Donald Trump’s golf ambitions have shattered a major barrier.
At a press conference in the atrium of Trump Tower on New York's Fifth Avenue on Thursday, PGA of America President Ted Bishop announced that the 2022 PGA Championship will touch down at New Jersey’s Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. Bishop also announced that the 2017 Senior PGA Championship will be held at Trump National Golf Club - Washington, D.C. Ever since Trump got into the golf course development game, he has sought respect not only from his dues-paying members and from course-ranking panels, but also from golf’s governing bodies. Now Trump has landed one of the four men’s major championships, the crown jewels of the game.
"Certainly when you have courses, when you get acknowledged to have one of the majors ... having the PGA is a very, very big deal," said Trump, who owns 17 golf properties around the world. "So it's very important to me. It's a great honor for me and it's a tremendous honor for both of those clubs."
Ever since Trump began investing in golf 15 years ago with his Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla., he has craved the recognition for his courses that comes through validation -- full membership lists, high positions on course-ranking lists, and significant championships that enhance prestige and legacy. He has had no trouble fulfilling his first two missions. His private clubs sold out in short order, and two of his first three American courses -- the West Palm Beach track and Trump Bedminster -- earned Top 100 Courses in the U.S. status. Taking care of his third ambition proved to be a much taller order.
Trump International West Palm Beach, a 1999 Jim Fazio design, drew the cash-heavy LPGA Tour finale from 2001 through 2008. Winners at this season-ending, Tour Championship-like event included Hall-of-Famers Annika Sorenstam (three times), Lorena Ochoa and Karrie Webb.
Trump also hosted an LPGA event at his public-access Southern California layout, Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles, in 2005. However, as much as Trump loved the ladies -- and they him -- he dreamed of getting the men to compete at the highest level at one of his courses. To this end, he began courting the United States Golf Association. The baby steps he took with the USGA -- successfully playing host to the 2009 U.S. Junior Amateur and U.S. Junior Girls Championships -- earned him his next plum, the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open. Jordan Spieth won the boys’ Amateur event, played over both the Old and the New courses at Bedminster. The Women’s Open is to be played solely on the Trump Bedminster Old, a 2004 Tom Fazio design that was built on land that once housed the automaker John DeLorean’s estate.
These smaller steps were intended to be test runs to see if the club and course could handle the USGA’s marquee event, the men’s U.S. Open, a time-consuming process that many clubs go through before hosting a men’s Open. However, Trump is 67 years old, and apparently he didn’t feel like waiting around for the USGA to make up its mind. Enter the PGA of America.
"[Trump] is a voice of progress for golf, but he also understands the history of the game and the traditions of the game," said Pete Bevacqua, the PGA's CEO since 2012. "It's a phenomenal property...And then, quite frankly, the added bonus is it's in a major market. To be able to bring a major championship to the major metropolitan New York area, with the infrastructure, the hotels, obviously the excitement that generates in terms of spectators, and when you start to line up those pieces, it becomes an easy decision."
Trump’s first men’s major will probably be at his newly acquired Turnberry Resort on the west coast of Scotland, a sale which he said should be completed in the next 30-45 days. Open Championship venues have been selected through 2016, and while Turnberry isn’t among them, it certainly is expected to resume its place on the schedule, following its wildly successful staging of the 2009 Open -- if heartbreaking for Tom Watson. Still, there’s no guarantee. What Trump does have in his pocket is the 2022 PGA Championship which, he said, he "turned down numerous other opportunities" in the hopes of landing.
Trump isn’t the first course owner to court the USGA, only to be denied the big prize after all of the dancing has been done, and then pair up with the PGA of America. Herb Kohler thought he did everything he needed to do to secure the men’s U.S. Open for his American Club resort in Wisconsin. He staged the memorable 1998 U.S. Women’s Open at his Blackwolf Run, then the U.S. Senior Open at his Whistling Straits in 2007, which seemed to be ideal dress rehearsals for the main event. In between, Kohler and Whistling Straits also held the 2004 PGA Championship and later the 2010 PGA. Yet, when it came time to awarding Wisconsin a men’s U.S. Open in 2017, the USGA went not to Kohler and Whistling Straits, but to a brand-new, untested, links-style course called Erin Hills. Feeling rebuffed, Kohler brokered a new deal with the PGA of America. Whistling Straits gets the 2015 PGA Championship and the 2020 Ryder Cup event -- and likely never a men’s U.S. Open.
A handful of other former U.S. Open courses that have been rejected by the USGA for a U.S. Open and that have buddied up to the PGA of America are Medinah No. 3 in Chicago (2012 Ryder Cup), Bethpage Black (2019 PGA Championship, 2024 Ryder Cup) in New York, Baltusrol Lower in New Jersey (2016 PGA Championship), Bellerive in St. Louis (2018 PGA Championship) and Hazeltine National (2016 Ryder Cup) in Minneapolis. Neither the USGA nor the PGA of America will publicly admit there’s any sort of bias, let alone rivalry, when it comes to site selections for its most important events, but it’s impossible to ignore what’s transpired in recent years.
Torrey Pines pursued the 2019 PGA Championship and 2024 Ryder Cup after being rejected for the 2018 U.S. Open in favor of Shinnecock Hills. The PGA turned Torrey away, going with the nation’s other five-star muni, Bethpage Black. Somehow, Torrey Pines, while not a favorite of executive director Mike Davis, returned to the USGA’s good graces and snared the 2021 U.S. Open. It’s a merry-go-round with a lot of anxious horses.
Trump, however, insists that he's not out of the running yet.
"They're definitely interested," he said when asked if the USGA might consider calling upon Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point to host that elusive men's Open. "We'll see what happens."
As far as Trump Bedminster’s Old course, it’s definitely major-worthy. A muscular 7,560 yards, with room for more, it boasts a massive scale, with vast fairways, huge bunkers, sprawling greens and loads of room for galleries and infrastructure, both on course and next-door on the New course. It’s also a handsome Northeastern layout, and while possessed of more brawn than charm, sports a requisite number of dramatic risk-reward opportunities that will surely provide excitement down the stretch.
Donald Trump’s Bedminster course and the USGA brass are located only a few miles apart in bucolic rural New Jersey. Trump and USGA officials get along well and will continue to do so in the run-up to the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open. Trump’s laser-like focus, however, is on men’s majors for his facilities. On that front, the PGA of America has trumped the USGA. And the rivalry goes on.