You can call Donald Trump what you like, and people generally do when you’re as high profile, opinionated and flamboyant as he is, but when it comes to owning and operating golf courses there are few who could argue that he is not right on the money.
He is, naturally enough for one of American business’s greatest pitch-men, happy to tell you that himself. And so it comes to pass that the Irish Examiner receives a call from his office at Trump Tower, 725 Fifth Avenue, New York.
The expectation was that the call would come from one of the sons, Eric or Donald Junior, his trusted Trump Organisation executive vice-presidents who were in Ireland this week to seal the deal to buy the Lodge at Doonbeg, the five-star resort and Greg Norman-designed championship links on Co. Clare’s storm-battered Atlantic coast.
Instead, it is the man himself, the proud new owner of what will be named henceforth Trump International Golf Links, Ireland, after the reported €15 million purchase from the resort’s official receivers.
“How are you doing? Donald Trump,” says a voice familiar to millions who have heard the presenter of NBC’s The Apprentice deliver the mortal blow “You’re fired” to unfortunate business hopefuls on his reality show, gearing up for a 14th season in the United States.
“I’ve just been speaking to my boys and we’ve just closed, the money just got wired and it’s all official, so that’s very exciting.”
We are up and running and about to be given the lowdown on why “The Donald” has just bought a prime piece of Irish golfing real estate and how he intends to bring jobs in their hundreds and tourists in their thousands to this classic modern links, described by Norman this week as his “diamond in the dunes”.
Given Trump’s wide variety of business dealings, political interests and capacity to cause controversy, it is surprising he has the time to breathe, let alone conduct his own public relations.
Yet the man with his name above the 68-floor store in midtown Manhattan, on a string of hotels, including casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City as well as 16 golf resorts and clubs around the world is very much his organisation’s front and centre man. A glimpse of Trump’s Twitter feed gives an insight into the eclectic flurry of activity that consumes his waking hours.
There are 2.53 million followers of @realDonaldTrump who are treated to a regular diet of politics, golf, “success tips” and the odd spat with rivals, antagonists and naysayers.
Lately, it is golf that has been getting a good run, what with his newly completed and critically acclaimed renovation of golf’s famous Blue Monster course on Miami’s Doral resort he bought in 2012, which will next week stage the WGC-Cadillac Championship. Then came the purchase of Doonbeg.
“Donald doesn’t do things that aren’t fantastic,” PGA Tour veteran and 2008 US Open runner-up Rocco Mediate said of Trump earlier this month having played the new Blue Monster, and the owner is not about to disagree.
“I’m a golfer and we have great courses, world championship courses, Doral being one of them,” Trump said. “Next week we have Tiger [Woods], Rory [McIlroy], Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson, they’re all going to be in Doral next week.
“It’s called Trump National Doral, it’s been a tremendous success. We just opened the Blue Monster, built a magnificent course, it’s brand new and gotten rave reviews. Gil Hanse has done it, he’s one of the really hot architects in the world and they’ve done a great job.
“So it’s going to be a really exciting tournament next week on 800 acres in the middle of Miami, which will be great and [Doonbeg] is something that will be truly, truly spectacular. It’s going to be great when it’s finished.”
Trump’s net worth, according to Forbes Magazine, was US$3.5 billion (€2.55bn) when they last counted in September 2013 and financial success like that does not happen without a series of sound business principles.
The 67-year-old literally wrote the book on making deals, titled Trump: The Art of the Deal, in which he wrote: “I don’t do it for the money. I’ve got enough, much more than I’ll ever need. I do it to do it. Deals are my art form.”
He certainly believes he has struck a good one in taking ownership at Doonbeg, which he says complies with his mantra for a successful golf course investment.
“I have 15 clubs, as well as Doral, which is the big one, with five courses on 800 acres. I’ve always said, frankly, you have to maintain them to a very high level but also location is very important and Doonbeg is a great location.
“I’ve always felt, you know, sometimes I see these courses going up in the middle of nowhere and I say ‘what are these people doing?’ Then they don’t work and a lot of people are surprised. So I feel location is the most underrated thing in golf.
“Every one of mine, I have three courses in New York City where we have a 10 million population and it’s phenomenal, they’re all successful. And then you’ll see somebody building a course somewhere, I won’t use neighbourhoods or areas, but you’d ask ‘how would anybody be worth a seven-hour drive?’ So the reason that all of mine are very successful is because of location and I think Doonbeg is another example. When we get that going I think it’s going to be a really fabulous location.”
Trump spoke of his surprise at getting the opportunity to buy a course he said had been on his radar for quite a while.
“I’ve been hearing about Doonbeg for a long time and that the facility is second to none, the hotel and all of the assets and to couple that with the incredible location and some of the best holes in golf was something that looked very good to us.
“You know, we maintain things very well. We maintain things to the highest level and that’s why we have a US Women’s Open coming [to Trump National GC, Bedminster, New Jersey, in 2017], why we hope to have a US Open at different courses I own. We have a lot of tournaments at my places because of the kind of courses we have and the kind of conditioning we have.
“So I’ve known about Doonbeg, I know the location very well and I never thought I’d be able to get it. It’s amazing that this happened and happened so quickly and we’re going to do a great job and employ a lot of people. We’ll have 400 people, directly and indirectly working at Doonbeg and that’s a lot of people for the economy up there.
“I think we’re going to have a huge effect [on the economy]. The world is talking about Doonbeg and before nobody talked about it. And they’re all talking about Doonbeg now, the international press and that’s both an asset and a curse for me, you understand that?
“So the whole world is talking about Doonbeg now. We’re going to be changing the name to Trump International Golf Links, Ireland, which is a name that’s been very successful for us, and when we get it fully going it’s going to be really spectacular.
“We’re going to create a lot of tourism and a lot of jobs.”
First things first, though, Doonbeg needs a bit of a tidy up, one of many courses in Ireland to have suffered at the hands of Mother Nature over the last couple of weeks as hurricane-force winds whipped in off the west coast with Norman’s links among those bearing the brunt.
“Yes, we’re fixing up the damage that was caused by the storms. There has been a lot of damage along the coast, for all the big places; Ballybunion, Lahinch, everybody. Amazing damage done, right? The storm must have been amazing,” Trump said. “So we are in the process of fixing it, and we will have it up and going, but we definitely had some damage, there’s no question about it.”
These are early days, of course, for the Trump Organisation at Doonbeg and the main man has yet to set foot in the place, although that will not be the case for very long as Trump promised he intends to be very much a hands-on owner.
“I’ll be there probably in four weeks. I think I’m playing in your three-course tournament in May [the Great Irish Links Challenge] at Doonbeg, Lahinch and Ballybunion.
“I’m going to try and get over and play in it, and that will be great. I’ve played [in Ireland] but frankly not as much as I’d like. I love Irish golf and I love the people of Ireland. There’s a warmth to Ireland that is really fantastic. You take it for granted probably but there’s a great warmth to the people and I’m going to be at Doonbeg a lot, actually.
“We’re going to watch this place and cherish it and we’re going to really make it into the kind of place it should be. We’re going to protect it, absolutely and we’re going to bring it to the next level, a level that will be at the highest levels of golf and luxury that there is in the world.”
That costs, but Trump is prepared to flash the cash and, again, if Doral’s Blue Monster rebuild is a guide, costing a reported $13m (€9.5m), then the money is about to follow and give Doonbeg the sort of investment levels he thinks the resort needs.
“I am prepared. I’ll be spending a lot of money on the hotel, on the area around it and on fixing up the golf course and when it’s complete there’ll be nothing like it.
“It is presentation. We’re going to be spending to bring it to the highest level of tourism and luxury and the kind of place that people will want to be at.”
As for the course, built by his friend Greg Norman and officially opened in 2002, Trump said he would not rush to make changes.
“The first call I got when it was announced I’d bought Doonbeg was from Greg. Greg is a friend of mine and a great guy and he told me he’s been there 32 times, more than any other place. He would go there constantly and he worked very hard on it and he’s very proud of it. Right now we’re just looking to getting it going in terms of fixing the storm damage quickly and effectively. Into the future we’ll be looking at different things maybe but right now we just want to make it really terrific because it is a terrific course already.
“The hotel, we’re going to be bringing it to an even higher level and we think it will easily be the best hotel in all of Ireland in a very short period of time.
“The boys [his sons] think the potential is fantastic. We’re going to have to spend money but the potential is fantastic with the proper money spent. We have fantastic employees and really great people working there who love the customers and love their jobs and we’re very proud to have saved Doonbeg.”
With Trump about to proudly showcase his new-look Doral next week to the world, having augmented the Miami course as a spectator-friendly venue with raised viewing mounds among the renovations, might there be a similar opportunity for Doonbeg in terms of staging Tour events? “Well it could happen because we have the land and a tremendous amount of land,” he said. “We have 500 acres so with all of that land we could certainly do that. It’s a little soon. I’m going to be there in four weeks and I’m going to be checking that out, I’m pretty good at doing that. I do that and as I said we have a lot of major tournaments and we’ve just signed to have the US Women’s Open at my course in Bedminster, New Jersey, built by Tom Fazio. So I’ll be able to tell that as soon as I look at the course itself.”
In the meantime, Trump said he will be telling the world’s best players at Doral next week all about his new purchase in Ireland.
“I will be, especially Rory. We’re going to have the top 70 in the world at Doral next week, every single one of them accepted and that’s pretty unusual for a tournament, they actually say it’s the strongest field in all of golf.
“And I was with Darren Clarke the other day, who’s a fantastic guy. I think Darren’s great and Rory is great and there are so many guys from that part of the world who are right there.
“Doonbeg may be just the most important [Trump course] of all.
“Again, lots of jobs and lots of good things for the economy and lots of tourism.
“You’re going to be very proud of us, I’ll tell you that. We’re going to do a really great job for Ireland, for Clare and for the area. ”