Donald Trump’s historic election as president of the United States has brought with it shock, uncertainty and even protests. With the exception of generals, a political neophyte has never been commander-in-chief.
But while Trump has never presided over a state as a governor or run a city as a mayor, he does bring with him extensive experience as a real estate developer and business owner.
In fact, Trump will be the most experienced president to date when it comes to dealing with local governments as a developer and owner, getting land rezoned, negotiating tax assessments, battling environmental regulations and agencies, and handling other issues, including health code and employment regulations.
For the first time, an experienced real estate developer — and a golf developer at that — will be in the most powerful position in the U.S. And that, without question, makes Trump the most powerful person in golf.
Trump’s rise in golf has not come overnight or simply because he is president. The long-time real estate mogul jumped into golf development, primarily because he loves the game. As he has pointed out, his golf assets are not nearly as lucrative as his residential towers.
When the recession hit, Trump moved from developing to buying courses. In a manner of a few short years, he added some of the industry’s top properties, including what is now Trump Los Angeles, Trump National Doral and Trump Washington D.C.
By summer 2015, when he declared his presidency, Trump’s golf empire was estimated at $192 million. But even that figure did not match his own evaluation, which he pegged at $550 to $675 million.
“My valuations are based on the land value without golf,” he told Golf Inc. in 2015. “I have 800 acres on the Potomac; Trump Los Angeles is on the Pacific Ocean; Doral is 800 acres in the middle of Miami. I am not one of these guys who builds in the middle of nowhere; I have the best locations. I am a real estate guy first and foremost, and I buy the best land.”
All of that saw his ranking on our annual list of the Most Powerful People in Golf rise to No. 2 in 2014. And Trump likely would have ascended to the top spot in 2015, something he wanted and had worked hard for, if he had not started his presidential campaign.
Golf Inc.’s editors dropped him to No. 11 in 2015, amid the many controversies his candidacy was bringing about. This year he dropped even further — to No. 17 — again because of the hot glare of publicity that swirled around his campaign. But, as we wrote in early September, if he won the presidential campaign, he would rocket to the top of our list.
Trump had considered running for president in 2012, and wisely bowed out. Instead he continued to aggressively grow his golf business.
When Golf Inc. spoke with him in the summer 2015, he said he knew going in that his candidacy would hurt his power ranking in golf, and perhaps even his golf courses in the short term, but that he was focused on something much more important. In the end, it really didn’t matter if golf took a hit, he said. The country was far more important.
But, he still expected his golf business to do well in the long run, even if he lost the presidency. After all, he had built a strong brand, based on quality courses and excellent service. He would still own “the greatest collection of golf courses ever assembled by one person,” as some have said.
Now, of course, Trump is President of the United States. While he said his son, Eric, will run the business, he still brings with him the experience and knowledge of what it takes to build and operate a golf course. He understands the challenges developers and business owners face and how sometimes government is a roadblock to progress.
While Trump may be focused on other matters, such as building a wall, there is little doubt federal agencies — under a Trump administration — will be more friendly to golf and development. There is also little doubt that the most powerful person in the world will continue to be a champion for the sport and the business of golf. As Trump told Golf Inc. last year, “I have been very loyal to golf. We will see whether or not golf is loyal to me.”
So, while the clouds of controversy have not dissipated, and protests continue, Trump is a ray of hope for a golf industry that has taken its lumps during the past decade.
Love him or hate him, Trump is the most powerful person in golf.