Trump International Golf Links is one of three golf resorts the president and his family own in Europe. Two are in Scotland; one is in Ireland. Two other international courses are located in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The remaining 12 are in the United States. Since becoming president, Trump has formally ceded control of his businesses to his sons, although he has struggled to shake off perceptions that his complex portfolio of properties and investments around the world create a massive conflict of interest.
In Scotland, where Trump plays up his Scottish roots — his mother was born on the Isle of Lewis and emigrated to the U.S. in 1929 — he has encountered stiff resistance to the development plan here, although some local business leaders and residents support it.
“The course has become a key part of our tourism offer,” said James Bream, director of policy at Aberdeen’s Chamber of Commerce. “Trump has created a new emphasis for visitors, including many Americans, to spend money in this part of the country on golf and activities associated with golf such as accommodations, bars and restaurants.”
Stewart Spence, the owner of a luxury hotel in Aberdeen who describes himself as a close Trump ally and confidante to his sons, Eric and Donald Jr., agreed. “What Trump has already given us we will have for generations, and it is unbelievable,” he said. “Never in our wildest dreams did we expect it. It’s absolutely world class.”
Spence said Trump gave him honorary life membership to the club. “My certificate says 001. The night Donald presented me with it he said, ‘I have only given out one other and it’s 007, to Sean Connery,'” the Scottish James Bond actor, he explained.
Vic Henderson, 88, who used to work as a farm hand and engineer on Trump’s land when it was under different ownership, said Trump had done a “great thing.”
“He’s been tremendous. He’s brought the place alive,” he said.
Hanging on Henderson’s wall in his small farmhouse is a letter Trump wrote in 2007 thanking him for his “ongoing public support for our project.”
The enthusiasm Spence, Henderson and others have for the project doesn’t appear to match the reality of what’s on the ground.
According to planning documents, public accounts and his own statements, Trump promised to invest $1.5 billion in the project. He has spent $100 million. He vowed 6,000 jobs. There are 150. Two golf courses were promised. There’s one.
Instead of a 450-room luxury hotel and hundreds of time-share apartments that Trump pledged to build, there is a 16-room boutique hotel and a small clubhouse with a restaurant and shop that sells Trump whisky, leather hip flasks and various golf paraphernalia. Financial accounts show the resort lost over $1 million last year.
In a statement, Trump International Golf Links said it plans “a multi-phased development and long-term investment project” here. It said the “Trump Organization enjoys a great relationship with all of its neighboring properties and businesses, with the exception of a few known opponents who have fought the project since the outset.” It did not address a question about Trump’s feelings about the wind turbine farm or the objections raised by environmental agencies.
Spence, the hotelier who said he has a close relationship with the Trumps, said he has persuaded Eric and Donald Jr. “not to spend another penny” in Aberdeen because the area is in a significant economic downturn linked to the slumping oil business. Oil now sells for less than $50 a barrel, compared to more than $100 a barrel a few years ago.
“The government’s advocacy for this project was based on the idea of a trickle-down benefit of being associated with a world-class celebrity. That has now been completely inverted because Trump is a complete embarrassment,” said Martin Ford, a local government official who chaired a 2006 planning committee that voted to reject Trump’s development plan over concerns about its environmental impact.
The sand dunes in and around the course are often described as Scotland’s equivalent to the Amazon rainforest: ancient, unspoiled, biodiverse. Scottish National Heritage and other conservation groups labeled them a site of special scientific interest.
“The justification for this was that Trump would bring lots of jobs to the area and vast economic development. None of that has happened,” said Ford, whose decision to turn down Trump’s plan was overturned by the Scottish government on a legal technicality.
“Which part of Trump’s reputation are we now benefiting from?” Ford added, referring to issues that have dogged Trump’s presidency, from Russian election meddling to his efforts to impose a travel ban for some Muslim nations and his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord.