At his new Country Club in Northern Virginia, Donald Trump Shares a Few Sharp Words on China, Obama, OPEC, The Apprentice and Golfing during a Recession.
By John H. Arundel
Photos by Tony Powell
One night last year, three 18-wheeler trucks rolled into a quiet suburban cul-de-sac and through the stone gates of a country club perched on a windswept hill above the Potomac River.
As a few sleepy neighbors watched from afar, a crew offloaded golf carts and European-inspired furniture and artwork from Palm Beach and then plastic cups, napkins and linens with the “Trump” family seal on each side.
By midnight, Lowes Island Club was no more. The next morning, signs had gone up heralding the new Trump National Golf Club, Washington D.C., and a crew began moving boulders into position for what is to become the world’s largest manmade waterfall.
Donald Trump has finally planted his flag in the D.C. area. With an estimated net worth of $3 billion, Trump has created a golf mecca and his own political salon of sorts in the outskirts of the Nation’s Capital, where on some days The Donald holds court in a mahogany wood bar-dining room overlooking the Tom Fazio-designed course, with the mighty Potomac as its backdrop.Trump planted his first commercial roots in D.C. last year on the 850-acre parcel in Loudoun County, purchasing the club for $20 million from B.F. Saul. He’s embarked on a multi-million dollar facelift, making over its clubhouse, golf courses, swimming facility, and tennis courts. “I’ve really redone the place from head to toe,” he said.
The 64-year-old Trump is accustomed to winning over new friends, making grand entrances, and making news wherever he ends up that day. Neither my interview with him years ago for The New York Times or for this magazine deviated from a level of showmanship that would make P.T. Barnum blush.
On a sultry August day, Trump’s helicopter dropped out of the cyan blue skies and onto a grassy patch along the Potomac. While I clutched the umbrella lights of our photographer Tony Powell (lest they become an underwater curiosity of Potomac River Snakeheads), Trump emerged from his Sikorsky 76-C helicopter alone, clutching a golf shirt and Docksiders. A warm, smiling handshake was offered.
A line of Trump-emblazoned golf carts pulled up, and Trump offered a ride up the hill to his clubhouse, stopping to chat up construction workers and survey the progress of his Guinness Book-making waterfall. Hamming it up for Tony, he shouted his Trademark line: “You’re Fired!!”
“We just laugh when we see him on TV firing contestants on The Apprentice,” said Membership Director Janean Buchner. “He treats his employees here very well.”
Trump reels off the first names of construction crew members who’ve been with him for decades, helping to build the Trump-branded condos, casinos, hotels and golf clubs which dot the American cityscape.
He is no stranger to Washington. His son Eric, who oversees Trump National, attended Georgetown University, as did his daughter Ivanka. He’s a frequent visitor to the corridors of political power and diplomacy, dropping in each February on his 767 and scooping up ambassadors to fly down to the Red Cross Ball in Palm Beach.
“People from either New York or Washington are really from both places—like me,” Trump offers. “I come here all the time.”
While simultaneously sipping a Diet Coke and greeting club members entering the dining room, Trump waxes enthusiastic about his new escape from Manhattan. “I come here and have dinner overlooking the Potomac River,” he said. “What could be better than that?”
Trump talks about new power friends he’s made here, and cites a spike in new memberships, despite the recession. He envisions Trump National as a new D.C. power salon, kicking things off by offering his own spin on the most grinding issues of the day.
“Well, I think President Obama’s having a hard time,” he said. “It’s been a very tough period for him and the country. People who once did well all their lives are not doing well at all.”
In his view, China’s yawning trade deficit and OPEC’s setting of oil prices occupy the hot-lava core of the nation’s current economic malaise. “China and OPEC are ripping off this country,” he said. “I know Chinese people and I have nothing against them. But whether it’s food, toys or sheet rock…some of their products are just unbelievably bad—and dangerous.”
In recent years, the Trump Organization has been putting his name on buildings, clothing, water bottles and the like all over the globe — except China. “The Chinese won’t allow my people to license the Trump name in China!” he fumes.
No love is lost on OPEC, either. “Oil is the blood of OPEC countries and they’re not just setting phony prices, they’re setting false prices. There’s so much oil they don’t know what to do with it, and yet prices stay around $80 a barrel.”
Inside the Beltway complacency has set in, Trump claims. “Something has to be done, and nothing is being done,” he said. “There’s a lot of very bad management of our economy.”
The fiery debate over the proposed mosque near Ground Zero especially has Trump fired up. “I watched the World Trade Center burn down. I think it’s a major issue,” he said. “I’m a big believer in freedom of religion, but the mosque being in that location is absolutely wrong. It’s very insensitive.”
Frustrated, last month Trump approached the owner of the building housing the proposed mosque and offered to buy it for several times its appraised price. “He’s been very arrogant about it,” Trump said. “I asked if he’d move just for the sake of peace, and he said no.”
Trump often promotes the concept of “branding yourself,” and he’s done that himself, adding reality TV star to his personal brand. With a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a package from NBC which pays him $3 million per episode – a giant leap from the $350,000 he made for the first season of The Apprentice – the network recently renewed the show for two more seasons.
“I’d read about Jennifer Aniston and the huge amounts that she and the cast were making on Friends, and I just never believed it,” Trump said. “But believe me, it’s true. If you have a number one show—the money is just fantastic.”
Trump sees less risk in extending his brand to the D.C. area.
Trump’s new golf club lies in the northeast corner of the nation’s wealthiest county. “Loudoun County is so successful, so I think there’s not much of a risk with this one—it’s 850 acres along The Potomac River.”
All three of his children work for the Trump Organization, and his son Eric heads up the project. All three enjoy playing golf with their dad. “They’re very smart, very good kids,” he said. “They’ve got good hearts and it really is a good thing to work with them everyday.”
But beating The Donald on the links? Fuhggeddabout it. “They don’t even come close!” he laughs. “I’m about a three handicap. Ivanka, Don and Eric all have great talent, but they don’t play that much. But maybe that’s good right now in their lives.”
With that, The Donald takes a last draw of his soda, and heads out with the club pro for a lazy summer day on the links.