Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in July 2016.
Donald Trump has put aside over $280M to redevelop Trump Turnberry
Hopes that iconic Ailsa will still host The Open Championship in the future
Local resident describes Trump as a "lovely guy"
Ailsa described as "one of the best golf courses in the world, if not the best"
Willie McDines looks back towards the luxurious new clubhouse at Trump Turnberry before describing the transformation he has witnessed over the past 18 months.
“I’ve seen quite a lot of comings and goings here over the years,” the veteran caddie master says. “But this is the best one yet.”
McDines, 59, whose father and grandmother were also Turnberry caddies, has worked at the historic golf resort on Scotland’s rugged southwest coast for close to 30 years.
He recalls witnessing Tom Watson claim his second Open Championship during the 1977 “Duel in the Sun” with Jack Nicklaus. Nine years later, he caddied for American amateur Sam Randolph when the Open returned in 1986.
Yet when billionaire businessman and President-elect, Donald J. Trump, snapped up the iconic facility in 2014, announcing extensive refurbishment plans of its three golf courses and 132 room luxury hotel, McDines admits to harboring some doubts.
“When they started talking about redoing the course, I was saying to myself … ‘are they going to ruin this?’” But McDines is quick to add he believes those early worries were misplaced. “When you see (the results), it’s absolutely stunning. Mr Trump has done exactly what he said he would.”
The Trump factor
Trump took time out of his White House bid in July to attend the official Turnberry reopening.
As was par for the course on the campaign trail, he was met by protesters in Scotland opposed to his run for president and outspoken pronouncements.
One left-wing Scottish group has even referred to Trump as “one of the world’s most prominent racists” given his characterizations of Mexican migrants as “rapists” and plans to ban Muslims entering the US
But unlike the Trump International Golf Links project near Aberdeen in the north east of Scotland – where Trump repeatedly clashed with residents, environmentalists and eventually the Scottish government – there has been little in the way of controversy surrounding the redevelopment of Turnberry itself.
CNN spoke to several local residents, all of whom were thrilled with the new resort. “I think it all looks fabulous and it will bring a lot of revenue into the village and the surrounding areas,” said Christina Auld who owns a nearby B&B.
Auld also makes a point of describing Trump as a “lovely guy,” having met him on one of his previous trips to the area.
“I think he’s doing an amazing job up there (at Turnberry). It’s all fantastic,” she adds.
Trump is a keen golfer and staff say he has been heavily involved in the redesign of the century-old hotel resort. He’s paid particular attention to the iconic Ailsa course, which has hosted the Open on four occasions since 1977.
Course designer Marin Ebert was hired with a brief to change much of the Ailsa’s structure and layout but Turnberry golf director, Ricky Hall points out that plans were decided upon “hand in hand” with Trump.
Among the most notable changes, the legendary ninth hole has been transformed from a par four into a spectacular par three that stretches across the water alongside the famous Turnberry lighthouse.
Further back, the walk between the fifth green and sixth tee now straddles the coast, offering stunning views of the Ailsa Craig and the Firth of Clyde. The 10th and 11th have also been brought closer to the shoreline.
Trump stated previously that more than £200 million ($287 million) has been set aside to restore and upgrade the Turnberry’s golf facilities, hotel and spa.
The outlay has been so high, in part, to achieve Trump’s stated goal of hosting the Open at Turnberry again, an honor last bestowed on the course in 2009.
Factors such as grandstand positioning and spectator flow were all considered in the Ailsa course design phase, Hall confirms.
Yet reports late last year suggested that Turnberry faced being removed from the Open rota by the Royal & Ancient (R&A), the administrative body which organizes the prestigious tournament.
The R&A addressed these claims in early 2016 when it stated that Turnberry would remain on its rota of host venues. Although it didn’t give any notification of if and when it would be chosen again, that will now definitely not happen before 2022 as all hosts have been selected until these dates.
The R&A was not immediately available for comment when asked by CNN to clarify its stance on Turnberry as an Open venue and if Trump’s involvement with the course had ever cast doubt over its future hosting of the event.
“Firmly part of the rota”
Such speculation and comment has not been the source of too much concern at Turnberry, according to Hall.
“(The R&A) have said all that we’ve needed to hear at this stage which is that Turnberry is firmly part of the rota and continues to be on the rota,” said Hall.
“We know now that the Open Championship, the next one available is 2022. That was always something that we were aiming for, and, fingers crossed, we hope to be honored to host it then.”
These opinions are echoed by Trump Turnberry general manager, Ralph Porciani. He says there has been no contact behind the scenes between Turnberry and the R&A with regards to thrashing out a schedule towards hosting the Open again.
“We’d take it tomorrow if it came back, that goes without saying,” Porciani states. (But) it was never in our expectations that we would have it any earlier than (2022.)”
Poriciani adds that the focus for now is on the next stages of the Turnberry redevelopment and ensuring the resort’s courses are ready and up to the R&A’s exacting standards should the call come. “We’ve got no intention of it (The Open) not coming back here,” he adds.
Back at the clubhouse, McDines, has an even stronger response to the thought of Turnberry losing its spot on the Open rota.
“That there, in my opinion, is one of the best golf courses in the world, if not the best,” he says glancing towards the Ailsa. “If the R&A decide it’s not coming back, I don’t know what’s wrong with them.”