I asked Trump what he thought the letter would accomplish and what he might get out of a lawsuit, if one ever happened. Eleven years ago, in a settlement with the city of West Palm Beach concerning air traffic over Mar-a-Lago, he was awarded the land where the West Palm Beach course sits today. He's all lawyered up, all the time.
In answering, Trump was unusually circumspect. "At the end of the day," Trump said, "I think you'll find I will get not just one course in the Golf Digest top 100, but several. On merit."
Trump knew that I love golf in Scotland. . . .
He pays attention and one day he showed me pictures of the 1,500 acres of linksland, in Aberdeen, that he had purchased. He described his plan to build an enormous seaside golf resort there, with at least one course and possibly three. The pictures looked luscious, and I knew my Trump tour would be incomplete if I didn't see the land. Last September, I got myself to Aberdeen, and the manager of the Scottish project called Trump International Golf Links picked me up at the airport, and we made the off-road drive to Trump's land. It was astonishing.
I'd never seen duneland like it, so windswept and untamed and vast. In places there were rows and rows of towering dunes, lined up like knotty limbs on an ancient Sequoia. The dunes there are bigger than the biggest dunes at Ballybunion in Ireland or at Bandon Dunes in Oregon or at Cruden Bay inScotland. To create holes in your head, all you had to do was look around. You'd hike up a hill with sand in your shoes and the wind in your face, and you felt as if you were home, or in golf's home, anyway.
Trump's late mother, Mary Anne MacLeod, was born in Scotland, and the Scotland project is dear to him. Ashley Cooper, a guilded Wall Streeter before he joined Trump, wanted a piece of the action on the Scottish project, but Trump refused to give it to him, and recently he and Cooper went their separate ways. Trump doesn't like to share, not outside the family. One of the reasons he's so deep into golf is that he thinks the courses and clubs will be good businesses for his children. (Trump has five; the youngest, Barron William, is one.) He also thinks they will be good places to conduct business, good places to meet useful people and good places for an enjoyable, competitive game.
Whatever he builds in Scotland, I don't imagine it's ever getting a British Open. The men at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, curators of the Open Championship, aren't interested in new and don't care about the best this and the biggest that. They're still sane, thank God. The very idea of Trump won't fly with them, at least not for the world's oldest golf championship. Taking a page from their book might be a good thing for him, and maybe he will.
But could Trump build a course there that would get a European Ryder Cup? We're getting way ahead of ourselves the course is not even permitted yet but sure he could. For starters, if you're really hell-bent on hosting a Ryder Cup, you can buy your way in. Last year the Ryder Cup was held outside Dublin at the K Club, owned by a rich man named Michael Smurfit, who reached deep into his pocket to get the event.
Trump is a talented and ambitious and restless man, and he can probably fulfill his golfing dreams. All he has to do is build a course that matches his exalted description of it. Really, with five courses, he's only starting. After I had visited all the Trump courses and got off the final plane, Trump called me. For a while there, he was calling me often. A joke in our house became, "It's Donald again." But I like him. I can see why others don't, but I do.
"Well," Trump said, "Michael, you have now completed your Trump golf tour. Tell me: Of all the Trump courses, which one would you say you like most?"
I blurted out my answer.
"Scotland," I said.
Trump did not miss a beat.
"That is a very interesting answer," he said. At times his speech is amazingly deliberate. "You did not say a course, but a property. What you are saying is that my land in Scotland has the potential to be the site of the greatest seaside golf course in the world."
Of course, I had said nothing like that. The funny thing is, though, he was reading my mind, the way a career .400 salesman does. What he said, it's exactly what I think.