Having taken a close interest in Donald Trump’s new golf course at Menie Estate, I have at times wondered whether, irrespective of the events of the past, it will be a success or not. Today, as the golf course is officially opened, I conclude that it will, in fact, be a failure. Here are the ten reasons why I reach that conclusion.
1. It’s in the wrong place
I am reliably informed that Donald Trump looked at “hundreds” of locations across the whole of the UK before deciding to build his new course at Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire. Among the sites examined was the 600ha brownfield site at the former Polkemmet Colliery in West Lothian. In the end, however, Trump was smitten by the “Great Dunes of Scotland” and failed to properly evaluate the full business case for alternative locations. Polkemmet would have been ideal for a Trump development. Planning consents were already in place for 2000 houses and 2 championship golf courses. It is extremely well located for the kind of golf tourism that Trump is promoting and has excellent transport links. The site is also capable of being moulded into any kind of shape desired. Donald Trump, however, was in pursuit of a vanity project and not a viable world class golf resort. The Menie dunes are magnificent but it is a poor place for a golf course of the scale envisioned by Trump.
2. The Menie dunes will keep moving
According to an authoritative report by Dr Jim Hansom, the undisturbed sand sheet at the southern end of the Foveran Links Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) was the “most extensive, dynamic and demonstrably systematic in its mode of transit of any such feature” in Great Britain. It has now been destroyed. Figures 13 and 14 in the Hansom report show the dunes’ migration northward by 550m since 1949.
Despite the destruction, the dunes system at Menie form an integral part of the Aberdeen Bay longshore sediment transport system. In other words, Mr Trump’s golf course is probably going to be subject to substantial periodic sandstorms which could bury whole greens or tees. Over time such disturbances will become too much to deal with and the golf course will be destroyed.
Just take a look at that bank of sand behind Mr Trump in the photograph above (oh and to his left, this green has collapsed into the sea (see paras 31-37 of this MEMAG meeting of 11 April 2011)
3. The European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre will be consented
Although no decision has yet been made by Scottish Ministers, there appears no valid grounds for refusing to consent the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre (EOWDC) in Aberdeen Bay. If this happens, Donald Trump has already said he will walk away from development of the hotel and houses. The golf course is not viable without them.
4. The Trump brand is now mud
Much of the anticipated success of the golf course relies on the so-called “Trump brand”. Divisive a figure though he is, this brand is still immensely valuable in the US. In Scotland, however, it is probably now irredeemably damaged due to Mr Trump’s actions in bullying and harrassing people and in his abysmal public relations (if you want to do business in a country it helps if you are polite to people). The north-east business community are the key cheerleaders for Trump as illustrated in this video clip. But the north-east business community is full square behind the EOWDC and, once that is approved and Trump storms off, his brand is worthless.
5. The course will never host a major golf tournament
Much has been made by Trump of his ambitions for Menie to host a major golf tournament. It is very unlikely that this will happen for at least three reasons.
Firstly, according to some golf experts I have spoken to, the course is too tricky and demanding to play. Whilst top golfers obviously need a severe test of skill, the margin of error needs to be contained (in other words, no true competition should leave too much down to chance). Trump has built a golf course with relatively confined fairways that would not look out of place in the USA – except he’s created it on the wild north east coast of Scotland.
Secondly, it is doubtful whether either the course and the local area could accommodate the sheer numbers of spectators, facilities and accommodation requirements of a major golf event. My understanding is that no evaluation of this has been done and so I could be proved wrong but sources tell me that it would prove quite challenging
Thirdly (and the most impotant factor) is that it is almost certain that at some point in the near future, major championship events will need to be acccredited by the Golf Environment Organisation (GEO) as a condition of hosting. Jonathan Smith, the CEO of GEO has stated that,
“The golf development at Menie Estate has been widely, and in our view rightly, criticised for causing avoidable environmental damage and social disruption. While its playing quality may well be extremely high, this is at the cost of considerable negative impact on what was one of the UK’s most valuable mobile sand dune systems.”
It is interesting to note the contrast between Menie and the Machrihanish Dunes course in Kintyre which was built entirely within an SSSI by a wealthy US businessman and was the first 18 hole course in the UK to achieve GEO certification. It shows what could have been done at Menie.
It is certain that Menie will not receive GEO certification. Given that all the premier golf courses in the UK are seeking such accreditation, it is hard to see how this will not become a requirement of any course that wishes to host a major.
6. The course will not be world-class
Trump places great faith that his golf course will be the best in the world. But during the masterplanning process in 2009, the architect, Gareth Hoskins concluded that it could not even be world class without the extra land that the local residents own and refuse to sell.
“Obviously you can make it work within the available area … you know you can work around about it …. you know you can accommodate the residential, you can accommodate the resort. The championship course works. You can manipulate things to get round about them but if I’m asked, does this make it a world class development, the answer is quite emphatically no.” (1)
7. Trump will lose interest – it’s a vanity project
It is clear that this golf course – indeed the whole project is a vanity project, an ego trip for Mr Trump. The 7th reason is therefore that he will simpy lose interest.
8. The project is financially unsustainable
This assertion is merely that – an assertion. It is hard to see how this project will ever generate a return on the capital that has been invested and that is scheduled to be invested. Without a return, it is a drain on the pocket of Mr Trump. He may be happy with that but my feeling is that he will lose interest or walk away because of EOWDC and sell up.
9. The loss of key stakeholders
For any project of this nature to succeed, the key stakeholders need to be on board. This was the case at the beginning when local and national government and business interests gave the development their enthusiastic backing but Trump’s friends are a diminishing band. He has lost the Scottish Government. He will probably lose the local business community and Aberdeenshire Council will most likely get fed up.
10. It is too far away from Trump Tower, New York
For this project to succeed on Trump’s terms, he needs to maintain a close connection with it. Business ventures located far from the seat of power are the most vulnerable to any number of external shocks. I don’t think Trump International Golf Links Scotland will survive more than 5 years.
(1) Donald Trump’s Golf War by Midas Productions. First broadcast on BBC 2 Scotland 15 November 2010 at 39:16
Excellent reasons, which I sincerely hope come true. It should not have been built. Thank you for this piece of writing.
At least it seems the Scots have figured out that Donald Trump is a self serving schmuck (oop, did I say that?), way faster than weeee Americans.
I whole heartedly disagree with all your assumptions. i am hopeful that it will put us on the map of world golf. Sooner or later this myth about wind power will be shown what it is, a myth. Good luck Donald, cant wait to play!!!
Nice try, Donald Trump
Map of world golf???? Are you f-ing serious??? Scotland is the map! I caddy at royal Troon and people coming from far and wide to visit the home of. Golf and say they have played the
famous old course not some man made crap by an arrogant American / scot that believes he has a clue about golf! He is trying to buy a major and it won’t happen in the staes and it will never happen here!
ERR -hold on the map of world golf?? where have you you been hiding-we invented the game -St Andrews
I’m neutral on the Trump course but some of your arguments here don’t stack up. On point six, the course may or may not be world class (I will see it tomorrow and make my mind up then) but Gareth Hoskins, a building architect, not a golf designer, is talking about the resort as a whole, not the course itself. I also don’t buy the argument that it is in the wrong place. Across the world, from Bandon, Oregon, to Barnbougle, Tasmania, it’s proven that oceanfront locations with natural virtues are key to making iconic golf tourist destinations work. Polkemmet is an interesting project, and I hope it comes off, but the idea that high-end golfing tourists would flock to a former colliery in the central belt is laughable. Aberdeen is actually an ideal location, as it is a strong golfing location lacking just a bit of pizazz to help it attract visitors considering rounds in Fife, East Lothian, Ayrshire, Co. Kerry etc. With respect to tournaments, I don’t see an Open there any time soon, but I am practically certain the European Tour will take the Scottish Open to the course in the next three years.
It would not totally surprise me if Trump were to walk away from the project. It is hard to see how he makes money on it in the present economic circumstances, and some suspect that the grandstanding over the wind farm is a cover story for not investing more to build the hotel, housing, etc, because he knows it doesn’t pay. But suppose he does walk away; what happens then? I don’t see the course ceasing to exist – a savvy investor that bought the property in a firesale situation – which is to say at pennies on the pound – could make a big success of it.
Adam Lawrence, Editor, Golf Course Architecture (www.golfcoursearchitecture.net)
Thanks Adam – an interesting perspective and I take on board your countering of some of my points and may perhaps agree. I do wonder though about GEO certification – I think that is critical. Compare Machrihanish which was first Uk 18 hole course to be certified and is built 100% within an SSSI – that defines the standard and menie falls way short on that count. Whether such factors become critical to the success of golf courses and their hosting of Majors, time alone will tell. The other critical issue is the mobility of these dunes. Just look at the Hansom report satellite photos and ask – will this course exist in the same format as it is today in 20, 30 or 40 years given the rate of movement?
I’m a positive outlook type myself but i’d love to see it fail in any of the aforementioned points, although most specifically, sandstorms, folk just not willing to play it or finally championships not going to it. The man is an moron, and his endless trumpeting of heritage is pointless,…aye his mam was fae scotland…but it was stornoway….she might as well be fae the moon. No offence to any people from or of there….but I think folk in the northeast couldn’t care less about where she came from.
I really enjoyed this article however I respectfully think that you might be a little off on at least two points.
In relation to point number 1 this may indeed be the wrong site for the golf course but itâ€™s still a better site than your proposed alternative. No matter how good a parkland course he would build at the Polkemmet it would never stack up to a true championship Links. Its so hard to build a new links course now with all the planning regulation that if even a decent one is built it will instantly have more allure than a better parkland course. He already has numerous quality parkland courses and if this is a vanity project to build the “worldâ€™s best course” in GB or Ireland then it really had to be a true links classic. The juries out on whether he has done that though.
In relation to point number 6. I agree with you but for different reasons. I don’t think he has a chance in hell of ever holding a British Open but not because of an Environmental accreditation. If the R&A who run the open don’t care about hosting the open at venues that won’t even allow women the right to become members then I don’t think they are too worried about this accreditation. The reason that he won’t hold a major is because of the nature of the R&A Themselves. They are one of the most old fashioned, pompous, traditional, snobby bodies you will ever see. The thought of them letting the open to be held on a course owned by a brash, obnoxious, loud mouthed American I think would be too much for them.
Although Iâ€™m sure money does play an increasingly big part with the R&A now.
I do think that golf courses and the natural environment can co-exist but what I truly hate is the real-estate side of it. Look at all the wonderful links courses in the world that have not a property in site but yet still manage to stay open and thriving year to year. This is the side of this that bugs me. If he needed the real estate side to make a profit then he shouldnâ€™t have been allowed to build in the first place.
Thanks again Andy for this article, It will be interesting how the Bushmills links golf course project pans out in Northern Ireland. It seems they are already having problems similar to this.
Thanks for your interesting comments. I agree with you on the location point. I should also have added a link to the Machrihanish Dunes project in Kintyre with is GEO accredited, built entirely within an SSSI by a US businessman etc. Quite a contrast and a good example of how to do it well.
“put us on the golfing map”
Scotland is the home of golf, and hosts the most famous course in the world less than 1 hour away.
This golf course became famous because of politics nothing else. Spool back a few months/ years, and remember the hoo haw about the Macdonalds resort in Aviemore. A resort that was almost abandoned because of Labours incompetence but became a political football when they discovered that the owner was an SNP supporter.”Public inquiry,” shrieked Labour cheered by their pet journalists in the MSM. Or even the wailing about the giant pylons marching over Scottish mountains, conveniently ignoring the fact that there are already pylons on the same route and the new pylons mean less pylons and the removal of many unsightly pylons from the national park. If Alex Salmond invented penicillin the Unionist parties and their pet journalist would howl for a public inquiry. So the fact that Donald Trump was seen to be bestest pals with Alex Salmond was enough to trigger the onslaught and the howling that followed. Conveniently ignoring once more that it was Jack McConnel, Labour First Minister of “The Best Wee Country in the World,” that was the first Scottish politician to ride Donald Trumps chopper!
As to the course itself, it is stunning and beautiful. I saw it last week. I also remember the area pre Trump. It was a pretty grim spectacle. The small holder on the site has an area that is a tip, nothing more. He will not be there for ever. If he had any sense he would have taken the money and retired gracefully.
The fantasising now emanating from some quarters, and the drooling at the prospect of this developments failure is just disgusting. It is part of this “SNP accused,” drip drip of negative depressing girning that we hear so much of from the Unionists. And plastered in the Daily Record and Scotsman almost daily. The Daily Telegraph has joined in with the twisted Tory rhetoric of Allan Cochrane. This lusting for misfortune to befall Scotland is actually becoming pornographic.
July 10, 2012 at 10:21 pm
“Excellent reasons, which I sincerely hope come true. It should not have been built. Thank you for this piece of writing.” What a disgraceful comment. Shame on you.
As someone who was born and bred in the Highlands in the middle of the wilderness that these people wish Scotland to remain, I can tell you that the vast majority of that wilderness is a creation of mankind, not of God. It was mankind’s greed and brutality that created the Highlands wilderness through genocide and economic discrimination. In 1707 Scotland had 20% of the UK population now it is around 9%. We need our wilderness for people to live in economically sustainable, and Menie is no different. It creates jobs and attracts commerce, and economic vitality. Living in a wilderness sucks, especially in winter when all these tree huggers have retired to London.
Why on earth do we need moving sand dunes? If you want to see moving sand dunes go to the bloody Sahara, there are millions of them. You make the comparison with Machrihanish Dunes course in Kintyre, built also on a SSSI, no problems there then? You wax the lyrical s about the “destruction. ” What destruction? The area has been vastly improved and put to economic use for Gods sake.
Was the development at Cameron House Loch Lomond a destruction? Castle Stewart? Glen eagles? Turnberry? Muirfield? Royal Dornoch? Incidentally Dornoch has some moving sand dunes also. You tell these people you want to shut there course and turn it back to sand dunes you would be strung up to the nearest lamp post. It brings in revenue and vitality and jobs, and is the making of the area.
I am not sure you understand the arguments I am making. Have you read my report on the development?
I perfectly understand the report you made. I also note that you make no mention of the vandalism that took place when machinery was vandalised by putting sugar in fuel and newly planted grass was ripped up. Hardly an unbiased report then is it?
SNH are a pain in the arse in Scotland. Stuffed with mainly English middle class nimbys who want to preserve Scotland in aspic as some quaint Victorian them park who they and their pals can gaze over and marvel at the unspoilt views. There is no doubt that Trump is a bombastic arrogant man, who like to get his own way, and that he will have learned some valuable lessons. We cannot stop doing business with people based on their personalities and their hair styles. I stand by what I said this was politicised by people with an agenda. The residents on the estate are it seems in no danger and nothing has been destroyed as you claim bar a few bruised egos.
He is right about the Forbes man, Did you consider investigating why he was at first agreeable to sell up and then changed his mind. Why? If someone uses your land and puts stuff on it you are perfectly entitled to remove said stuff. I would.
If as you say Macrahanish has been a success in the middle of SSSI land then why do you regard Menie as not, it makes no sense.
Perhaps Andy could explain in a sentence why Machrihanish is “good” but Menie “bad” vis a vis their respective SSSIs?
Machrihanish SSSI is still intact. The Menie one has been destroyed!
Seems like quite sufficient to decide between them to me 😉
Montrose has a moving sand dune system, it is moving relentlessly into the north sea. The local golfers have approached every public body for assistance to stop the erosion and save the wonderful dune system and golf course.
Alas to no avail, and after 30 years of erosion the dune system is no more and parts of the golf course have gone.
Its because of this, that I believe folks in Scotland don’t give a monkeys about sand dunes.
Good posts from Duncan, well said sir.
I was talking with a pal of mine who’s a golf tourism specialist. He agrees with you. He says the best thing that Trump can do is stop his building programme now, don’t build the hotel and just open the course with a 5* club house from April-October each year. He says that it simply won’t work because the location is entirely wrong for the hotel, just won’t get the occupancy.
Have just seen the Trump film and feel ashamed of our scottish legal, planning and police systems that have allowed such a flagrant abuse of people’s rights to take place unchallenged. That is the worst aspect of the whole debacle.
The politician’s and Scottish public’s attitude towards the coastline NE of Aberdeen can easily be gauged on the short trip from the Aberdeen boundary to Menie. This coastal strip has gradually been destroyed with industrial creep ( e.g. an ‘Environmental’ village no less !! ), landfills, sprawling housing estates, the ill-sited wind turbine at Royal Aberdeen GC etc. etc. The dunes are becoming a sea-side band-aid on a running sore. The reason that the Menie site was selected is that the golf course would provide Trump a convenient distraction for our woefully ignorant and inept Scottish politicians. He needed a magnificent conceit to allow them to forget their scruples and obligations in order to support the scheme. In particular, the grotesquely bloated residential provision attached inland of it when such a development would never have been entertained in normal circumstances. The target of the whole Menie scheme was the then burgeoning Aberdeen property market and not some mirage of a Scottish tourism nirvana. Trump is no fool and he, his lenders and his Scottish business backers are interested in one thing; return on capital employed. All other reasons are irrelevant. The actions of the local and national politicians and businessmen and their interaction with Mr Trump on the Menie issue holds a mirror up to the Scottish nation. It is no wonder to me that we are forced to turn away. Our self-respect was the first and principal casualty of the Trump coterie’s money-grubbing. The second is the environment and not just the SSSI and Menie dune system. The whole episode defines Scotland as second-rate.
Often agree with you Andy on the issues highlighted by your research, Scotland for such a “mature” country has a very immature approach to land management. The Trump situation has developed an almost piecemeal approach to large scale developments, a panicked response to bluff and bluster. In reponse to the article, the points you raised are in the main valid, a collection of percieved wisdom collated into a sensible review of the position. My view is somewhat coloured by my background in both golf course management and latterly land and environmental management, along with my affinity for open access to all land in our country. The site chosen for the course was a high end template for siting a links course, it has become, after several personal inspections during the process, a very good links course, not ready for play in my view but nonetheless a very fine design implemented in a “suitable” location. The SSSI designation appeared to mean very little to the planning process but from what I can see the course design has been somewhat sympathetic in it construction. The dune system is a fantastic ecosystem and requires the protection of the SSSI. As you stated in one of your points, the dunes will keep moving, that is a given and one of the main points of interest in this site, it allows for the diverse system to remould and develop. Golf courses have been built in these areas over many years, they tend to move with the land as a general rule but a lot of smaller interventions can keep the course in the same format for a long period of time. It all depends on how much Mr Trump wants to spend!
Royal Aberdeen has hosted the Senior Open and the Walker Cup; Aberdeen hosts the biennial Offshore Europe conference and there have been several new hotels built recently. Not sure the transport infrastructure could cope but I can see the Trump course hosting an international golf event in the medium term. The GEO accreditation may be more problematic but with a little (maybe more so), careful management this could be achieved, especially if the European Tour get involved as they have signed up to this even for the Ryder Cup, the most likely big tournament Trump could get (2022), Scottish Open excluded.
The sustainability issues are more nebulous and I think that Trump may as you state lose interest in this (potentially) vanity project. The economy of his targetted individuals and corporations is very much in flux and this may not pan out as envisaged, therefore, the likelihood of the final development reaching fruition looks pretty bleak. This would leave a large tract of land with a (world) class championship golf course, some fairly broad brush planning consents and some offshore wind turbines very much in view. For all the issues which have arisen during this protacted saga one thing that is staggeringly obvious it that we need to learn how to manage our land heritage in a much more co-ordinated, long term and sustainable manner which will benefit all of us, now and very much for the future. I value your work and take a deal of enjoyment from the unease you appear to cause to some of the establishment who think the status quo on land management is acceptable. Dont always agree with you but do think that putting the view out there adds a great deal of balance to the ongoing debate.
It is a sad fact that money over rules the rights of people and the SSI. Why bother to try and keep the heritage of our countryside by designating them SSI and then letting them be destroyed. If the local council had refused planning, why did the SNP leadership overturn their decision? The obvious answer is money. Is that revenue now being used to fund the push for independence?
Forget the golf look at this with a business hat on because business is what this is all about.
There is an upside and a downside and as long as you cover both ends you can not lose
Consider the upside., hundreds of houses to be built, in this market? who is going to live in them , where is the infrastructure? Are enough people going to travel to Aberdeen to play golf and pay enough in green fees to cover the delvelopment cost? Will the Hotel ever be built and 6000 jobs created, highly unlikely, but if it works out then there is the up side.
The downside is, not enough people play , and those who do have no where to stay so investment cost not covered and eventually it goes the way of all loss making businesses.
The upside of that is the trump organisation can just offset the costs( no doubt inflated) against taxable profits from other ventures.
So there is no downside for trump, but there is for the environment, the taxpayer,the government and the local people whose lives have been made a misery by this opportunistic business bully
here TRUMP You can sook the fertz richt oot our erses minn .