Donald Trump Jr. was lining up long putts on the practice green of his father's course, Trump National Golf Club, Westchester, in verdant Briarcliff Manor, New York. He is a tall, athletic twenty-six-year-old, and to watch him roll a putt toward the hole you wouldn't guess he has played fewer than a dozen rounds in his life. His eyes were over the ball. The stroke accelerated . . . and the ball finished ten feet past the hole.
Well, distance control will come. In the meantime, he's enjoying himself. "I do a lot of fly-fishing," he explained. "That's why I'm not so good at golf."
Don Jr.'s manner is just as tension free as his putting stroke. He has a round, almost cherubic face, dark hair and a ruddy complexion. Think young Elvis, except not sleepy looking. He wore a yellow Trump National cap with the brim curled down like the hood on a traffic light, its curve the mirror image of his quick, cheerful smile.
Would his father ever join him in match play with a trout?Don Jr. laughed. "There's about a snowball's chance in hell of me getting him in a stream with waders," he said. But that's okay. In the last year the son has taken a shine to the father's game. Golf is amazing, he's found, requiring at least as much patience and know-how as fly-fishing. "It's a kind of a medley of multiple trouts, all in one," he said.
It was a pleasant Friday afternoon in early summer. Don Jr. had driven up from Manhattan, where he is a hardworking VP of development in the Trump Organization. Donald J. Trump, the über-Trump, was en route, expected shortly. As if on cue, Don Jr. said, "I think my dad's here."
I looked over my shoulder, toward the temporary clubhouse about thirty yards away. On the veranda, under an awning, a few groups of people were sitting at tables, having lunch or drinks. I could see nothing unusual.
"How can you tell?" I asked.
He laughed. "Everyone tenses up and begins tucking in their shirts," he said.
About thirty seconds later, under the awning, an impeccably dressed man with a bonnet of blond hair strode into view. He wore a sleek navy suit and a bright blue tie—probably the only suit and tie on the premises. He greeted people and bantered. Then, with that purposeful gait familiar to viewers of The Apprentice, Donald J. Trump walked over to us. He and Don Jr., oldest of his four children, greeted each other warmly. Trump Sr. suggested that we grab a bite on the veranda, then play. He went off to change his clothes.
"He's got two uniforms," said Don Jr. "A suit, and golf [clothes]."
Don Jr. seems comfortable in both outfits himself. He has been working full-time for his father for the past three years and is currently supervising two major projects. One is construction of the ninety-story Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago (on which Bill Rancic, of Apprentice fame, also works). He spends one or two days a week in the Windy City, usually flying back the same night. The other is the transformation of the old Delmonico Hotel on Park Avenue in Manhattan into Trump Park Avenue.
"Retrofitting is more complicated than building from scratch," Don Jr. remarked. "There's a surprise behind every wall. But it's been a great education for me."
He has an office down the hall from the old man on the twenty-sixth floor of the flagship Trump Tower, on Fifth Avenue. "I don't have a corner office, or anything like that," he chuckled. "Not for a couple years, I don't think."
With their hedonistic antics and air of endless entitlement, the adult children of the rich and famous can make you cringe. In that sense, Donald J. Trump Jr. is the anti-Paris Hilton. Like his father, he neither drinks nor smokes. Like his great-grandfather (Friedrich Trump, an enterprising German immigrant who provided food, drink and shelter to grizzled Klondike prospectors), his grandfather (Brooklyn and Queens developer Fred Trump, king of the middle-class housing project) and the superlative-loving Donald himself, Don Jr. rises before dawn and usually works until well past dark, putting roofs over people's heads.
"I assume a lot of that is genetic," he said. "I can't help it. It's so much better, for me, than the financial markets. It's tangible. It's mortar, steel, wood, brick, glass. I've been in the thick of it three years now, and the learning curve is nowhere near peaking."
It's safe to say that Trump père has never been happier. In the past fifteen years, not only has he bounced back from two divorces and debt that might have crushed lesser wheeler-dealers, he's also more famous and certainly more iconic than ever. Sure, his casino company is fraught with problems, but he says that represents only about 3 percent of his net worth. Meanwhile, even architecture critics love his buildings. Just his name over the door adds value to rental or sales price tags. The Apprentice, now in its second hit season, has already held casting calls for its third. On top of all this, the megadeveloper is a best-selling author for the fifth time, thanks to Trump: How to Get Rich. Another book, Trump: Think Like a Billionaire, was due out in October. And he was recently engaged to his supermodel girlfriend, Melania Knauss.