Palm Beach Daily News
Donald Trump and golf: Fancy resorts, A-List partners, cheating at highest level
Tom D’Angelo, Palm Beach Post – February 3, 2023
Donald Trump has a long (creative) history with golf. He owns fancy resorts and lavish courses around the world. He has played with the biggest names. And he’s received endorsements from some of the most well-known golfers in the world. Even besides himself.
But above all, the former president’s dubious claims on the course have become legendary, and were the subject of a 2019 book by sportswriter Rick Reilly: Commander in Cheat.
“Trump doesn’t just cheat at golf,” Riley wrote. “He throws it, boots it, and moves it. He lies about his lies. He fudges and foozles and fluffs. At Winged Foot, where Trump is a member, the caddies got so used to seeing him kick his ball back onto the fairway they came up with a nickname for him: ‘Pele.’”
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Just ask members of Trump International West Palm Beach who arrived for the final round of their Senior Club Championship on Jan. 22 only to find Trump’s name at the top of the leaderboard … when he didn’t play the first round.
But he did play a round earlier that week, claimed he had a good day and decided to use that score for the first round of the Senior Club Championship. He then called it a “great honor” to have won the tournament on social media, adding, “he was hitting the ball long and straight.”
Those who know him certainly were not surprised.
Here is some of the history Trump, who lives in Palm Beach, has with golf:
Courses around the world
Trumpgolf.com lists 18 courses under the heading ‘Our Properties’, including 12 in the United States. Of those, three are in Florida: Jupiter, West Palm Beach, Doral.
Those courses have hosted many PGA and LPGA events, but Trump’s relationship with the PGA Tour soured in 2016 when the tour moved the World Golf Championship out of Trump National Doral and to Mexico City after losing its sponsor, Cadillac.
This angered Trump for so many reasons. His attitude toward Mexico was made clear as he prepared to run for president when he said of the country: “They are not our friend, believe me. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
That continued when learning the tour was dropping Doral for Mexico City. “They’re moving it to Mexico City which, by the way, I hope they have kidnapping insurance.”
That relationship fractured even more when the PGA of America took a major away from one of Trump’s courses four days after Trump supporters rioted at the United States Capitol. The organization moved the 2022 PGA Championship from Trump’s course in Bedminster, N.J., to Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla.
All of this led to Trump’s support for LIV Golf, the startup league headed by Palm Beach Gardens’ Greg Norman and financed by the Saudis. LIV has become a rival of the PGA Tour and three LIV events this year will be held at Trump properties.
The old switcheroo
Ted Virtue, founder and CEO of MidOcean Partners, a New York-based alternative asset management firm, won the club championship at West Palm Beach when Trump was president. At the time, Trump was in Singapore and missed the event.
Here is the story Reilly told and also was reported in Golf.com.
Trump sees Virtue on the back nine of the course one day and tells him he didn’t really win the club championship, “because I was out of town.” So he tells Virtue they will start there and play to see who the real champion is. Virtue has no choice.
“Apparently, they get to a hole with a big pond in front of the green,” Reilly said. “Both Ted and his son hit the ball on the green, but Trump hits his in the water. By the time they get to the hole, though, Trump is lining up the son’s ball. Only now it’s his ball and the caddie has switched it.
“The son is like, ‘That’s my ball!’ But Trump’s caddie goes, ‘No, this is the president’s ball; your ball went in the water.’ … Trump makes that putt, and wins one up.”
Where’d that ball come from?
Trump was playing in a charity event at a prestigious South Florida course when he was part of a foursome that included an NFL quarterback and professional golfer, according to a participant who was at the event.
On a par-3 that was playing more than 200 yards, no one hit the green, including Trump, whose tee shot clearly was short.
Two of the golfers flew the green, the balls landing in a gully. As they walked back up the hill to check out the pin placement, they noticed a ball sitting feet from the hole.
Trump tells them it was his ball and they must have not seen his tee shot land on the green.
“This guy cheats like a Mafia accountant,” Reilly once told Vox.com.
Mark Cuban feud
Trump and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban had a legendary feud in 2013, with Trump attacking Cuban’s team and, of course, his golf.
By the end of a two day meltdown, and after Trump said he won yet another club championship at West Palm Beach, Trump pulled out the big guns:
“I’ve won 18 Club Championships including this weekend. @mcuban swings like a little girl with no power or talent. Mark’s a loser.”
Trump now has claimed to have won more than 20 club championships. Reilly once said the best player at that level he knows had won eight.
Reilly said in the Vox interview Trump told him whenever he opens a new golf course he plays the first club championship by himself and declares that the champion and puts his name on the wall.
“But it’s usually just him and Melania in the cart and nobody else,” Reilly said. “He just makes it up.”
Soon after he became president Trump set up a foursome with Brad Faxon, Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson. Trump and Faxon were partners.
Trump was allowed to hit from closer tees and was allowed to subtract a stroke on the eight hardest holes. On one hole, Trump hits his tee shot into the water and tells Faxon to throw him a ball. “They weren’t looking,” he said. His second tee shot goes into the water. So he drops where he should have after his first water ball, hits what was his fifth shot. After making what actually was a seven, the players were asked their scores.
When Trump was told Tiger made a three, he says he made “four for a three (with the stroke).”
Trump invited football announcers/analysts Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden and Ron Jaworski to one of his courses. He chose Gruden as his partner.
Tirico hit a 3-wood about 230 yards onto the green on one hole. When he arrived the ball was in a bunker about 50 feet from the pin.
“Tough break,” Trump said.
Tirico later was told by Trump’s caddie that his shot was about 10 feet from the hole and Trump threw it into the bunker.
“I watched him do it,” the caddie said.
So how good is Trump at golf?
Depends who you ask. Hall of Famer Ernie Els witnessed a hole-in-one by Trump last year at West Palm Beach. I asked Els to assess Trump’s game.
“He can really strike the ball,” Els said. “He makes good contact. He’s got a good swing. Like any amateur, you got to do the short game practice. I keep talking to him about his chipping. He’s a pretty good putter. Back in his day, he had to be a 4- or 5-handicap. Today, he’s probably a 10, 12.”
If you praise Trump’s game, it’s definitely not fake news.
Trump has played with the best of the best. Jack Nicklaus, Els, Woods, Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka among them.
“President Trump plays pretty well, not bad at all,” Nicklaus said in 2020.
Koepka played nine holes with Trump last year in the Pro-Am at Doral before the LIV event. When asked about Trump’s game he gave a lukewarm endorsement.
“I think he’s actually a pretty good putter,” Koepka said. “He had a lot of good putts today that just didn’t go in.”
Trump stopped several times to chat between holes during the Pro-Am at Doral. “Where are the golf writers?” he said at one point. “What do you think? Trump is pretty good, isn’t he?”
Later, when he was asked what he thought about his game, Trump said: “I hit it straight, I hit good drives, I hit good irons.”
Tom D’Angelo is the senior sports columnist for The Palm Beach Post.