This president-elect is a golfer. Not a new golfer, as is President Obama, figuring out the swing and everything else about our confounding game. Donald Trump is a lifelong golfer, a good golfer, a member of Winged Foot, the owner of golf resorts and private clubs, all of which bear his name. In July, the U.S. Women’s Open is scheduled to be played at the Trump course in bucolic Bedminster, N.J., down the road from the USGA headquarters in Far Hills. Even if you’re looking at this presidential election only through the narrow prism of golf, you cannot believe what just happened: A man who cited his success in club championships as a qualification for the presidency has won the job.
So, the de facto host of the 2017 Women’s Open — the great championship won by Patty Berg, Mickey Wright, Annika and, in more recent years, a slew of young women from Korea — will be a man who is both the president of the United States and a man who, 11 years ago while riding a bus, bragged about grabbing women “by the p—y.” There will be no revolt here, not by the USGA, which runs the event, and not by the women playing in it. Nineteen prominent women golfers were recently asked by Sports Illustrated (through their agents) if they felt the Open should be moved to another course, in the wake of Trump’s on-the-bus Access Hollywood comments. Not one said yes.
The important question, of course, is whether Trump as president will be good for the country and the world, but here we will limit ourselves to a far more narrow question and equally trying to answer: Will Trump as president be good for golf? You really cannot say. If we have learned anything in this divisive and acrimonious election, it is that the prediction business is fundamentally flawed. When Dwight Eisenhower was the First Golfer, golf boomed, but Ben Hogan was staring down his iron shots and Arnold Palmer was hitching his pants and post-war leisure opportunities in the United States were growing exponentially. These are different times.
One of the reasons the longstanding Tour event at the Doral course in Miami — now Trump Doral — was played for the last time in March was because Tim Finchem and the PGA Tour’s top salesmen could not find a tournament sponsor who wanted to be a partner of Trump’s. That was when he was the brash reality TV star who spoke in disparaging terms of Mexican immigrants, Muslims, the disabled and various other groups. But now he is the president-elect. As the saying goes, politics make strange bedfellows. Still, it seems unlikely that more Tour events will be assigned to courses with the Trump stamp on them. Finchem and other golf leaders — from the USGA, the LPGA and the PGA of America — distanced themselves from Trump during the campaign. But who really knows? After all, everybody loves a winner. Trump is all about winning.
Golf reveals character; the Scots say, It undresses a man. Golf for John Kennedy was a form of stylish relaxation. For Richard Nixon, who seldom played, it was a chance to be with the boys. For Gerald Ford, it was a chance to apply his considerable athleticism to a new challenge. For Trump, golf is another opportunity to practice the art of winning. He wins many of his matches on the first tee, by selected the best partner of the three available. That is how he became friendly with one of his assistants at Trump Bedminster, Jim Herman, who is now a Tour player. He also wins by playing a form of golf that will be familiar to millions, but not to USGA rules officials. He gives himself putts and takes mulligans as he sees fit, playing virtually all his golf on courses that bear his name. The austere and almost Calvinistic nature of golf that has drawn millions to the game is foreign to Trump. Golf as he plays it is valet parking, a fast round in a cart, a clubhouse with the air-conditioning blasting, a massively thick hamburger. It’s a game, and a way of life, to which many aspire. Maybe that in part explains his election.
Whether golf becomes more or less popular under Trump is impossible to say. His relationship with the PGA Tour is strained. Will that affect the Tour’s federal status (broadly speaking) as a not-for-profit tax-exempt organization? It could. There is no way to know whether Trump will use the presidency to settle scores. Trump has a far closer relationship with the LPGA (he hosted an LPGA event for some years at his course in West Palm Beach) and the PGA of America. The 2022 PGA Championship is scheduled to be played at Trump’s Bedminster course.
As president, Trump will not be required to put his courses in a blind trust. He has said he will turn his golf portfolio, which includes Turnberry on the west coast of Scotland and an oceanfront daily-fee course near Los Angeles, over to his children to run. What will happen in the clubhouse at the Trump course in Westchester County, New York, is harder to say. Trump made Bill Clinton a member of that club, with a locker near his own. Despite all the nasty things Trump has said about Bill and Hillary Clinton, he has not rescinded Clinton’s membership, and neither has Clinton resigned.
Early Wednesday morning, the website for the Trump National Golf Club in Los Angeles showed numerous openings at $150 per player for Wednesday play. In a letter posted on the website, Trump says, “Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles is the pinnacle of the luxury public golf experience. With world renowned restaurants, unmatched service, exclusive amenities, and the most spectacular panoramic Pacific Ocean views, Trump National has no equal.”
For surfers and fishermen and beach-goers, there is a public right-of-way through the course to the rugged Pacific Ocean beach below the course’s cliffs. Somebody once mentioned to Trump what a nice feature that was. It is a common feature on courses in Scotland, too, where golf, even private-club golf, is often integrated with public spaces.
“You like that?” Trump said. “I f—ing hate that.”
Trump has said many times that golf for him is aspirational, a ticket to the good life. He has done many good things in golf and golf has done many good things for him. It has raised his status and his profile, and now he is to become the 45th president of the United States.