How Trump Turnberry, President’s 2nd Scottish Golf Course, Became an Ace

Acclaimed golf historian discusses Trump Turnberry upon launch of Robert the Bruce course.

July 11, 2017 5:00 am

Donald Trump’s first golf course in Scotland generated, like many of his actions, a great deal of controversy. However, Trump recovered on his second attempt at Scottish links with the Trump Turnberry, which has been acclaimed by the community and golfers alike.

It’s the tale of two golf courses: The Trump International Golf Links, Scotland in Aberdeen has been involved in heated public debates since its 2012 opening. Trump unsuccessfully battled against nearby wind farms in a lawsuit that went all the way to Scotland’s Supreme Court. The property failed to live up to the promised jobs and level of investment. Trump attempted to switch to a cheaper development plan than the one initially proposed and approved. He even built a wall and tried to get his neighbors to pay for it. Protests include the documentary You’ve Been Trumped and homes near the course flying Mexican flags as any initial goodwill that might have come from Trump’s Scotland-born mother seemed to dissipate.

Trump Turnberry
A bagpipe player wears traditional dress and also a hat in support of then US presidential candidate Donald Trump as he awaits his arrival by helicopter to his Trump Turnberry Resort on June 24, 2016 in Ayr, Scotland. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Trump’s efforts at Turnberry, on the other hand, have been praised by locals and PGA European Tour CEO Keith Pelley told Golf Digest that Trump had “re-energized” the course. Why has Trump’s takeover of Turnberry been largely embraced? Quite simply, it was needed.

“Turnberry was a shadow of itself,” said Roger McStravick, the Scottish golf historian whose works include the award-winning St. Andrews in the Footsteps of Old Tom Morris. The book details how the Scotsman won four Open Championships in the 1800s and fathered Young Tom Morris, who won another four of his own.

Turnberry, of course, has a history that begins long before the Donald. Scotland’s 14th century ruler Robert the Bruce—namesake of the new Turnberry course that officially launches on July 11—was said to have been born at Turnberry Castle. The property has been a golf resort since 1906. It’s hosted four Open Championships, including two that helped make Tom Watson an icon.

In 1977, Turnberry played host to “The Duel in the Sun.” Watson held off a hard-charging Jack Nicklaus in a matchup that reached legendary status when Watson holed a 60-footer at 15 then quipped to Nicklaus at the 16th tee: “This is what it’s all about, isn’t it?”

Then in 2009, Watson seemed on the verge of winning his sixth Open at Turnberry the age of 59. McStravick recalls: “I wouldn’t let myself believe Tom would win. I held it together until the last hole. He hit his approach shot to the 18th green and as it landed I said, ‘He’s done it!’ but then the ball slipped off the back. It made what came next unbearable.” (For those who’ve forgotten, watch below.)

Yet these glories aside, Turnberry was showing cracks. Trump acquired Turnberry in 2014 for what The Telegraph reported as a “bargain price” of 35.7 million pounds (roughly $60 million at the time). Trump then announced plans to spend over $200 million more on renovations.

The investment was badly needed, particularly on a hotel that McStravick felt “generally did not match the golf.” He notes any drop in standards for a resort is ominous because golf is a “competitive business, especially in Scotland with so many iconic places to stay and play.”

Beyond this, Turnberry faced an handicap because of its westerly location: “People tend to concentrate on the east coast links courses.” (This map shows Scotland’s top courses are indeed clustered on the coast opposite Turnberry.) McStravick hopes Turnberry can draw attention not only to itself but legendary neighbors including Prestwick (site of the first Open in 1860) and Troon.

Trump was passionate enough about Turnberry to briefly suspend his presidential campaign to attend a ribbon-cutting at the property, but has been less involved since assuming the presidency. His son, Eric, has become point man for the course.

So while you’re unlikely to see the president if you make the trek to Turnberry, McStravick said you will get an unforgettable golfing experience: “Turnberry genuinely offers glimpses into some of the best Open moments of all time and it is a special feeling standing on the first tee.”

The video below lets you take a closer look at the property (and hear a very thick Scottish accent).

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