Trump Organization in talks to host controversial Saudi golf events at two resorts

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One of the people familiar with the matter said Trump spoke to Greg Norman, the head of LIV Golf Investments, about his properties’ involvement in the tour.

A spokeswoman for LIV Golf Investments declined to comment. Eric Trump, the former president’s son, and a spokeswoman for the Trump Organization did not respond to requests for comment. The Saudi Embassy in Washington also did not respond to requests for comment.

Taylor Budowich, spokesperson for Trump’s political action committee, made a statement only touting the former president’s golf courses when asked about the talks.

“It certainly seems possible given that President Trump owns some of the most beautiful and renowned golf courses in the world – from the cliffs of Rancho Palos Verdes to the majestic hills of Bedminster and, of course, the iconic Doral property,” he said.

The financial terms of the proposed deal are unclear, but the events would undoubtedly provide revenue for Trump through the Saudis, who are making a fierce bid to recruit PGA Tour players and launch a series of golf tournaments. .

As president, Trump frequently defended the Saudi government even as it committed a wide range of human rights abuses, including the 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the imprisonment and execution of homosexual citizens. Trump’s first foreign trip as president was to Saudi Arabia, and he has regularly praised the country’s wealth and power, though some advisers have pushed him to take a harder line on from the country.

Such a deal would also provide a measure of revenge for Trump against the PGA Tour, an organization he courted for years but later enraged him when politics came between them. As Trump campaigned in the summer of 2016, the PGA Tour announced that it was pulling its elite golf world championship tournament from Doral and moving it to Mexico City. Trump also lost the PGA Championship from his New Jersey run last year, as the organization canceled his event days after a Jan. 6 uprising by a pro-Trump crowd at the U.S. Capitol.

Doral was the biggest revenue generator of any of Trump’s golf properties, but he borrowed heavily to acquire and renovate it, and the 643-room resort suffered financially during his presidency.

Trump, working closely with his daughter Ivanka, bought the 650-acre complex set among business parks and homes in 2012 for $150 million and planned $250 million in renovations. He borrowed $125 million from Deutsche Bank to do it and swore on Twitter that “within two years it will be the best resort in the country.”

But from 2015 to 2017, the club’s revenue fell from $92 million to $75 million, an 18% drop, according to company financial documents and Trump government disclosure forms. Operating income — the amount left over after expenses are paid — fell even faster, prompting Trump’s own tax adviser to tell Miami-Dade County officials in 2018 that the course had been “severely underperforming” competing clubs. Revenues suffered a further 40% drop in 2020, when pandemic travel restrictions were in place for most of the year.

His company has been trying to revive Doral since the end of his presidency. Last year Florida lawmakers passed legislation making it easier for his company to secure a future casino license for Doral, and last month his company announced it would attempt to build 2,300 homes there.

It’s hard to say how such a deal would affect Trump financially. Professional golf organizations pay rental fees at the courses where they host events, but also impose sometimes costly obligations and responsibilities in doing so, said Larry Hirsh, president of Golf Property Analysts in Philadelphia.

“It’s widely accepted that the only clubs that make a lot of money are those that host the PGA Championship, US Open and Ryder Cup,” he said.

Hirsh said Saudi Arabia’s human rights record could also prompt some members of Trump’s club to cancel their memberships, which could hurt the course’s value in the long run.

“It depends on how much money [the league] is ready to pay, but it also depends on the number of people who will say that they will not be part of it, ”he said.

The Saudi Tour has not announced any venues or dates for its events. But in a recent sports podcast interview, PGA Tour player Kramer Hickok said 17 PGA players have already committed to the tour, and he said he expects 10 to 14 of the events take place in the United States. He could not immediately be reached for comment.

Jared Kushner, the former president’s son-in-law, was spotted on the sidelines of a Saudi golf event earlier this month. Bloomberg News reported that Kushner had sought support from Saudi Arabia’s $500 billion sovereign wealth fund, chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as well as other government-controlled funds in the region. A spokesperson for Kushner did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Longtime professional golfer Phil Mickelson has come under fire in recent days for saying he was willing to ignore the country’s human rights record and consider backing the new league. Many critics said the Saudi government was trying to bolster its position by organizing high-profile sporting events.

“We know they killed Khashoggi and they have a horrible human rights record,” Mickelson said, quoted by Alan Shipnuck, a biographer who has written a book about him. “They execute people there because they are gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because it’s a unique opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour works.

On October 2, 2018, Saudi agents killed Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. What was done next? (Joyce Lee, Thomas LeGro, Dalton Bennett, John Parks/The Washington Post)

PGA Tour officials have been watching the Saudis’ efforts to recruit their players closely, fearing that the Saudi league could lure some of the tour’s players with the promise of higher scholarships. But most of the league’s big-name players did not leave, and some criticized Mickelson, who helped recruiting efforts. The PGA declined to comment on Trump’s talks with the Saudi league.

Gary Williams, a longtime golf commentator who owns 5 Golf Clubs, said the PGA Tour has taken aggressive steps to keep its players with higher scholarships and other incentives, but is likely to lose. some major players. “They are a real threat, there is no doubt about that,” he said of the Saudis. “They may not have a real business plan, but they have a lot of money.” Williams said he expects a number of other courses to sign up, in addition to Trump. “He needs revenue for these golf courses.”

When the Saudis came under intense scrutiny after Khashoggi’s murder, Trump repeatedly defended the kingdom and said he believed Crown Prince Mohammed when he claimed he had no knowledge of the murder. US intelligence services disputed this assessment.

In a November 2018 statement full of exclamation marks that aides said he dictated to himself, Trump said US intelligence would continue to “evaluate” the information but that the United States “may not never know all the facts surrounding the murder”.

On whether the crown prince knew about or ordered the killing by Saudi agents at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Trump said in the statement, “maybe he did or maybe he did. ‘he did not do it !” He suggested that US interests in Saudi oil production, arms purchases and support for administration policies in the Middle East were more important than holding an ally to account, and he pointed to the importance of staying in the good graces of the kingdom because they were spending money in the United States.

“They have been a great ally,” he said of the Saudis, and “the United States intends to remain a staunch partner.” He added, “I’m not going to destroy our economy by being stupid with Saudi Arabia.”

Trump has faced fierce criticism from Democrats, human rights advocates and even some Republicans for his stance, but he has not wavered.

“I saved his ass,” Trump said of Mohammed during an interview with Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward for his 2020 book, “Rage.” “I managed to convince Congress to leave him alone. I managed to get them to stop. »

Trump has also encouraged the Saudis to buy American weapons, backed the kingdom’s stance on Iran and generally defended their more controversial actions, such as jailing people for political reasons.

President Biden called the kingdom a “pariah” and pledged to be tougher on the Saudis, but approved an arms sale and spoke to the king.

Since leaving office, the former chairman has bragged to associates about the profitability of his golf courses during the coronavirus pandemic, even as other aspects of his business struggled. He golfs several days a week, advisers said.

On the sidelines of the 2019 Group of Seven meeting in France, President Trump has touted his Doral, Florida golf resort as a possible location for the 2020 meeting. (The Washington Post)

Researcher Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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