Before he became President, Donald Trump went on a multi-year spending spree in golf, lapping up distressed or poorly performing resorts and properties at bargain-basement prices. He bought Doral, Turnberry and Doonbeg in Ireland.
When he purchased each of these resorts, Trump vowed to sink hundreds of millions of dollars into these properties, restoring their former luster but with a Trumpian aesthetic. He has done that, with Trump's renovation of the Turnberry Ailsa Course widely praised. The King Robert the Bruce Course has also received rave reviews.
He built Trump International Golf Links in Scotland, proclaiming the facility would lead to an influx of jobs, economic development and overall positives for the area.
For a multi-billionaire, it would seem making these large investments wouldn't be that big of a gamble. However, even the richest people need access to credit facilities and lending to make these big projects happen quickly and smoothly. With almost no institutional lender willing to work with Trump for a variety of reasons (other than Deutsche Bank), though, how did Trump pull together all of this money so quickly?
Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson testified before the House Intelligence Committee he believes the golf facilities -- particularly those in Scotland and Ireland -- were actually fronts for money laundering, particularly for Russian mafia.
Here is the excerpted portion of Simpson's testimony where he answers California Representative Adam Schiff's questioning on this topic:
MR. SIMPSON: The other one that is -- was concerning to us was -- is the golf courses in Scotland and Ireland.
MR. SCHIFF: And did you see Russian money involved with those as well?
MR. SIMPSON: Well, we had -- you know, we saw what Eric Trump said about Russian money being available for his golf -- for the golf course projects, making remarks about having unlimited sums available. And, you know, because Mr. Trump's companies are generally not publicly traded and don't do a lot of public disclosure, we can only look -- have a limited look into the financing of those projects.
But because the Irish courses and the Scottish courses are under U.K., you know, Anglo corporate law, they have -- they file financial statements. So we were able to get the financial statements. And they don't, on their face, show Russian involvement, but what they do show is enormous amounts of capital flowing into these projects from unknown sources and - or at least on paper it says it's from The Trump Organization, but it's hundreds of millions of dollars. And these golf course are just, you know, they're sinks. They don't actually make any money.
So, you know, if you're familiar with Donald Trump's finances and the litigation over whether he's really a billionaire, you know, there's good reason to believe he doesn't have enough money to do this and that he would have had to have outside financial support for these things.
Again, you know, because of what I do, it's sort of in this middle area where we mostly are working off public records. A lot of what I do is analyze whether things make sense and whether they can be explained. And that didn't make sense to me, doesn't make sense to me to this day.
The allusion Simpson makes to Eric Trump goes back to a 2014 conversation author James Dodson had with him, in which, according to Dodson, Trump claimed the Trump Organization had access to Russian capital to fund their projects, including purchasing distressed golf resorts and country clubs, which has been the hallmark of Trump's golf business.
Dodson said: "So when I got in the cart with Eric, as we were setting off, I said, 'Eric, who’s funding? I know no banks — because of the recession, the Great Recession — have touched a golf course. You know, no one’s funding any kind of golf construction. It’s dead in the water the last four or five years.' And this is what he said. He said, 'Well, we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.' I said, 'Really?' And he said, 'Oh, yeah. We’ve got some guys that really, really love golf, and they’re really invested in our programs. We just go there all the time.' Now that was three years ago, so it was pretty interesting."
Eric Trump responded, saying, "We own all of assets free and clear, buy the properties in cash, etc. This really is the worst of the media."
For what it's worth, both Dodson's recounting and Trump's response could both be true.
Based on requisite reporting data for Turnberry, Trump International Scotland and Doonbeg, yes, Trump has yet to turn a profit on any of these resorts. In 2016, Trump lost $23 million at Turnberry. Trump International losses widened by a quarter to 1.4 million pounds. He's spent some $200 million on these properties without even coming close, so far, to making money. The thought, expressed in a Bloomberg report, was Trump's politics have kept people away, leading to a loss. Maybe so, to some extent. However, we don't have much data pre-purchase at Turnberry or Doonbeg to know what the resorts were previously bringing in for their prior owners.