Donald Trump’s arrival at the Ricoh Women’s British Open this summer captured the nature of his increasingly awkward relationship with golf’s ruling bodies.
Invested in the game more than ever before, with his presidential bid taking his profile to new dimensions, Trump towered over golf in 2015 in ways that put the sport’s governing bodies in uncomfortable positions.
Trump’s shadow practically engulfed the Turnberry Ailsa course after the start of the first round of the Women’s British Open in late July.
Trump owns the Turnberry resort and course, and so he took time to fly to Scotland to watch the major championship in the midst of his presidential campaign. Trump was the biggest star on the property and so much bigger than the event itself. The proof was in the fact that there were more photographers awaiting his arrival outside the front gate of the Turnberry course than there were inside covering the action. Even the TV cameraman perched above the 18th green whirled his camera in the opposite direction of play to catch Trump’s arrival by helicopter.
This was after Trump’s pilot circled the course before landing with the first round in progress.
“Everyone’s asking me to be here,” Trump said. “The tour has asked me. The world has asked me to be here.”
In a paparazzi-style reception, Trump’s arrival was as chaotic as it was surreal for a major championship golf setting.
Why are you here? Won’t your presence detract from the golf tournament? Are you a racist?
Those were some of the questions British media shouted to Trump as he stepped out of his helicopter. The question about racism was a reaction to controversial remarks Trump made about Mexico and border control. Trump’s stance on illegal immigration and his feud with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly after she asked him about sexist comments put golf’s governing bodies under pressure to respond.
While Trump’s passion and commitment to the sport are valued, and while his growing collection of prestigious golf properties are being targeted for more major events, Trump’s strong personality and opinions put the LPGA, PGA of America, PGA Tour and USGA in difficult positions with sponsors and other supporters within the game.
After the controversy over his comments about Mexican immigration, Trump told Golf Channel that the golf industry supports him because “they all know I’m right.” Golf’s governing bodies quickly responded to that on July 1.
“We feel compelled to clarify that those remarks do not reflect the views of our organizations. While the LPGA, PGA of America, PGA Tour and USGA do not usually comment on presidential politics, Mr. Trump's comments are inconsistent with our strong commitment to an inclusive and welcoming environment in the game of golf,” those golf governing bodies said in a joint statement.
Trump owns 17 golf courses around the world, including Trump Turnberry and Trump Doral, home to the PGA Tour’s regular stop, the WGC-Cadillac Championship. Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. is scheduled to host the U.S. Women’s Open in 2017 and the PGA Championship in 2022. His Trump National Golf Club in Washington, D.C., is set to host the Senior PGA Championship in 2017.
The PGA announced in July that the organization and Trump had mutually agreed to move the PGA’s Grand Slam of Golf away from Trump National in Los Angeles. The event was set for October but was eventually canceled.
After LPGA commissioner Mike Whan announced his organization would prefer to play the Women’s British Open somewhere other than Turnberry if time permitted a move, Trump fired back, offering to let the event’s organizers out of their contract. Trump called Whan’s statement “nasty” and “an extraordinary disservice to women’s golf.” Trump later said Whan apologized and the two worked out any differences.
USGA executive director Mike Davis said in July he wasn’t sure what his organization was going to do about plans to play the U.S. Women’s Open at Trump National in New Jersey in ‘17.
“We are evaluating things,” Davis said. “It’s a complicated matter, and we want to get it right. The key is, we want golf to be very welcoming and open. Anything that hurts that is not good.”
Trump’s strong will influences golf at the highest level, even beyond his politics. After Trump’s major renovation of Doral’s Blue Monster, players grumbled about architect Gil Hanse’s redesign overly favoring the game’s biggest hitters during the WGC-Cadillac Championship in March. Trump agreed to modify the course with changes to be made mostly to bunkering before next year’s event.
Trump likes having his shadow fall over golf, and he likes having partnerships with the USGA, the PGA of America and the PGA Tour. He loves the game, but even he seems curious if, ultimately, the game is going to love him back.
“I have been very loyal to golf,” Trump told the New York Times in July. “We will see whether or not golf is loyal to me.”