Like the Buddha’s birthplace in Nepal, or the Hajj in Mecca for Muslims, any golfer’s pilgrimage to Scotland has to include certain shrines: St Andrews, Turnberry, Carnoustie, Royal Troon, and the Home of the Honourable Company at Muirfield. The game's history and legends are to be found in these places, and the key to their historical importance is their association with the greatest prize in golf – The Open Championship.
While Donald Trump and property ethics go together like Glengarry Glen Ross and The Nun’s Story, the billionaire salesman knew enough to touch base with the Royal and Ancient (R&A) in St Andrews seven years ago when he flew to Scotland to discuss plans for his $1 billion dollar Aberdeenshire resort. He arrogantly told the secretary of golf’s ruling body, Peter Dawson, that he was going to build “the greatest golf course in the world” on the 2,000 acre Menie Estate.
Legend has it that Dawson, not a man easily conned, described the meeting as “interesting”. He asked Trump what architect he had in mind? When Trump said he’d brought his own American designer, who had no experience of links land in Scotland, the R&A quietly suggested their choice, the Open specialist, Martin Hawtree. Trump duly obeyed.
If you intend to spend the GDP of a small country on two golf courses, a luxury hotel, and million-dollar villas, you need regular plane loads of American and international golf pilgrims on their once-in-a-lifetime visit to the home of golf, to come to you and open their wallets. And to do that Trump needed his course on the Open rota.
Alex Salmond, himself a golfer, should have known that. Instead Scotland’s First Minister, seems to have lacked Dawson’s instinct to spot a fantasy sales pitch, and went out of his way to assist the by-passing, twisting and mangling of every planning regulation and environmental interest in the tartan rule book in order to give Trump what he wanted.
Seven years down the line, Dawson and the R&A’s credibility, as expected, remains intact. Trump on the other has failed to muscle his way on to The Open list, and is said to have been furious when Dawson recently played down the chances of the PR-styled “Great Dunes of Scotland” ever hosting the great championship.
“Let’s see how it matures. I would say it has a long way to go,” said Dawson last year. In Florida or Chicago, say that to property developer and all hell will break lose.
So no Open, no real need for the £280m hotel, or the multi-million pound villas over-looking fairways not walked by Tiger Woods and not seen on US or Far East TV screens. Scotland’s First Minister, promised 6,000 jobs by ‘The Donald’ has been hung out to dry. In the words of Glengarry Glenn Ross, Trump arrived with bum leads and Salmond bought in, and has been left with only a wind-farm excuse for nothing happening.
So where is “The world’s greatest golf course”? That depends on where you ask. In Georgia, USA, it’s Augusta National. In Northern Ireland it’s Royal County Down; in New Jersey it’s certainly Pine Valley. And in Scotland ? Ask inside R&A in Scotland – and it sure as hell isn’t owned by Donald Trump.