Every day and night, on Highway 42 in southern New Jersey, thousands of motorists see an unlikely government-approved road sign, the kind usually reserved for hospitals and museums, and not for country clubs. Whoever was behind its planting knows people in high places.
The exit takes you to the Blackwood-Clementon Road, and to Trump National, in Pine Hill. The club's driveway is close to a mile, uphill, from the road to the sprawling clubhouse. On a recent muggy day I saw a heavy-set, black-haired woman in polyester black pants and matching shirt hiking up it. I asked the woman, clearly reporting for a work shift, if she wanted a ride. My passenger, newly arrived from Mexico, put on her seat belt. My full-blast air conditioning circulated her syrupy perfume. She spoke little English. Her job, she said, was "cleaner." I asked her what everyone must ask her: "Have you ever met Mr. Trump?"
I have met Mr. Trump, many times. I have played a lot of golf with him, eaten meals with him, and have enjoyed being with him. After I wrote a long profile of him in 2007 for SI, he said, "Michael, you wrote that story with a lot of like. I cannot say love, as there is nothing homosexual going on here." Trump is odd, smart, funny, observant, bombastic and original. I take almost nothing he says too seriously.
That's one reason why I wouldn't vote for him for president. I do think he would make a good LPGA commissioner. (The Tour job would be too straitlaced for him.) As for the presidency, I doubt he really wants it. It would be unbearable for him, to put his 20 or so golf courses, each bearing his all-caps surname, in a blind trust. Trump is doing what he's done all his life. He's selling those five letters. I once said to him that he was lucky that his name was not Finkelstein or O'Shaughnessy, as those names do not trip off the tongue with the ease of his own, with all those heavy consonants. Plus, trump is a double entendre. It's bold. It's for winners.
In a period when he and Rosie O'Donnell were feuding daily and monopolizing Page Six of the New York Post, I said to Trump, "This thing with Rosie, you're loving it, aren't you?"
"Michael," he said. Insert your version of his working-class Queens accent here. "Rosie O'Donnell is the gift that keeps giving."
After his vulgar, entitled and absurdly broad comments about Mexican immigrants, there was much hand-wringing among golf's crack bureaucrats about how to censure the man. Trump courses are scheduled for LPGA, PGA Tour, USGA and PGA of America events. As a token gesture, the PGA of America changed the venue for one made-for-TV exhibition, leaving (for now) a host of other events from various schedules on Trump courses, including the 2022 PGA Championship at the perfectly fine Trump course in Bedminster, N.J.
In the coming months, Trump will likely continue to work blue, or worse, whenever he feels he's being ignored or attacked. My suggestion to golf's chieftains, remembering Bush 41: Stay the course. You signed on with Trump because he's a TV show and his courses have ample parking. He'll deliver what you want. Changing venues sounds like a grand gesture but won't suddenly make the game progressive, because it's not.
The Scots say golf undresses a man. Well, Trump's a good but delusional golfer. He remains mildly annoyed at me for excluding a reference (in my SI story) to a 68 he said he had shot at Bel-Air in L.A. He had told me to check out the score with his playing partners. I did. One of the guys said that Trump played well, but with all the usual casual-game informalities, he could never call it anything like a 68.
I once asked Trump what was actually important to him. "Family. Health things. Some things in business." He paused for a second. "That's about it."
Back in Pine Hill, I dropped off my perfumed passenger at the top of the hill.
"God bless you," she said.
The woman's lord had followed her from Mexico to this swath of greenery, and now she was passing him along to me. How kind, how generous.
A moment earlier, I had asked what she thought of Trump.
"He loco," she said.
Like a fox.