Who are members at Donald Trump's golf clubs, getting access to the President?
Golf Culture

Who are members at Donald Trump’s golf clubs, getting access to the President?

We've kept track here of how often President Donald Trump spends time at any of his 17 owned or operated golf properties around the United States and the world. So far, Trump has spent some portion of 58 days of his presidency at a Trump-owned club, namely private clubs in New Jersey, Florida and northern Virginia.

While tracking how often the President is on his golf properties and how often he is playing golf is intriguing, it is perhaps more important to understand who has access to Trump when he is at his golf clubs. Members of these private facilities pay in upwards of $200,000 just to join these clubs, which the Trump Organization pockets, and monthly dues which also go into the family kitty. In exchange for that huge outlay, those members, many of them CEOs, lobbyist and other business and government elites have effectively bought potential access to President Trump.

USA Today sought to figure out precisely who would have that kind of access as a member of a Trump-owned club, so they did what any enterprising golfer or club pro would do to figure out a member-guest handicap. They turned to GHIN, the USGA-operated handicap-tracking system employed by thousands of clubs around the United States to give indexes to hundreds of thousands of players. In the GHIN system, or to have a valid USGA handicap, a player has to be associated with at least one club, and Trump clubs are displayed alongside the names of those handicap-carrying members.

Research USA Today conducted through GHIN and social media identified some 4,500 members of Trump clubs. Further research and outreach then indicated, among the members of these clubs, there are at least 50 executives whose companies hold federal contracts and 21 lobbyists and trade group officials. Of those 71 identified, at least 46 played golf and posted a score on one of the 58 days the president was on property at his clubs.

Of course, without having some kind of publicly-posted information about these members' playing partners, it's impossible to know if they played golf with Trump when he was there. As policy, the Trump administration doesn't even acknowledge when the President is playing golf, much less his playing partners, which could shift throughout a round.

However, even knowing that members of these clubs, even if they joined prior to Trump assuming the presidency, have unprecedented and unrivaled access to the Commander-in-Chief is problematic. It's also a potential ethical problem that a sitting president's business is collecting money and dues from lobbyists, even if those funds are placed in a trust. Trump could conceivably know every member, what they do and how their business could be helped by working with him.

Perhaps the most compelling example USA Today found of potential conflict was with Pennsylvania businessman Robert Mehmel, the president of the company that owns the Harrisburg, Pa., factory where Trump signed two executive orders in May. He also owns another company that sells radars and electronics to the U.S. military, including about $54 million worth of contracts in 2016. Mehmel, a member at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, NJ, the so-called summer White House, posted five of his seven scores in 2017 from days when Trump was on the property.

Then again, Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor for the Russia investigation, was a former Trump club member. Trump club members do not necessarily side with the president.

Trump, understanding the hospitality business, is said to be most approachable at his clubs, on and off the course. That has led to issues with potential classified information, including when Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe was at Mar-a-Lago resort when the North Koreans again provoked with a missile test.

It's unclear how much access Trump club members can really have while he is there, how much Trump might help out club members and if we would even be able to fully associated holding a Trump membership with any particular action taken by the Trump administration or the executive branch.

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