Will Donald come up trumps with Doonbeg?

Simon Carswell talks to the billionaire developer Donald Trump, who has bought Doonbeg resort in Co Clare for a song at €15 million and will spend “a lot of money” bringing it to “the highest level of luxury”

Sat, May 10, 2014, 01:00

Donald Trump is best known for his “you’re fired!” catchphrase on the popular US reality TV show The Apprentice. For his new Irish venture, however, “you’re hired!” might be a more appropriate slogan.

The property mogul, who made his fortune building skyscrapers and running casinos, bought the five-star Doonbeg hotel and golf resort in Co Clare for a song at €15 million in February and intends to spend “a lot of money” bringing them to “the highest level of luxury.”

“You know what that means – jobs and income going to Ireland,” he says.

Couldn’t believe his luck
Speaking by phone from his office in New York ahead of his first visit to Doonbeg on Monday, the outspoken businessman says he couldn’t believe his luck. He was so taken with photographs of the resort that four years ago he sent a team of architects to take a look.

He liked the hotel’s stonework and wanted to see if he could recreate something similar at a golf resort he was building in Scotland.

“I said at the time, ‘I wonder if I will be able to buy it’ and I actually tried buying it and I wasn’t able to,” says Trump.

The 67-year-old billionaire, known more popularly in the US as “The Donald”, says Ireland’s economic difficulties enabled him to buy Doonbeg in a cut-price deal. Resort developer Kiawah Partners, Doonbeg’s previous owner and the developer of the Kiawah Island complex on the US east coast, appointed receivers in January to draw a line under Doonbeg’s mounting debts.

They sought a quick sale.

The New York city businessman says buying distressed properties on the cheap and making them better is “what I do for a living” and the following month, he got out his chequebook.

“It was one of those things. I closed that deal in less than five hours. There are not a lot of people who are able to do that,” he says. Modesty is not a club The Donald carries in his golf bag.

Asked where he sees Doonbeg in five years under his ownership, he says: “It will be one of the greatest resorts of the world and I think it will be one of the great courses of the world. I view them somewhat separately because we are spending a tremendous amount on bringing the course to the absolute highest level because of that location.”

Trump has grounds to be confident. He owns 16 resorts and just last week he landed the 2022 PGA Championship for one of his courses, the Old Course at his Trump National Bedminster in New Jersey. It will the youngest course ever to host one of golf’s four majors, he says.

The announcement came soon after the purchase of his 17th resort Turnberry, the iconic links course on the west coast of Scotland that has hosted the British Open four times. He paid €45 million, far less than a reputed €110 million he has spent developing Trump International Resort near Aberdeen. That resort, he says, has helped the local economy, something he believes can be repeated in Co Clare.