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.