But as much as anything else, what floats Trump's boat (albeit not the Trump Princess, which he sold in 1991) is golf.
Since opening his first course, Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida, designed by Jim Fazio, in 1999, The Donald has added Trump National Golf Club, Westchester, also by Jim Fazio, in 2002; and Trump National Golf Club, Bedminster, in New Jersey, by Tom Fazio, this year. In Rancho Palos Verdes, California, Trump has almost finished rebuilding the former Ocean Trails course, designed by Pete Dye, which he bought out of bankruptcy for $27 million in 2002. It will reopen next year as Trump National Golf Club, Los Angeles. Then there are the golf projects in the Grenadines and in Brazil (see below).
But best of all, Trump's three grown children—Don Jr.; Ivanka, 23; and Eric, 20—have finally taken up the game. (He also has a daughter, Tiffany, 11, with his second wife, Marla Maples.) That they didn't earlier was not for lack of encouragement on Dad's part. Lately Ivanka, a recent graduate of the Wharton School of Finance, her father's (and older brother's) alma mater, has begun hitting balls on the range in Briarcliff Manor. Trump was ecstatic on this subject when I had interviewed him a few weeks earlier in his corner office at Trump Tower, overlooking Fifth Avenue and Central Park. "I've always prodded her, 'Go out, go out! I have these wonderful courses, you should take advantage of them,'" he said. "But she never did. She's a very good skier, a very good athlete. But golf just wasn't on her agenda. Now it is.
"It's the same thing with Don Jr. and Eric [a senior at Georgetown University]. Don always liked the outdoor things, hunting and fishing, which I don't get at all. But you know they like golf when you're not prodding them and all of a sudden you see them at the golf course. That's when you know the bug is there."
Sports were the mainstay of Trump's high school years at New York Military Academy in the early sixties. He listed them for me. "I played end in football. I was a good receiver. I was the punter. I was the fieldgoal guy. I was on the wrestling team. But my favorite was baseball. I played first base and catcher and was captain of the team." Golf took over only when he enrolled at Wharton in 1964 and began playing a Philadelphia muni in Fairmont Park (Cobb's Creek, a 1916 Hugh Wilson design that had been Charlie Sifford's home eighteen). "I met some real characters on that course, real gambling characters," Trump said. "It was a great experience for me."
On weekends and over the summer Trump would play at public courses near his parents' house in the New York City borough of Queens. "In those days I wasn't, in quotes, Trump," he explained. "I was just a kid playing golf. I met great people playing Dyker Beach, Clearview, Douglaston, Bethpage. Clearview was so heavily used there wasn't a blade of grass on the tees. Zero grass. And it's not anybody's fault. I mean, you can't grow grass when you do 95,000 rounds a year. The ground was hard as a rock. You couldn't even put a tee in it. And you thought that was normal."
Then as now, the summit of New York City-area public golf was Bethpage Black. "I'd wait, just like everybody else," Trump attested. "I'd go to the parking lot at two in the morning and buy a ticket. I'd sleep in my car, or go to my parents' house and come back. I remember one time I got on after waiting ten hours. I got to the second tee and there were six foursomes backed up. We waited an hour before we hit on the second hole, that's how bad it was. Two or three foursomes you expected. But six! It was like a convention." Trump shook his head. "It was no way to play. But when you're young and full of energy, you didn't even think about it."
Fortunately for him, he was invited to join Winged Foot in 1975. "I was lucky," he said, with uncharacteristic modesty. "Winged Foot at that time wanted some young members. So I got in.
"It's a great place," he continued. "It's got great members, and it's just a special place to me." He paused. "I don't get there much anymore, because I have a club that's five minutes away. But I go back whenever I can."
At that point, with a clack of cables, a window-washing trolley descended into view outside Trump's corner windows. Two men were on board, safety strapped, assiduously soaping and squeegeeing. Trump looked over his shoulder, then back at me.
"How would you like to have that job?" he asked. "That's a real job. That's work. Tough." Maybe I was imagining it, but I thought there was a tone of genuine respect in his voice. And why not?One thing no one has ever questioned about Trump is his work ethic. He works hard. He plays hard, too, mainly on his own courses.
Emerging from the clubhouse in golf attire, Trump sat down at a table with Don Jr. and me and began regaling us with stories. Nick Faldo, it seemed, had recently played here as his guest and shot a two-under seventy. "Nobody is two under par here," Trump declared. "You know how tough this is. This has a 155 slope." (I later checked the scorecard. Not to nitpick, but it's 153.) "Now, we were playing the blues," Trump admitted (slope: 149). "But even so, he had never seen the course before."
Two weeks later, Trump continued, when the Buick Classic was held at Westchester Country Club, he had played in the pro-am with Fred Couples. "So in two weeks," he summarized, "I played with Nick Faldo and Fred Couples. If you're a golf person, that's about as good as you can get. I'm a good player, but this was a different world, okay?Because you play with these guys, and you realize you're glad you're in the realestate business."
We then went off to the course, where Trump is a solid five. He feels he's been dissed by TV commentators during his pro-am appearances, however, so he wanted to make sure I didn't miss any of his good shots.