Donald J. Trump’s journey to the White House was arguably shorter and easier than the road he traveled to another cherished ambition: hosting one of golf’s most prestigious major championships at a country club he owned.
And unlike his presidency, that accomplishment has been revoked before it could come to pass.
Of all of the indignities the increasingly untethered president believes have been unfairly foisted upon him—impeachment, election rejection, banishment for being too toxic even for the cesspool of Twitter—it’s possible none will hurt more than the PGA of America’s announcement this past Sunday night that it will move the 2022 PGA Championship from Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
“The PGA of America Board of Directors voted tonight to exercise the right to terminate the agreement to play the 2022 PGA Championship at Trump Bedminster,” read the statement from the organization’s president, Jim Richerson.
In one sentence of 26 words, a small group of largely conservative-leaning golf professionals handed America’s 45th president a rejection that just might, in his mind, be more painful and embarrassing than the one delivered by the more than 81 million voters who chose Joe Biden on November 3.
The Trump Organization fired back with a predictably truculent statement: “This is a breach of a binding contract and they have no right to terminate the agreement.”
Seth Waugh, the PGA of America’s CEO (and a former CEO of Deutsche Bank Americas), told Golf Channel on Monday that the board’s decision was made to protect the association’s brand. And even as Waugh spoke, yet another major golf organization was distancing itself from Trump.
The R&A, which administers the game outside of the United States and Mexico, said it will not consider staging the Open Championship at Turnberry resort in Scotland, which has hosted golf’s oldest major four times, though not since Trump purchased it in 2014. “We had no plans to stage any of our championships at Turnberry and will not do so in the foreseeable future,” said the R&A. “We will not return until we are convinced that the focus will be on the championship, the players and the course itself and we do not believe that is achievable in the current circumstances.”
According to a golf industry executive who knows Trump well and has often played with him over the years, this one-two punch will sting.
“Losing the PGA tournament and any chance for an open at Turnberry had to be a dagger to Donald’s heart,” the source said. “Hosting the PGA was the pinnacle for his golf ego. Anyone who knows him knows he’s far more emotionally invested in golf than politics.”
Trump Golf owns 15 properties around the world, according to Golfweek, and while golf has only ever represented a fraction of his business portfolio, it has long been the part that seems to matter most to Trump. For decades he has assiduously courted golf’s power brokers—from commissioners and administrators to magazine editors and critics—in a single-minded effort to attach himself to the most illustrious events in the sport: the majors. There are four of them, and since the Masters Tournament is the property of Augusta National Golf Club, that left three for him to chase.
After opening Bedminster in 2004, he incessantly and publicly lobbied the U.S. Golf Association to bring the U.S. Open to the club, which is just seven miles from its headquarters. The USGA is one of the more blue-blooded organizations in all of sport and its executives blanched as the son of a Queens slumlord employed carnival-barker tactics in an effort to buy its most prestigious championship.
Eventually, in 2012, the USGA relented somewhat, announcing that Trump National Bedminster would host the U.S. Women’s Open in 2017. For Trump it was a minor victory, a mere stepping stone toward the goal of a men’s major championship. To that end, he kept up his triangulation strategy with the USGA, the PGA of America, and the R&A until finally he hit his target.
On May 1, 2014 the PGA of America announced that Trump’s Bedminster property had been awarded the 2022 PGA Championship. “Having the PGA is a very, very big deal,” Trump said. “So it’s very important to me. It’s a great honor for me.”
He knew it was the runt of the litter among golf’s four majors, but he nevertheless brandished it as evidence of a dream accomplished.
Trump was no less solicitous of the one major not played in America: the Open Championship (often referred to as the British Open). The open was first contested three weeks before Abraham Lincoln was elected and is played on the ancient, rumbled links courses of the British Isles. In a gambit designed to curry favor with the R&A, Trump decided to build a course near Aberdeen in Scotland with the express aim of drawing the open.
While the course was under construction in the summer of 2010, I played golf at Bedminster with Trump and two colleagues from Time Inc., which at the time owned Golf Magazine. Over lunch, Trump boasted that he was building the best course in Scotland, when even his friends had to admit it wouldn’t be the best in the neighborhood. The project had been mired in controversy, including land disputes and claims by environmentalists that construction would damage the fragile dunes. Trump issued assurances that the dunes would be protected.
“Meanwhile, we’re ripping the shit out of them,” he told us, laughing. (In the summer of 2018, a Scottish government report found that the dunes had been partially destroyed.)
Trump’s ostentatious course in Aberdeen received no love from the R&A, a tweedy, hidebound organization that was innately wary of the flashy vulgarian. So he changed tack and in 2014 bought the Turnberry resort on Scotland’s west coast. It was one of the most iconic hotels and golf courses in the country, and had hosted four memorable opens dating back to 1977. The most recent had been in 2009, and Trump likely assumed that an open was included in the purchase price.