Eric Trump: All about family

His life has been nothing short of crazy over the last 15 years as his family’s business ventures went from owning high rise buildings with residential, office space and retail space to investing in hotels and golf courses, then was the foray into reality TV. Now Eric Trump is part of first family of the United States as well as the person in charge of the family’s golf business, Trump Golf, a position he is proud to have. 

“At the end of the day, golf is it for me. I love this industry,” he said during a sit down interview with Jack Crittenden, president of Golf Inc., during the 2019 Golf Inc. Strategies Summit, held at the Ritz-Carlton Reynolds in Lake Oconee, Ga., in late September. 

Eric Trump described the moment his father brought his siblings and him together to discuss his run for president, corralling them with the words, “Let’s do this.” It told Eric Trump, the third child of the now President Donald Trump, that his father thought of the family being in the political race together. Each member of the family understood what their roles were going to be. Donald Trump also warned them how brutal politics might be. “We understood exactly what we were getting into,” Eric Trump said. 

The presidency has not had a negative impact on membership, according to Eric Trump. He talked about the family’s entrance into owning golf courses, saying the game was always his father’s sandbox and spoke of his father’s great love for the game and its architecture. The family bought course after course across the globe but pumped the brakes on its international investments once Donald Trump was elected President of the United States in 2016. 

“We were growing like crazy all around the world and when we got into office we decided to do no more international expansion until the whole process was over,” said Eric Trump. 

The break from expansion has allowed Trump Golf to turn its focus more on operations and service and things that attract membership, according to Eric Trump. 

He talked about the transformation of the golf industry, saying it is in a better position than ever before. He noted that when he was growing up in the 1980s, it was “less cool to bring your kids to the golf course.” 

Nowadays it’s much different at the clubs. Eric Trump spoke of taking his two-year old son along with him recently to the driving range. He also joked that his wife would be none to happy if he decided to spend his weekends playing golf instead of spending time with her and the kids. Times sure have changed, and that was a big part of his message to summit attendees. 

“Golf has transformed tremendously over the last 30-40 years. Golf has become more of a holistic family approach,” he said. “If you aren’t catering to family, if you aren’t catering to kids, if you aren’t catering to husbands and wives and offering so many of golf’s amenities, you are going to lose.” 

He attributes much of TrumpGolf’s success to taking over properties where people hadn’t embraced that modern mindset. TrumpGolf has been able to turn around membership by offering “amenities on steroids” for the whole family and increasing the time the family spends on the property, Eric Trump said. 

Eric Trump also is also big proponent of TopGolf as it is brining people into a sport that otherwise wouldn’t have touched the sport. “I think it is fantastic,” he said. 

He also suggests embracing technology and loosening up dress codes. “You need USB chargers on your carts.” He added, “You can’t lose business because you aren’t up on trends or you aren’t willing to keep up with the times. We have to listen to our market and to our customers.” 

The Trumps’ first investment in golf was a course in Palm Beach, Fla. Eric says after buying that course, his father realized “he was pretty good at it” and built a course in West Chester, New York. Then, soon after he bought a course in California in distress. It was on 500 acres on the Pacific Ocean overlooking Catalina Island. 

“All of a sudden we had three courses. It was a lot of fun for him, but all of a sudden, we were in the golf business,” Eric said. 

They then bought an underperforming course on the Potomac River. Over the course of a few years, especially when the economy crashed around 2008, the Trumps were able to go in and buy courses for cents on the dollar, according to Eric Trump. He says they would come in to some of these struggling equity-owned courses that had a lot of infighting and they would be “the white knight” asking the boards to “let us take this over and invest in their club, and it’s worked well.”

“We went from three courses to 19 all over the world. In that time period we picked up Doonbeg (Ireland), Redminister (New Jersey), Trump Aberdeen (Scotland) and did two projects in Indonesia (Bali and Lido City).”

It has always been Donald Trump’s dream to own “the greatest course in the world” and Trump Aberdeen could be on target for him to fulfill his dream. Master communities and hotels are also part of the development.   

Eric Trump addressed the bad reputation the golf business received when many courses were being built for the wrong reasons by developers who were trying to bolster real estate. People wrongly came to the conclusion that “it must be symptomatic of golf,” he said, adding,  “More of those need weeded out.” 

Attrition was another topic Eric Trump addressed. Florida is the area where TrumpGolf has the least attrition. New Jersey is where the company sees the highest attrition. When members leave, “it’s not always related to you,” he said. 

Loss of membership often is related to the transiency of the market and to help combat it, he says TrumpGolf strives to be the no. 1 club in the markets it is in, offering the best food and the best amenities. When that is the sole focus of the business, he says, “You can buck market trends.”

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