The political and golf worlds collided on Tuesday when the New York Times reported that President Donald Trump, who has long had his eye on hosting an Open Championship at his prized Scottish course Trump Turnberry, reportedly instructed his British ambassador to help make that a reality.
The American ambassador to Britain, Robert Wood Johnson IV, told multiple colleagues in February 2018 that President Trump had asked him to see if the British government could help steer the world-famous and lucrative British Open golf tournament to the Trump Turnberry resort in Scotland, according to three people with knowledge of the episode.
The piece was widely circulated online, so let’s run through some of the basic questions golfers may have after reading the article.
Why is this news?
Outside of the whole everything-the-president-does-is-news mindset, there are basically two key questions that arise in the article that make it newsworthy:
First, to what extent did President Trump “push” Ambassador Johnson to intervene on his club’s behalf? The report cites three unnamed sources with “with knowledge of the episode,” but it’s unclear the extent to which — and how — the President would’ve instructed this to happen. It’s important to consider that, because it leads to the next question:
If this is something the President pushed for, to what extent would this be an “inappropriate” and an “unethical use of the presidency,” as his advisors reportedly warned? Any politician using governmental resources to influence and bolster their private interests obviously brings with it a host of further ethical questions that would need to be answered, including whether it would violate the “emoluments” clause.
Why does President Trump want an Open Championship?
Because, simply, it’s the Open Championship, one of the most prestigious events in golf. Which course wouldn’t want to host an Open Championship? Hosting major championships is something Trump has been eyeing long before he ascended to the presidency, and he’s made headway in those regards: his courses have hosted regular PGA Tour events, majors on the LPGA Tour and Senior circuits, the 2022 PGA Championship is coming to his Bedminster course in New Jersey, but both the Open Championship and U.S. Open have still alluded him.
Does Trump Turnberry deserve to host an Open Championship?
Focus on simply the golf for a second: Of course Turnberry deserves to host an Open Championship. Its iconic Ailsa Course, a four-time Open host, was beginning to wane until Trump purchased it and poured more than $10 million into redesigning the layout (to near-universal plaudits from experts). To that end, Trump Turnberry sits at No. 17 on our GOLF Top 100 Courses in the World Ranking, the fourth-highest Open rota course behind only St. Andrews, Royal Portrush (a new addition to the rota), and Muirfield.
It’s also been a while since Turnberry hosted one — 2009. And with no Opens scheduled there through 2024, by then St. Andrews will have hosted three Opens, and Royal St. Georges, Royal Liverpool and Royal Troon will have each hosted two since the Claret Jug was last awarded at the Ailsa Course.
So why hasn’t it hosted an Open Championship?
Martin Gilbert, the chief executive of Aberdeen Asset Management (lead sponsor of the Scottish Open), said it best:
“Politics aside, Trump would be an ideal venue — but you can’t put politics aside.”