Update: As of Tuesday evening, the markers have been removed, according to a statement released by the Trump Organization, which clarified the markers as a gift “presented to the club by a small group of members.”
Many golf clubs use tee markers that represent something unique about the course. But according to a ProPublica report, Trump International’s latest plans may be a federal crime.
Trump International ordered dozens of tee markers to be designed with 12-inch replicas of the presidential seal, which shows an eagle holding an olive branch and a bundle of arrows in its talons.
Eagle Sign and Design, which has offices in Indiana and Kentucky, has made markers for Trump courses in the past and said the seal had been approved by the Trump Organization.
“We made the design, and the client confirmed the design,” Joseph E. Bates, who owns Eagle Signs, told the website.
But federal law dictates that the seal’s use is permitted only for official government business, and other usages could constitute a crime. The seal, its likeness, “or any facsimile thereof” for anything other than official U.S. government business can be a criminal offense punishable by up to six months in prison.
Past presidents have put the seal to personal use: George W. Bush and Barack Obama had golf balls emblazoned with the seal, and Ronald and Nancy Reagan had a set of presidential china bearing the seal. The difference in this instance is that Trump International is a private company with commercial interests.
Richard Painter served as an associate White House counsel during the Bush administration and now heads up a government accountability group in Washington, D.C.
“If we had heard of a private company using it for commercial purposes, we would have sent them a nasty letter,” he said to ProPublica.