This interview originally appeared in the November 17, 2008 issue of GOLF Magazine.
Donald Trump doesn’t speak any Spanish, but he holds court at the Dominican Republic’s Cap Cana resort like he owns the place — because, well, he does. As an investor in Trump Cap Cana, The Donald is here to sell real estate, “$340 million — the biggest deal in the history of the Caribbean,” he says with his well-known hyperbole that reduces Columbus’ arrival on these shores to a two-bit opening act (“Thanks for warming them up, Chris”). But on the golf course, Trump is (surprise) pretty relaxed, just another businessman honing a decent game and dispensing tips to his partner (“Weaken that grip, the Vs of your hands are pointing at the ocean!”). Of course, he’s a regular guy with an eight-cart entourage, and a stream of people lining up for pictures. “Welcome to my life,” he says as he dishes on his golf courses, his celebrity feuds and the secret to marrying a beautiful woman.
Q You’re a real estate mogul, you own casinos. Why bother with golf?
A It’s something I find beautiful. I like shaping earth as much as I like my buildings. I’m lucky to have great locations. I have a lot of fun on my courses and I’ve made a lot of deals on them. Plus, I only want to have courses where I live.
Q Is there enough money to be made in golf to be worth your time versus your other ventures?
A It’s a small part of my business, but if I added the deals I make on my course to my portfolio then it would be a much bigger part of my business. If I didn’t play golf at my course in Westchester County (N.Y.) then I wouldn’t have four major buildings there. Owning a great golf course gives you great power.
Q Have you had talks with the USGA about getting a U.S. Open at Trump National in Bedminster (N.J.)?
A The USGA is terrific. I’ve designed my course in Bedminster to the highest standards of the USGA and it’s a very special course. But I don’t want to be saying, “I want a U.S. Open” because, frankly, it makes me look like a jerk. I don’t want to get into it. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I’ll have equal respect for the USGA either way. Everybody knows I build the best product.
Q Do you think your outlandish public behavior — like the Rosie O’Donnell feud or appearing at Wrestlemania — hurts you with the USGA?
A It doesn’t hurt me with the USGA, but it does with some people. It’s good for me personally, and it makes me very popular.
Q How does it hurt with some people?
A Some say if anyone else owned Bedminster, it would be considered one of the Top 10 courses, but because it’s me, people don’t want to do it. I had a major player in the industry tell me, “If it wasn’t built by you, that would be considered one of the greatest courses in the world.” The golf facet of my life doesn’t go with the rest of my life, which is a rough-and-tumble life. I work in real estate development, which is the toughest business, and I do it in the toughest city. I deal with ruthless people.
Q Where do you think your courses should rank on a list of the Top Courses in the U.S.?
A I have the best locations. Bedminster should be in the top 10. My Florida course is the best in Florida and Trump National L.A. is better than Pebble Beach.
Q Trump L.A. is better than Pebble Beach! Are you crazy?
A That’s what people say until they play my course. I have 3,000 acres and 2.5 miles on the ocean. That’s the ocean, not the bay. Every single hole fronts the ocean. I love Pebble too, but even people who love Pebble say Trump L.A. is superior to Pebble. What Pebble Beach has is history and some day Trump L.A. will have history, though I might not be around to see it. Trump L.A. is also far better than Bandon Dunes [in Oregon]. It’s unfair to compare a course in Los Angeles, a great metropolitan area, to one in a wasteland far away from civilization.
Q How’s your golf game these days?
A I’m about a 4. I play as much as I can but generally only on weekends. Plus, because I own the course I don’t feel guilty playing because I consider it work. I can say, “Fix that tree,” and then it’s work. [Laughs.]
Q As a player, who has been the biggest thrill for you to play with?
A Phil Mickelson is a very good friend of mine. Michael Jordan can really play and I don’t think people realize that. Bill Clinton has a really good swing. Tom Brady is the best 6-handicap I’ve ever seen — he swings like Ernie Els. The interesting thing is that everyone in golf is just nice. You learn a lot about people playing golf: their integrity, how they play under pressure.
Q What’s it like playing with Bill Clinton?
A It’s a really a good experience. He hits the ball very well. He’s actually an amazing player for someone who doesn’t get to play very much. We talk about golf and politics. He’s a very interesting guy to be with. There are a lot of people who are great players but aren’t interesting. To find a good person to play with, it’s a chemistry. It doesn’t have to do with the quality of someone’s game.
Q What makes someone fun to play with?
A I like to play with someone who can take some ribbing. If someone’s ball is hanging above a bunker and about to go in, I may shout out, “Bury!” But you have to know who you can do that with. I don’t like playing with guys who are overly serious. You can’t forget that playing golf is not what we do for a living.
Q What makes someone a bad partner?
A Someone who can’t take the putter back on a three-foot putt to win a bet. When I see the CEO of a major corporation freezing over a threefoot putt on 18, I don’t know what to say. My secret is to not worry about it.
Q What’s the most you ever won or lost on the golf course? Is it six figures?
A I’d rather not say. It’s been a lot, but I mostly win.
Q A web site (TMZ.com) published pictures of you playing at your L.A. course and claimed they showed you giving yourself an illegal drop. Did you see that?
A No, I didn’t. And I don’t do that. I’ll always give a mulligan if a guy hits a terrible shot, even if we’re playing a match. But I don’t move my ball and I don’t like it when people do it. It’s not appropriate.
Q Do you give out mulligans throughout a round?
A It depends on whom I’m playing with. If I’m playing with a bad player who’s having a really tough time, I’ll very nicely say, “Go ahead and hit another one.”
Q You criticized Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban for trying to live vicariously through his players.You’re a rich guy making a big splash in golf with a large bankroll. How are you any different from Cuban?
A Because Cuban’s a loser. You could give him Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, and he’d still find a way to lose because he’s a born loser. Some people just are. I’m just doing what I like. I have major construction projects all over the world; that’s my main business. I have fun with golf.
Q How do you end up in so many celebrity feuds?
A When you get to a certain level, you’re attacked, and when I’m attacked I fight back. And I don’t forget. Cuban attacked me three years ago when he had his show The Benefactor, which was a rip-off of The Apprentice. I attack him every chance I get. It’s so easy; just look at him. His team will never win.
Q Doesn’t that make you come across as petty and vindictive?
A No, I don’t think it does. Some people like it and some people don’t. I’m not a turn-the-other-cheek guy. My thing is, if you’re attacked, attack them back in spades. I love doing it. It’s natural for me to be a combative person. I love having enemies and I love having friends. It’s natural to me.
Q Do you think you overdo the self-promotion sometimes?
A Well, I’m worth billions, and I started in an office in Brooklyn, N.Y., so I must be doing something right. A Trump building gets a higher price than any other. Look at this weekend. In Cap Cana we sold $340 million in property in one day. So how can I be doing something wrong?
Q But you’re always saying this is the greatest and that is the greatest. Isn’t it too much sometimes? How can everything be the greatest?
A [Shrugs.] I do say it, but I have to because my stuff is the best.
Q What advice would you give our readers who want to be millionaires?
A Well, you have to be born with a certain ability. Like Tiger and Phil in golf — you have guys who work harder, but Tiger and Phil are special. Same is true in business. Making money is an art. On the assumption that you have ability, which is a big assumption, to make a million dollars you need a great idea, you need to be in the right business and you need to work hard.
Q What role does luck play? After all, your father’s wealth gave you an advantage that 99 percent of Americans don’t have.
A Luck is an important element, despite the fact that we try to say it’s not. But the harder you work, the luckier you get.
Q Do you think you would be as wealthy today if you grew up in poverty?
A Yes, I think I would. The biggest asset wasn’t my father’s money, but what I learned from my father. My father was a great negotiator and a great builder. I build better than anyone else and that’s why I’m successful.
Q Do you see everything as an opportunity to make money?
A I see everything as an opportunity to have a good time. What I am is a very creative person.
Q Are you a manipulative person?
A Probably. I don’t like to analyze myself, but sometimes [being manipulative] is the only way to get to the endgame.
Q How do you marry a beautiful woman?
A That’s an interesting question. I have many rich friends who can’t get a date. I have a friend with a G5 plane who can’t get a date. He asks me, “Can you get me a date with that woman?” and then later he asks, “Can you get me a second date with her?” He’s a very smart guy, but he doesn’t have it. He sees a woman and he gets lockjaw. It’s a quality you either have or you don’t. Women have always liked me. It’s a quality you can try to develop, but people who women like, women have always liked.
Q Why do you think women have always liked you?
A It’s always been that way. I don’t know why. Money is not ultimately what gets you a woman. She needs to be tuned in and turned on.
Q What’s the best line for a guy who doesn’t have a big bankroll?
A It’s not the line.it’s the style, the confidence, the approach. Studies show that a woman knows within five seconds if she’s going to sleep with you. It’s the chemistry you create, not the line.