The 78th Kitchen Aid Senior PGA Championship is being held at Trump International Golf Club just outside Washington, D.C., this weekend. About two years ago I had lunch with then Presidential candidate Donald Trump at the venue, where he had given a tour of the changes he had made to the course in advance of the event. Now he has been bumped upstairs, and Eric Trump has taken over the mantle as head of the family’s extensive golf operations.
I had a chance to speak with Eric to get his thoughts on the game, the business of golf, coping with winds of politics and having The Donald as a father.
Michael Williams: So what do we call you now, Head of the Trump Organization?
Eric Trump: Well, we aren’t really “title” people, but I guess that’s the right name. We’ve had a wild ride the past couple of years, specifically this year. It’s been amazing and this tournament is a great culmination of everything that we’ve aimed for in the sport of golf. We have the U.S. Women’s Open coming up at Bedminster in about two months; we have the 2022 PGA Championship also at Bedminster, and we’re excited about that. And there are many other tournaments that we’re adding. Listen, we’re doing awesome as a family, we’re doing awesome as a company, and we’re just so blessed in life.
The 2017 Kitchen Aid Senior PGA Championship is being held at Trump National just outside Washington, D.C. This was an existing club. What is the story for how you found and acquired it?
Well, I actually went to school not to far from here at Georgetown University. I love the area here, and in 2009 the course came up for sale. It was brought to us, and I came down here to look at it. I remember calling my father from the course and saying, “Listen, this is something that we have to do, this place is incredible.” And the potential…you know, that is something that we’ve always done well as a company is recognize potential. I told my Dad that the potential here was unbelievable. So we ended up buying the course and we went to work the two of us, me and my father. It’s a very sentimental thing for me, because we spent a lot of time together working on it. We went through every inch of this property together. So in a certain way, this is a great testament to him and his vision. We rebuilt the course and made it into something amazing. It’s right on the Potomac River, and with the views of the falls and the river and the scenery…it’s just an unbelievably special place. It can never be duplicated ever again. I was on the course today with Colin Montgomery in the Pro-Am…
You just played in the pro-am? Who did you play with and how did you do?
I played with Colin Montgomerie and (defending Senior PGA Champion) Rocco Mediate. We did well, we came in second. But I want to audit the winner because I think they cheated! [Laughs] Just kidding. We played great…but when you hear Rocco Mediate, Colin, John Daly and all these other guys just raving about the course and the conditioning, it validates everything that we strived for each and every day to achieve, so I couldn’t be more proud.
What was the process for the Senior PGA Championship coming to Trump National, and was there any point over that “wild ride” of the last two years when there was doubt that the tournament would stay here?
I don’t think you “seek” tournaments, I think they seek you. They seek the best properties, and if you’re not the best you’re not going to get the tournaments, especially a tournament as prestigious as this one, or the Women’s Open or the PGA Championship. They seek you if you have the best course and the best location, and I think that’s what we have. This is 800 acres on the Potomac River right outside Washington, D.C. It’s an amazing facility with views like none other…an unbelievable course. Long, amazing, I mean, the putting surfaces are incredible, and it’s going to be an incredible test of golf. The USGA, the PGA, the R&A, the European Tour and all of the big agencies in golf, they want the best. And the players want the best. I care about one thing, and that is that this be the best championship that the seniors have ever had. Our whole team strives to achieve that, and I strive to achieve that every day. That’s who we are as a company, and I know that they are going to have an amazing experience. And that’s what its all about at the end of the day.
What is the current portfolio and where are the new acquisitions coming?
We have 19 properties around the world. We just opened our first course in the Middle East, in Dubai, designed by Gil Hanse. It’s an amazing, amazing course…second to none in that part of the world, and we’re building a second course there with Tiger Woods in 2018. We have two courses in Indonesia, one in Bali (Phil Mickelson), and one in Jakarta (Ernie Els), and both of those will be amazing. As you probably know, we bought Turnberry two years ago and that course has been on the cover of every golf magazine and has won every accolade, and we’re so proud of that. And of course there’s Doral, and you know what we’ve done with that property. There’s Ferry Point in New York City, which has been such an amazing success for the city of New York and for us as a company. People really love that course. And we have our course just outside L.A, overlooking Catalina Island right on the Pacific Ocean, it’s so spectacular…I could go on and on. We’ve really done something great in this world; we care about golf, we love the game. We’ve dumped our heart and soul into it, and we’ve really built something that’s awesome.
Did you grow up playing golf? Did you get your knowledge and passion for golf “from the ground up?”
I did play, yes. I developed my love of the game certainly from the ground up playing, but also from the business of the game. I spent a long time and my father spent a lot longer time building vertical towers, and right around 2000 we got into the game of golf. I came into the business in about 2005; we had three golf courses, and from that point on we went on kind of a tear, going from three to 19 courses today. I did every single one of those courses with my father; built them, bought them, developed them…to build the portfolio into what it is today. So my love of golf comes from all that, from playing, and quite frankly because I get to spend so much time with [my father] on these courses. There’s no one who loves the game of golf more [than him]; he loves everything about it. It’s special to me beyond playing. It’s the game I care about, a game that creates so much good. You know, more charity dollars are generated by golf than all the other major sports combined. More people have gotten jobs because of golf, friendships are created, deals are done because of golf. It’s an amazing sport.
Does having a father in the White House make your job harder or easier? Is it difficult to isolate yourself from the politics?
It’s funny. There’s certainly a lot of noise. No matter who or when you’re talking about, politics creates a lot of noise. And Washington is a tough town. Politicians aren’t always the greatest people, and I think that’s one of the reasons I choose to stay on this side of the aisle instead of the other. At the same time, what my father accomplished, what we accomplished as a family, is something very special. I’ll never forget the last two years; he did some thing no one said he would do or could do. Virtually everybody got it wrong and he did what he does best; he worked and he fought and he proved a lot of people wrong. Somebody at the end of the campaign right before the election came up to me and said, “Listen, I think that this election is going to be celebrity versus family and believe me, the American people are going to choose family.” So I think that if there’s one thing that came out of this is that we showed that as a family you fight together, you win together. I think everybody saw the bond that we have, which started at a young age but really came together in the business and everything else that we’ve done. We love each other; my father is an amazing man and he has a heart of gold and I’m truly proud of him. So, does politics make it more difficult? Absolutely. But as a business, we’re a non-political company. We do not get involved in politics; we can’t get involved in politics because we have people checking into hotels every night and they’re Democrats and Republicans. But it has certainly been fun and interesting, and I’m incredibly proud of him.
Who is the best player in the family?
My father is. He’s a great, great putter and he’s very consistent. He’s a legitimate 2-3 handicap. He’s a real player, and he surprises a lot of people. Younger people challenge him, and then he’ll go out and not miss a putt. If you ever play with him, leave your wallet in the car!
Will we see the President on the weekend at Trump National?
It’s totally his decision. I know that he’d love to, but it’s his call you make. I wonder how he’s going to feel after this trip. I’ve been watching him on TV every day and I’m kind of living life vicariously through the news channels. (NOTE: POTUS came on a TV screen right behind us as we were talking). I took a look at his schedule: Saudi Arabia, Israel and then going to the NATO meetings. He is just working himself so incredibly hard, but he’d love to be here. He’s friends with so many of the players; he loves the game and he loves this property. Let’s see how he feels.
I once predicted that Donald Trump would be the next PGA Tour Commissioner, but as it turns out he took a different job. You have a pretty good job, but if you were to change what would it be?
There’s so many things that are interesting, but I love building. I think my father would choose building over anything else, and I share that DNA with him. He loves building; I love building. He loves taking a building and watching it materialize on the skyline; I like taking a golf course and making it spectacular. I love taking a Turnberry and renovating it to what many consider to be the best course and hotel anywhere in the world. This is what gets us up in the morning and what we fall asleep doing at night. I think I found my calling; I think I found my passion. When you combine golf with real estate and construction to make things beautiful and vitalized and add an entrepreneurial sprit, then you’ve got a great combination. I think we’ve proven that can be very successful, and I think that’s why we’re sitting where we are today with all of these championships at beautiful courses that are thriving, and that’s a great thing for the game of golf. Golf needs more of that, and fortunately I think we’ve gotten a lot of credit for it because we put our whole heart and should into this industry and these assets. It’s all materializing, and events on the [the Senior PGA Championship] are the proof.
Clark: A teacher’s take on Brandel Chamblee’s comments
Because I’m writing to a knowledgeable audience who follows the game closely, I’m sure the current Brandel Chamblee interview and ensuing controversy needs no introduction, so let’s get right to it.
Brandel Chamblee, a former PGA Tour player, now plays a role as a TV personality. He has built a “brand” around that role. The Golf Channel seems to relish the idea of Brandel as the “loose cannon” of the crew (not unlike Johnny Miller on NBC) saying exactly what he thinks with seeming impunity from his superiors.
I do not know the gentleman personally, but on-air, he seems like an intelligent, articulate golf professional, very much on top of his subject matter, which is mostly the PGA Tour. He was also a very capable player (anyone who played and won on the PGA Tour is/was a great player). But remember, nowadays he is not being judged by what scores he shoots, but by how many viewers/readers his show and his book have (ratings). Bold statements sell, humdrum ones do not.
For example, saying that a teacher’s idiocy was exposed is a bold controversial statement that will sell, but is at best only partly true and entirely craven. If the accuser is not willing to name the accused, he is being unfair and self-serving. However, I think it’s dangerous to throw the baby out with the bathwater here; Brandel is a student of the game and I like a lot of what he says and thinks.
His overriding message in that interview is that golf over the last “30-40 years” has been poorly taught. He says the teachers have been too concerned with aesthetics, not paying enough attention to function. There is some truth in that, but Brandel is painting with a very broad brush here. Many, myself included, eschewed method teaching years ago for just that reason. Method teachers are bound to help some and not others. Maybe the “X swing” one player finds very useful, another cannot use it all.
Brandel was asked specifically about Matthew Wolff’s unique swing: Lifting the left heel, crossing the line at the top, etc. He answered, “of course he can play because that’s how he plays.” The problem would be if someone tried to change that because it “looked odd.” Any teacher worth his weight in salt would not change a swing simply because it looked odd if it was repeating good impact. I learned from the great John Jacobs that it matters not what the swing looks like if it is producing great impact.
Now, if he is objecting exclusively to those method teachers who felt a certain pattern of motions was the one true way to get to solid impact, I agree with him 100 percent. Buy many teach on an individual, ball flight and impact basis and did not generalize a method. So to say “golf instruction over the last 30-40 years” has been this or that is far too broad a description and unfair.
He goes on to say that the “Top Teacher” lists are “ridiculous.” I agree, mostly. While I have been honored by the PGA and a few golf publications as a “top teacher,” I have never understood how or why. NOT ONE person who awarded me those honors ever saw me give one lesson! Nor have they have ever tracked one player I coached. I once had a 19 handicap come to me and two seasons later he won the club championship-championship flight! By that I mean with that student I had great success. But no one knew of that progress who gave me an award.
On the award form, I was asked about the best, or most well-known students I had taught. In the golf journals, a “this-is-the-teacher-who-can-help-you” message is the epitome of misdirection. Writing articles, appearing on TV, giving YouTube video tips, etc. is not the measure of a teacher. On the list of recognized names, I’m sure there are great teachers, but wouldn’t you like to see them teach as opposed to hearing them speak? I’m assuming the “ridiculous” ones Brandel refers to are those teaching a philosophy or theory of movement and trying to get everyone to do just that.
When it comes to his criticism of TrackMan, I disagree. TrackMan does much more than help “dial in yardage.” Video cannot measure impact, true path, face-to-path relationship, centeredness of contact, club speed, ball speed, plane etc. Comparing video with radar is unfair because the two systems serve different functions. And if real help is better ball flight, which of course only results from better impact, then we need both a video of the overall motion and a measure of impact.
Now the specific example he cites of Jordan Spieth’s struggles being something that can be corrected in “two seconds” is hyperbolic at least! Nothing can be corrected that quickly simply because the player has likely fallen into that swing flaw over time, and it will take time to correct it. My take on Jordan’s struggles is a bit different, but he is a GREAT player who will find his way back.
Brandel accuses Cameron McCormick (his teacher) of telling him to change his swing. Do we know that to be true, or did Jordan just fall into a habit and Cameron is not seeing the change? I agree there is a problem; his stats prove that, but before we pick a culprit, let’s get the whole story. Again back to the sensationalism which sells! (Briefly, I believe Jordan’s grip is and has always been a problem but his putter and confidence overcame it. An active body and “quiet” hands is the motion one might expect of a player with a strong grip-for obvious reason…but again just my two teacher cents)
Anyway, “bitch-slapped” got him in hot water for other reasons obviously, and he did apologize over his choice of words, and to be clear he did not condemn the PGA as a whole. But because I have disagreements with his reasoning here does not mean Brandel is not a bright articulate golf professional, I just hope he looks before he leaps the next time, and realizes none of us are always right.
Some of my regular readers will recall I “laid down my pen” a few years ago, but it occurred to me, I would be doing many teachers a disservice if I did not offer these thoughts on this particular topic!
A trip down Magnolia Memory Lane: Patron fashion at the 1991 Masters
Like a lot of golfers out there, I’ve been getting my fix thanks to the final round Masters broadcasts on YouTube via the Masters channel. Considering these broadcasts go back as far as 1968, there is a lot we could discuss—we could break down shots, equipment, how the course has changed, but instead I thought we could have a little fun taking a different direction—fashion.
However, I’m not talking players fashion, that’s fairly straight forward. Instead, I wanted to follow the action behind the action and see what we could find along the way – here are the 1991 Highlights.
I love the “Die Hard” series as much as anyone else but one fan took it to a new level of fandom by wearing a Die Hard 2 – Die Harder T-shirt to Sunday at the Masters. This patron was spotted during Ian Woosnam fourth shot into 13. Honorable mention goes to Woosie’s gold chain.
There is a lot going on here as Ben Crenshaw lines up his put on 17. First, we have the yellow-shirted man just left of center with perfectly paired Masters green pants to go along with his hat (he also bears a striking resemblance to Ping founder Karsten Solheim). Secondly, we have what I would imagine is his friend in the solid red pants—both these outfits are 10 out of 10. Last but not least, we have the man seen just to the right of Ben with sunglasses so big and tinted, I would expect to be receiving a ticket from him on the I20 on my way out of town.
If you don’t know the name Jack Hamm, consider yourself lucky you missed a lot of early 2000s late-night golf infomercials. OK so maybe it’s not the guy known for selling “The Hammer” driver but if you look under the peak of the cabin behind Woosie as he tees off on ten you can be forgiven for taking a double-take… This guy might show up later too. Honorable mention to the pastel-pink-shorted man with the binoculars and Hogan cap in the right of the frame.
Big proportions were still very much in style as the 80s transitioned into the early 90s. We get a peek into some serious style aficionados wardrobes behind the 15th green with a wide striped, stiff collared lilac polo, along with a full-length bright blue sweater and a head of hair that has no intention of being covered by a Masters hat.
Considering the modern tales of patrons (and Rickie Folwer) being requested to turn backward hats forward while on the grounds of Augusta National, it was a pretty big shock to see Gerry Pate’s caddy with his hat being worn in such an ungentlemanly manner during the final round.
Before going any further, I would like us all to take a moment to reflect on how far graphics during the Masters coverage has come in the last 30 years. In 2019 we had the ability to see every shot from every player on every hole…in 1991 we had this!
At first glance, early in the broadcast, these yellow hardhats threw me for a loop. I honestly thought that a spectator had chosen to wear one to take in the action. When Ian Woosnam smashed his driver left on 18 over the bunkers it became very apparent that anyone wearing a hard hat was not there for fun, they were part of the staff. If you look closely you can see hole numbers on the side of the helmets to easily identify what holes they were assigned to. Although they have less to do with fashion, I must admit I’m curious where these helmets are now, and what one might be worth as a piece of memorabilia.
Speaking of the 18th hole, full credit to the man in the yellow hat (golf clap to anyone that got the Curious George reference) who perfectly matched the Pantone of his hat to his shirt and also looked directly into the TV camera.
It could be said the following photo exemplifies early ’90s fashion. We have pleated Bermuda shorts, horizontal stripes all over the place and some pretty amazing hairstyles. Honorable mention to the young guys in the right of the frame that look like every ’80s movie antagonist “rich preppy boy.”
What else can I say except, khaki and oversized long sleeve polos certainly had their day in 1991? We have a bit of everything here as Tom Watson lines up his persimmon 3-wood on the 18th. The guy next to Ian Woosnam’s sleeves hit his mid-forearm, there are too many pleats to count, and somehow our Jack Hamm look-alike managed to find another tee box front row seat.
You can check out the full final-round broadcast of the 1991 Masters below.
The 19th Hole Episode 119: Gary Player joins the 19th Hole!
Hall of Famer Gary Player gives an exclusive one-on-one interview with Host Michael Williams about his life in golf, his thoughts on the current game and his tips for thriving even in difficult times.
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