existing – in Britain and Ireland?
I’m not looking to have 20 courses. If I did other courses I would do them right here on this site in Aberdeen – I have 2,000 acres on this site, but have used just 500 for the course. I could have used less, but I didn’t want it crowded. Although if I did, I know I couldn’t top this one, because I have used all the best land, the biggest dunes and so on. The second one could never top this. But I have land which by any other standard would be magnificent. Looking further afield, if I couldn’t do something that’s better than what we have here, I wouldn’t do it.
What would give you greater pleasure: luring the Ryder Cup or an Open to Trump International or it being an enormous commercial success?
I think they might go hand in hand. I’ve taken the best piece of canvas and created the greatest painting of them all. The rest is down to the officials. Certainly The Open does not move quickly, whereas the Ryder Cup can move quickly and Sandy Jones of the PGA was very impressed when he saw it. All I can do is create the canvas, but it would be an honour to have them there for sure. It’s already commercially successful – we’ve sold thousands and thousands of tee times already.
Few people could fund such an ambitious project; has it been worth the cost and has your desire for something really special blown all predicted budgets?
Dollar wise, I can’t imagine it’s ever going to be a great investment because it is very expensive to create in the first place. But from my own standpoint I consider it a piece of art. How can you ever justify a piece of art? You justify it by the magnificence of it. So I am very satisfied with it. It’s lucky I don’t have a £75m or £100m mortgage on it because if you did it would be very hard to justify it. Most of my courses are rated top level – the No.1 in California, the No.1 in Florida and so on – but this one is beyond special. We’ve had golf people come and have a look at it and they’ve been sceptical, but they’ve left saying it’s the greatest course they’ve seen. It’s been received so well, which is really nice.
Is the fact you have no debt on this project the reason you can see the green fees at, for a course of this quality, a relatively reasonable rate?
Exactly right. I didn’t want to screw people for a huge amount of money, I want to keep it in the realm of reality. I didn’t want to make it so expensive that they couldn’t play it or didn’t want to play it.
Trump International by the numbers
2.9 The length of the course alongside the shoreline in miles.
10.6 million The number of individual hand-sown marram grass sprigs which have been planted to stabilise the dunes.
100 The number of years course design firm Hawtree Ltd have been in existence.
3,000 The area in m2 of the practice putting green (average green is 500).
107 The number of tees serving the 18 holes.
64,000 The length in metres of irrigation pipe.
10 The number of acres of greens turf which has been laid (an average course has 2.5).
7. 5 The number of acres of tees turf has been laid (an average course has 2.5).
20 The amount in acres of native heather down the side of the 5th fairway.
10 The number of acres of grass pathways laid between all greens and tees.