In Trump's UK Visit, Some See 'Infomercial' for Money-Losing Golf Resort

In Trump’s U.K. Visit, Some See ‘Infomercial’ for Money-Losing Golf Resort

President Trump during the official opening ceremony at Trump Turnberry in Scotland in 2016.CreditJeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

GLASGOW — On Monday, President Trump will have a closely watched meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, just days after the announcement that 12 Russian military intelligence officers had been indicted on charges of hacking Democratic organizations in an effort to influence the 2016 election.

But first, a bit of golf.

Mr. Trump is likely to tee off this weekend, ensconced from the public and the news media, at Trump Turnberry, the luxury resort where he will be staying and which he has described as “magical” while on the world stage this past week.

Before arriving in Scotland — the birthplace of his mother, as well as that of Mr. Trump’s preferred pastime — the president managed repeatedly to plug Turnberry, one of two Scottish resorts that bear his name.

The move has alarmed ethics experts, who say he is using his presidential platform to promote a resort that, according to financial filings, has been a burden on the family business.

While the president has blazed a chaotic streak through Europe this past week, Turnberry has received special recognition amid other Trump-issued sound bites that analysts say have undermined the United States’ relationships with close NATO allies at the summit meeting in Brussels and during a working visit to Britain.

At a hastily arranged news conference in Brussels, when asked to discuss his message for Britain on its exit from the European Union, Mr. Trump said he had none — a thought he would later undermine in stunning fashion in an interview splashed on the cover of the British tabloid The Sun. Then, Mr. Trump wove in a reference to Turnberry, on breathtaking bluffs and cliffs on the western coast of Scotland, calling it “magical” and “one of my favorite places.”

Mr. Trump, right, watched the English golfer Charley Hull at the Women’s British Open at Turnberry in 2015.CreditScott Heppell/Associated Press

“I’m going there for two days while I wait for the Monday meeting” with Mr. Putin, the president told the news media.

On Saturday morning, he again mentioned the resort on Twitter: “I have arrived in Scotland and will be at Trump Turnberry for two days of meetings, calls and hopefully, some golf — my primary form of exercise! The weather is beautiful, and this place is incredible!”

Ethics experts tend to be cynical about the president’s sentimental references to his resort: His arrival at Turnberry marks the 169th day during his presidency that he has visit a property owned, managed or branded by the Trump Organization. Financial records show the resort has lost money since Mr. Trump paid about $60 million to purchase it in 2014.

“I view this as kind of a forced subsidy of an infomercial for his properties,” Norman L. Eisen, the chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said in an interview on Friday. “He’s attempting to utilize his trip to get beneficial P.R.”

The president, injecting his flair for reality TV drama into sensitive issues involving military spending, called into question the very ability of NATO to protect itself from hostile forces, namely Russia, before haphazardly trying to repair everything in front of the cameras and moving on to the next episode.

This propensity was again on display in England before Mr. Trump left for Scotland on Friday, when he again brought up Turnberry during a news conference with Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain.

“I was opening Turnberry the day before Brexit,” Mr. Trump said, “and all they wanted to talk about was Brexit, and I said, ‘I think Brexit would happen,’ and it did happen.”


Mr. Trump during the Women’s British Open at Turnberry in 2015. On Saturday, he said on Twitter that golf was his “primary form of exercise!”CreditScott Heppell/Associated Press

Mr. Trump, in fact, arrived at Turnberry the day after Britons voted in 2016 to leave the European Union, but he spoke about his resort for 15 minutes before he took questions on Brexit at a news conference. He also expressed skepticism when asked if the referendum would send shock waves through the global markets.

“Look, if the pound goes down, they’re going to do more business,” Mr. Trump said then. “When the pound goes down, more people are coming to Turnberry, frankly.”

Although Mr. Trump has claimed to have spent at least 200 million pounds, about $264 million, on Turnberry to buy and renovate it since 2014 — a figure that has not been verified independently — the course has yet to turn a profit.

In fact, the Turnberry operation has lost tens of millions of pounds since he purchased it, filings in Britain show: about £17 million in 2016, the last year for which such comprehensive records are available. For 2017, Mr. Trump’s government ethics filing discloses only how much revenue the course generated — $20.4 million — not whether it had earned a profit.

This is not the first time that Mr. Trump has visited a Trump-owned resort while traveling in his capacity as president. On a 13-day trip through Asia, the president swung by the Trump International Hotel Waikiki resort for a 10-minute visit.

“The president stopped by the Trump Hotel on his way to the airport,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said in a statement at the time. “It has been a tremendously successful project, and he wanted to say hello and thank you to the employees for all their hard work.”

An analysis of that trip by The Associated Press showed that Mr. Trump’s stopover cost American taxpayers almost $141,000, or more than $100 a minute. The president’s hotel stop itself cost taxpayers $1,000.


Mr. Trump with his son Eric, second from left, and his granddaughter Kai, third from left, at Turnberry in 2016. Eric, who oversees operations at the Trump Organization, was also at Turnberry this weekend.CreditJeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

When reached for comment about Turnberry on Friday, the Trump Organization described a success story. In an email, Amanda Miller, a spokeswoman, pointed to some of Turnberry’s golf lore — including the much-publicized 1977 British Open championship between the legendary golfers Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus.

“Turnberry is an icon in the golf world, and we are incredibly proud of its continued success,” Ms. Miller wrote. The resort’s Ailsa golf course, she said, was “home to four Open Championships, including the famous 1977 ‘Duel in the Sun.’ ”

Ms. Miller did not respond to a request for comment about how the company gauged success if records showed it was losing money.

Mr. Trump appears to hold a special place in his heart for Turnberry, perhaps because of his love of golf and because his mother, Mary Anne MacLeod Trump, who was born in Tong, a village some 300 miles from Turnberry, in the north of Scotland.

“I feel very comfortable here,” Mr. Trump said to reporters during a 2008 visit to Tong, on the island of Lewis, where he spent about 90 seconds in the modest cottage where his mother was born. “It’s interesting when your mother, who was such a terrific woman, comes from a specific location, you tend to like that location. I think I do feel Scottish.”

Six years later, Mr. Trump bought Turnberry for a reported $63 million, and poured millions more into restoring the club.

When Air Force One landed in Scotland on Friday evening, it rolled by a plane emblazoned with the block-lettered “TRUMP” logo, in plain sight of hundreds of local residents who had gathered to see the president land. On his hourlong drive to his resort, hundreds of onlookers waved and recorded cellphone video of the president’s arrival.


Air Force One, carrying Mr. Trump and his wife, Melania, along with Mr. Trump’s personal aircraft, at Prestwick Airport in Scotland on Friday.CreditRobert Perry/EPA, via Shutterstock

The protests that had roiled London were not yet detectable here, but some demonstrations were planned near Turnberry and near another of his golf courses, in northeastern Scotland, as well as near the United States Consulate in Edinburgh.

The president and his wife, Melania, were not the only Trump family members in town: His son Eric, who oversees operations at the Trump Organization, was also at Turnberry. Around the time Mr. Trump landed, his son posted a video from the Turnberry Lighthouse on social media. In it, a bagpiper plays on a bluff in the distance as the camera pans out to sea. Turnberry guests can stay in the lighthouse for about $1,600 a night.

The Trump Organization did not answer a question about the purpose of Eric Trump’s visit, but he is closely tied to the resort’s restoration efforts, which include redeveloping its two golf courses.

Mr. Eisen, the chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, takes a more skeptical view. He serves as co-counsel in a lawsuit accusing the president of violating constitutional anticorruption clauses intended to limit his receipt of government-bestowed benefits, or emoluments.

He sees the Trump family’s efforts this past week as part a broader and problematic effort to use the presidency to gin up interest in a property that has, so far, been a financial burden.

“Through this trip to Turnberry,” Mr. Eisen said, “the president is forcing his foreign hosts and the United States to spend enormous amounts of money so that he can get free advertising for his resort.”

“He’s the master of earned media,” Mr. Eisen added. “It’s an important part of the way he won the presidency, and that’s what he’s doing here.”

Jesse Drucker and Karen Yourish contributed reporting from New York, and Eric Lipton from Washington.

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