Dave Hannigan: Noxious Trump polluting his own ambitions for golf course
New York facility was built with taxpayers’ money but is set to make tycoon even richer
A golfer on the links at the Trump Ferry Point Golf Course, near the Whitestone Bridge in New York. Paid for by New York City, and maintained by the Trump organization, this course in the city’s poorest borough offers a stark visual lesson in inequality. Photograph: Richard Perry/The New York Times
The Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point nestle at the foot of the Whitestone Bridge. Players can take in breathtaking views across the East River to New York City’s skyline on one side and the down-at-heel Throggs Neck housing projects in the Bronx on the other. At various junctures around this critically acclaimed Jack Nicklaus design, green pipes and rotating vents periodically discharge methane gas from deep beneath the fairways, a legacy from the venue’s previous life as a landfill.
As Donald Trump traverses America on perhaps the most noxious and gaseous presidential campaign in recent memory, denouncing Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug-dealers, this distinctive hot air feature at the newest club in his portfolio is almost too perfect a metaphor. The whole enterprise stinks.
In the poorest borough of New York, where one in three residents subsist in poverty and more than half the population are Mexican or Latino, the man who would be king (or at least Barack Obama’s successor in the White House) has opened the most expensive and overpriced municipal facility in America. And the taxpayers are footing much of the bill. “There’s never been anything like this ever built in the history of golf,” said Trump.
Just this once, the bloviator-in- chief is not guilty of hyperbole. Carving 18 stunning holes out of the toxic wasteland of a former garbage dump is quite the environmental feat and the spectacular location abutting Manhattan makes it truly unique. However, the ridiculously generous terms under which the self-styled multibillionaire (rumours of his wealth, critics contend, remain greatly exaggerated) took over the running of a project that cost an estimated $230 million (€209.8 million) in public funds are also a thing of wonder.
Ferry Point formally opened for business back in May and, for the first four years of operation, Trump is required to pay the city nothing at all back on its investment. In year five, he must hand over just $300,000 or 7 per cent of annual gross receipts, and, by year 20, the local authorities could be receiving just under half a million in annual revenue. Paltry sums especially when you consider Trump has also persuaded the city to fund the water bill for the course, which will run to at least $300,000 per annum.
“Trump is the one that’s going to be making a lot of money,” said Geoffrey Croft, president of the New York City Park Advocates. “And the taxpayers are the ones that are paying for it.”
Like the Golden Bear’s acute myopia, Trump spins the birth of Ferry Point in his own favour too. In his version of the narrative, our helmet-haired hero took over a faltering project in 2010 that, after decades of corruption and ecological difficulties, required a firm hand to finally secure the city its first new course for half a century. He banged heads together (“I sent construction guys that eat nails”) in an effort to give a struggling part of New York a venue that will generate service jobs, bring prosperity, and, eh, make his company a whole pile of taxpayer- subsidised dough.
He may have conveniently forgot how utterly dependent the golf industry is on immigrant labour but others haven’t. The PGA of America responded to his most recent outbursts by moving the Grand Slam of Golf (a 36-hole exhibition event featuring the year’s major champions) from Trump National Golf Club in Los Angeles. Other facilities bearing his name have also lost corporate bookings as companies move to distance themselves from a brand fast becoming radioactive.
Not that he will mind unduly.
“Let golf be elitist,” Trump told Fortune magazine this year. “When I say ‘aspire’, that’s a positive word. Let people work hard and aspire to some day be able to play golf. To afford to play it. They’re trying to teach golf to people who will never be able to really play it. They’re trying too hard. Because of the expense of playing, and the land needed, golf is never going to be basketball, where all you need is a court.”
Let golf be elitist. No question of it being any other way in a corner of the Bronx that will, unfortunately, be forever Trump.