Jonathan Storm: Trump to a tee

Donald Trump (right) with professional golfer John Daly. Though Trump may bend the rules on the course, he has a powerful if unorthodox swing and says he has a low handicap.
Donald Trump (right) with professional golfer John Daly. Though Trump may bend the rules on the course, he has a powerful if unorthodox swing and says he has a low handicap.

He's the star of a Golf Channel series and has affixed his name to an area course. Can the game survive The Donald?

Posted: February 26, 2011

Propriety is not in Donald Trump's vocabulary. He does whatever he feels like, whenever he feels like it, and let's not worry too much about the niceties.

Proprietor, on the other hand, is high on his word list.

Casino baron and real estate tycoon, Trump likes to own things, and golf courses have come squarely into his sights.

His Golf Channel series, Donald J. Trump's Fabulous World of Golf, now in its second season, documents his mission: "Taking over the golf world 18 holes at a time," as the show's introduction says every Monday at 9 p.m.

It's as much a marketing tool as it is a documentary, as Monday's episode on his acquisition of a South Jersey golf club demonstrates.

"I bought it. I didn't build it," he says on the phone, referring to the former Pine Hill Golf Club that is the center of Monday's episode.

On the show, the 10-year-old course undergoes significant modifications. Trump may be rough around the edges, but his modus operandi seems to be to make things as fancy as possible to get the money rolling in.

Trump reassures the existing members that things will be better, without a big increase in fees (though some have complained that he painted "plantation white" all over their beloved rustic brown clubhouse that reflected Pine Hill's past as a ski area).

He whisks in on his helicopter (big T-R-U-M-P lettering on the side), plays a quick round, and buzzes out.

That strikes fear into the hearts of some purists, who think the series might better be titled Donald J. Trump and the End of the World of Golf.

In some precincts, golf's history, tradition, and finely tuned etiquette are as important as hitting the ball. Not with The Donald.

To preserve their pristine turf, as well as the roots of the game (and to underscore their exclusivity), many top clubs limit or forbid golf carts, requiring players to walk and hire caddies. Not Trump. He brags about the quality of his machines.

On Monday's show, Trump follows what is apparently his normal practice of racing ahead in his cart and leaving his partner running to catch up. But he also picks his ball up and moves it next to the cup on the 18th hole, unseen by his opponents, thereby winning a match. ('Twas all a joke, says he on the phone. After all, the cameras were rolling.)

In one phrase, he mocks two of the legendary shrines of golf, calling his new spread "Pine Valley No. 2"

Pine Valley Golf Club, a mile or two from what is now called Trump National Golf Club - Philadelphia, is usually mentioned in hushed tones by the legions who have never played there, but understand that it just may be the greatest golf course in the world.

In 2014, Pinehurst No. 2, in North Carolina, will become the first course to host the U.S. Open and the U.S. Women's Open in the same year. It's one of the masterpieces of Donald Ross, a Scotsman considered by many to be history's greatest golf-course architect.

Scottish blood courses through Donald Trump as well. His mother, Mary Anne MacLeod, was born on the Isle of Lewis in the far reaches of the Outer Hebrides. Unlike in New Jersey, Trump is building it in Scotland: Trump International Golf Links - Scotland. "It will make St. Andrews [whose Old Course is hallowed as the birthplace of the game] look like a toy," he says.

This is basically the same as saying that a fancy new church on the outskirts of Paris will make Notre Dame look like a shack.

On TV, whether it's The Apprentice or his fabulous golf world, Trump frequently comes across as boorish and arrogant. On the phone, he's friendly and down-to-Earth, cocksure to be sure, but with a tone that lets you forgive his bravura and long to hang out, even if he weren't 153d on the Forbes magazine list of America's richest, with a net worth of $2.3 billion.

"One reason people like to make deals with me," he says when asked about his $3.2 million purchase of the formerly semiprivate Pine Hill, "is that they know they'll get paid at the closing."

Hanging out would be fun. Playing golf? With that frenetic pace, maybe not, but you wouldn't have to worry about putting up with some hacker. Though he only gets out on weekends, Trump says he plays to a 2 handicap, which means he shoots in the low to middle 70s. You can see his unorthodox, but powerful, swing on the show, and he says putting - confidence is the key - is the best part of his game.

Trump has nine golf facilities in the United States, including one in Los Angeles that he says is ranked No. 1 in California. What about Pebble Beach, also mentioned with Pine Valley among the world's best courses? "That's No. 2," he says.

No comment on the 10 other California courses on Golf Digest's definitive list of America's 100 best or the 21 others on the California state list ahead of Trump National - Los Angeles.

Confidence, bravado, good marketing - who's to say? But it seems to work. In the midst of a golf depression that has devastated hundreds of clubs nationwide, Trump Philadelphia, fairly priced for a fancy club with a $15,000 initiation fee and $7,000 annual dues, has attracted scores of new members. Club representative Donna Surrette says the rolls should close sometime this summer, when prospects will have to get on a waiting list.

What do you expect? asks Trump. "My course is better than Pine Valley in some ways. We have much more elevation . . . fabulous views of Philadelphia."

One of the defining, and beloved, qualities of Pine Valley is that you can't see Philadelphia, or anywhere else for that matter, from its cloistered confines.

You are in an entirely different world, a half-hour from Center City and light years from the Fabulous World of Donald J. Trump.


Jonathan Storm:

Donald J. Trump's Fabulous World of Golf

9 p.m. Monday on the Golf Channel.


Contact television critic Jonathan Storm at 215-854-5618 or jstorm@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/

jonathanstorm.

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