No. 1 Business Titan: Donald Trump

September 10, 2010

I started playing golf when I attended the Wharton School [at the University of Pennsylvania] in Philadelphia. Some friends of mine and I would go to Cobbs Creek Golf Course, which is a public course, so I always have a warm spot for that part of the world. My initial reaction to the game was that I loved the competition. But as you get older and wiser and richer, you realize it’s not only about the competition, it’s about the beauty of it, and that’s what has kept me attracted me to the game more than anything: walking down all those beautiful fairways.

I’ve closed many deals on the golf course, and I’ve met many great friends on the golf course—Terry Lundgren, the head of Macy’s, for example—and so many people in the real estate industry whom I wouldn’t have a relationship with if it weren’t for golf. You learn about people on the golf course, about their temperament, their honesty.

Golf is a unique sport. I’ve seen a lot of good athletes, great athletes, who are not good at golf and they’ll never be good at golf. I know people who practice all the time and they’re terrible golfers, too. I think innate ability is more important than practice, though practice can hone ability and make it better. I think you realize you have talent for the game fairly early on. I’ve always done well in golf. I was able to pick it up quickly.

I own 12 courses, and I only buy the best. I started building them, and now I buy them and make them great. If a course isn’t great or can’t be great, I don’t buy it. If through a lot of work I can only make it very good, I have no interest. I recently bought one next to Pine Valley—Pine Hill—which has been rated best new course of the year by virtually everybody. And I’m making it better. I signed 101 members in the first month, which is unheard of.

Construction on my course in Scotland is underway. We’ll have it finished in about 15 months. The site is on the great dunes of Scotland, and they’re the largest dunes in the world. It’s right next to Royal Aberdeen. I’d always heard that Aberdeen has the best nine holes in golf—their dune holes—and those are at the tip of the dunes, which is their smallest part. I own from Royal Aberdeen on, which are the large dunes. It was protected land but I was able to get it approved, which was very difficult.

Everything I build meets resistance and then people fall in love with me after its built.

Sure, I’ll talk trash on the course, although it depends on whom I’m playing with. Some people don’t want to hear trash on the course—they like to play what I call 'elegant golf.' Other people would get bored stiff with that style. You have to know your opponent.

Giving your opponent putts is a very interesting dynamic. Sometimes if you give a guy too much, it’s insulting to him. A month or so ago I gave a guy a 10-footer, and it was more insulting giving it to him then not giving it to him. You don’t want him to think you feel sorry for him. It’s a very fine line.

My favorite non-Trump course? I’m a member of Winged Foot, so I’ll say Winged Foot. My friends will be happy with that.

My favorite non-Trump course that I’m not a member of? [Long pause.] Well, I played it, and I liked it a lot: Augusta National. The conditioning is what I like and is something I always strive for at my courses.

Donald Trump, 64, is chairman and CEO of the Trump Organization and Trump Entertainment Resorts.