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Donald Trump

Trump’s Scottish golf resorts miss the cut, say economists, but local businesses see plenty of green

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 October, 2017, 8:38pm
UPDATED : Monday, 09 October, 2017, 8:38pm

David Milne loves the view of the North Sea from his home high above the roiling surf, but he finds his eye often falling onto the golf course next door and, when it does, on the tiny figures below.

He counts the people coming off buses in the car park and the people swinging at the 1st tee and the 10th tee and he counts the people walking the fairways and after all this counting he is convinced of something that must be satisfying given his tussles with the owner, Donald Trump.

There are not enough people.

“The car park is rarely even half full,” said Milne, 53, looking out again on Friday under clear blue skies. “For what was supposedly the best golf course in the world, I don’t really think this is a resounding success.”

A few hours after Milne spoke, he got some confirmation. A financial report that Trump’s company filed with the British government shows he has lost millions of dollars at the resort, called the Trump International Golf Links, as well as at a second one on the other side of Scotland overlooking the Irish Sea.

The report from Britain’s Companies House showed losses last year more than doubled to £17.6 million (US$23 million). It was the third year in a row of losses. Revenue also fell sharply.

Trump’s company has faced several setbacks since it ventured into Scotland a dozen years ago.

The company has angered Milne and other neighbours for what they say are its bullying tactics to get them to sell land.

A local fisherman became a national hero of sorts when he, like Milne, refused to sell to Trump, despite a US$690,000 offer.

Then the company got some unwelcome publicity. Two documentaries about the fights with residents were shot, Tripping Up Trump and You’ve Been Trumped – the latter shown on the BBC despite threats from one of Trump’s lawyers to sue the broadcaster.

Troubles have only mounted since then.

A few months before Trump clinched the Republican nomination last year, he lost a court fight to stop an offshore windmill farm near the North Sea resort.

He has been repeatedly stymied in his plans to build a luxury hotel there and a second course because of, among other things, strong objections from environmental regulators that his plans will threaten the sand dunes for which the area is famous. And there also are signs that he is at risk of losing a bid to host the coveted Scottish Open.

Just how much these setbacks have hurt Trump’s business is unclear. Other factors appear to have played a big role in the latest financial results.

In Friday’s report, Trump’s company noted it had to close its Turnberry resort on the Irish Sea for half the year while building a new course there and repairing an old one. It also blamed losses on a hit from fluctuations in the value of the British pound.

The report and Milne’s maths aside, some residents think Trump’s resorts are attracting plenty of golfers and doing just fine. In fact, whatever troubles Trump has encountered appear to only have helped business in the North Sea area.

He has only 16 rooms for overnight guests at his resort there, leaving other hotels to pick up the slack.

“I’ve gone from doing an average of 400 room nights for golfers per year to 1,400 room nights in six months,” said Stewart Spence, 70, owner of the Marcliffe Hotel and Spa in nearby Aberdeen. “There can hardly be a golfer in the world who doesn’t know about this area because of what Trump has done.”

Rival courses have seen a bump in business, too.

“We’ve gone from about 4,000 golfers per annum to almost 5,500 a year,” said Les Durno, 54, general manager at the Cruden Bay Golf Club about 32km from Trump’s course.

Then there is the sheer spectacle itself, a chance to gawk at a US president’s property and maybe spend £19.95 (US$26.07) for a cap embroidered with Trump’s family crest.

“When we drive past Trump International, I often get people, Americans mostly, asking to stop so they can go into the golf shop and buy something,” said a bus driver waiting in the car park on Friday. “They don’t play golf but they want a Trump Scotland souvenir.”

Others are less enthusiastic, including the leader of the Scottish government, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Sturgeon stripped Trump of his title as business ambassador for Scotland. She cited his comments about Muslims during the campaign.

Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University also revoked Trump of his honorary degree for the same reason.

In July, the CEO of a major sponsor of the Scottish Open was quoted in a local newspaper casting doubt on Trump’s chances of hosting the event.

“There’s no decision made but, look, there are clear issues,” Aberdeen Asset Management CEO Martin Gilbert was quoted saying. He added, “Politics aside, Trump would be an ideal venue – but you can’t put politics aside.”