Trump’s Adventures in the Land of Golf


Who can blame Donald Trump for wanting to build overseas?

His home turf, New York City, has become dependent on foreigners who are taking advantage of favorable exchange rates to buy everything from DVDs to penthouses.

“I always liked the sound of a strong dollar until I looked at the bottom line,” Mr. Trump said during a speech last month to several thousand hotel investors at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. But if a strong dollar returns, he said, “business is going to stop coming to New York.”

Mr. Trump says he is still committed to New York, where his newest property is the Trump SoHo hotel and condominium tower, which is expected to open next year. But he is devoting more of his time to overseas projects, including buildings in India, South Korea, Turkey, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. In a recent telephone interview, he described each project as the “biggest” and the “best.”

One project, which seems particularly close to Mr. Trump’s heart, hangs in the balance. Two years ago, he announced plans to build what he calls the world’s greatest golf resort on the northeast coast of Scotland, near Aberdeen. The resort, estimated to cost about $2 billion, would include 1,000 condos, 500 luxury villas, a hotel and two golf courses, on 1,400 waterfront acres.

But the project has outraged environmentalists , who say the site chosen by Mr. Trump – with several miles of rugged coastline – should be left undisturbed.

Last year, the government of Aberdeenshire – the 2,400-square-mile district in which the site is located – rejected Mr. Trump’s proposal. But the Scottish cabinet, which has the power to review planning decisions, scheduled a hearing on the plan. In an effort to revive the project, which he says will bring thousands of jobs to the area, Mr. Trump appeared at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Center on June 10, the first day of the hearing. The cabinet is expected to announce its decision later in the summer.

During his two-and-a-half-hour appearance, Mr. Trump praised the site – which is in Balmedie, 13 miles north of Aberdeen – for its natural beauty. But when the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds argued that the landscape should be preserved, according to accounts in the British press, Mr. Trump said that 25,000 birds were being shot each year over his property and that residents were dumping garbage there.

“It’s a total mess,” Mr. Trump was quoted in The Guardian as saying. “When you walk on the site right now it’s sort of disgusting. There are bird carcasses lying all over the place. There are dead animals all over the site that have been shot. There may be some people that are into that. I am not.”

Mr. Trump later added: “It’s a killing field. They’re shooting birds. And all we’re going to do is shoot birdies and eagles.”

According to British press accounts, David Tyldesley, a planner hired by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, asked Mr. Trump about Scottish “rambler laws” that would allow birdwatchers and hikers to walk across the site.

Mr. Trump told the inquiry that golfers “would have a problem with people walking all over the course.” Ramblers, he added, could get hit by a golf ball, or break a leg and sue him. (Back in New York, Mr. Trump said, “We go by the laws of Scotland.”)

He was perhaps most combative when he was asked by Martin Ford, a member of the Aberdeenshire Council and an opponent of the project, how he had managed to buy the land without knowing it had been classified by Scotland as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. “You have little understanding of the property you bought or the environmental status of it,” Mr. Ford told him, according to a report by The Associated Press.

According to the Guardian account, Mr. Trump, who said he did know about the site’s designation, replied: “You know, it’s interesting, nobody has ever told me I don’t know how to buy property before. You’re the first one. I appreciate your advice.”

According to reporters at the hearing, Mr. Trump provoked guffaws when he told the inquiry that his proposed golf resort would “enhance” rather than harm the sand dunes. “I consider myself to be an environmentalist in the true sense of the word,” Mr. Trump said.

When asked about compromising the plan to save some of the dunes, Mr. Trump was adamant that there would be no half-measures. The press took that as a sign that Mr. Trump was going to build the resort his way – or not at all.

THE press even criticized his visit to the Scottish Isle of Lewis – where his mother, Mary MacLeod, grew up – as a public relations stunt. (Just before the hearing, Mr. Trump flew to Lewis on his private jet with his sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, a federal judge. A bagpiper greeted them at the airport.)

Back in New York, Mr. Trump, whose mother left Scotland as a young woman, said he believed that he had swayed the Scottish public. “It went very nicely,” he said in a telephone interview. “I think we won all of our points.”

Mr. Trump added that people have called him “brilliant” because he agreed to buy the Scottish site in dollars, before the dollar plummeted in relation to the pound. “I love being called brilliant,” he said, before explaining that his “currency play” was unintentional. “Really,” he said, “dollars are the only thing I deal in.”

Asked if the main street through the Aberdeen project would be named Trump Boulevard, as some British newspapers have reported, he said he hadn’t decided. He added: “But that sounds pretty good to me.”