President Donald Trump asked the U.S. ambassador to the U.K. to influence British government officials to "help steer" The Open to his Trump Turnberry resort, according to the New York Times.
Per the report, Ambassador Woody Johnson, who also owns the NFL's New York Jets, "felt pressured" in early 2018 to try to get the oldest major championship to Trump's coastal resort in Scotland. The Times reports that Johnson brought the issue to David Mundell, the secretary of state for Scotland, although a statement from the British government states that Johnson "made no request of Mr. Mundell regarding the British Open or any other sporting event."
Johnson's deputy, Lewis Lukens, believed the request could pose "an unethical use of the presidency for private gain." The emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution prevents federal officials from accepting gifts. "One potential violation," experts on government ethics told the Times, is that "the British or Scottish governments would most likely have to pay for security at the tournament, an event that would profit Mr. Trump."
Decisions on host sites for The Open are made by the R&A, not the British or Scottish government. Turnberry has hosted The Open only once since 1995, that coming in 2009 when Stewart Cink beat Tom Watson in a memorable playoff. Each of the other nine courses in the Open rota hosted the event once between 2011-19.
"We haven't received any approaches from the British government or the Scottish government about this," said R&A spokesperson Mike Woodcock.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of this year's Open, future host sites were confirmed for 2022 (Royal Liverpool) and 2023 (Royal Troon). Now Royal St. George's will host in 2021 and St. Andrews in 2022, while plans beyond that remain unconfirmed. But there have been no specific decisions about returning to Turnberry despite the course's extended absence as host. The course also held The Open in 1977, 1986 and 1994.
"We have 10 courses that we look to stage the Open Championship on, of which Turnberry is one of them," R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said in 2019.
Trump purchased the Ayrshire resort in 2014 and re-branded it as Trump Turnberry shortly thereafter. He was on-hand as a presidential candidate when the course hosted the Women's British Open in 2015.