The flamboyant New York billionaire, Donald Trump, flies into Scotland this week to open his controversial golf course under fierce attack for wrecking the environment, breaking planning rules and bullying his critics.
The Sunday Herald can reveal that golfing authorities are boycotting his ceremonial opening at Menie on the Aberdeenshire coast, wildlife groups are calling on leading golfers to refuse to play half the course and politicians are condemning the whole saga as a “monumental embarrassment for Scotland”.
All the accusations are brushed aside by the Trump Organisation, which promises a “world-class’ golf links that people will enjoy “for centuries”. The environment has been improved, not damaged, it claims.
Perhaps the most serious criticism comes from the Golf Environment Organisation (GEO), the sport’s leading authority in certifying that courses are environmentally friendly. It is funded by golf’s governing body, the R&A in St Andrews.
“The golf development at Menie Estate has been widely, and in our view rightly criticised for causing avoidable environmental damage and social disruption,” said GEO’s chief executive, Jonathan Smith.
“Whilst the golf course's playing quality may well be extremely high, it remains the case that this has come at the cost of considerable negative impact on what was one of the UK's most valuable mobile sand dune systems. That is a shame.”
Smith said that neither he, nor any other representatives of GEO, would be attending Trump’s opening on Tuesday. The R&A also told the Sunday Herald that it would not be at the event as it was running The Open championship at Royal Lytham golf club in Lancashire this week.
An R&A spokesman said this was not intended to be a snub, but it was the busiest time of the year. He poured cold water, however, on Trump’s hopes that his course could host The Open. “ It is far too early to consider whether it might ever be a suitable Open venue,” the spokesman said.
The First Minister, Alex Salmond, had been touted by Trump as a VIP at the opening, but he was not invited because of the spectacular fall-out between the two men over wind power. Instead, according to his spokesman, he will be going to Castle Stuart on the Moray Firth to make an announcement about Scotland’s junior golf development programme.
The James Bond actor and golf enthusiast, Sir Sean Connery (81), had also been mentioned by Trump as a potential guest. But it is understood that he may not be well enough to travel from his home in the Bahamas.
According to the Trump Organisation, three of Scotland’s top golfers will attend the opening: Colin Montgomerie, Paul Lawrie and Martin Laird. But they are being urged by the 30-000-member Scottish Wildlife Trust not to play nine of the 18 holes in protest at environmental damage.
The Trust’s conservation director, Jonny Hughes, has written to the golfers pointing out that half the course has been constructed on a unique protected area, nationally important for its sand dunes and wildlife. “The construction of the course has killed the scientific interest of the dunes, and led to the loss of very rare dune wetland habitats,” he said.
“We are asking them to protect the reputation of golf by sending a clear message that environmentally destructive golf course projects such as Trump's should have no place in Scotland. We are urging them to do the right thing, for the sake of both golf and the environment.”
The Sunday Herald has also discovered that the golf clubhouse, car park and a sign erected by Trump at Menie have broken local authority rules. According to Aberdeenshire Council, the clubhouse design, the car park layout and a sign at the entrance were “breaches of planning conditions”.
The council has given “retrospective” planning permission for the clubhouse, is expecting a new application for an “amended” car park and is having “discussions” about the sign, said a council spokesman. “Any alleged breach of planning conditions will be investigated,” he added.
The Green MSP, Patrick Harvie, Trump’s leading parliamentary opponent, laid into the tycoon. “Ego and vanity have been allowed to run amok, resulting in the ruination of people's lives and the wrecking of a unique swathe of Scotland's environment,” he said.
“The whole saga has been a monumental embarrassment for Scotland and its governments. The way successive First Ministers, council leaders and industry sucked up to this bully boy billionaire was utterly shameful.”
The message had gone out the world that “no matter how dodgy you are, flash some cash and Scotland will roll over”, Harvie alleged. If ministers wanted to show how progressive they were, they should “tell this guy precisely where he can stick his nine iron.”
But George Sorial, Trump’s executive vice-president, angrily defended his boss’s work. “Any assertion that we’ve destroyed something is really without factual basis,” he said.
“We’ve created a site that is beautiful, has protected what is there and will remain a site that people will come and enjoy for centuries to come.” There had been no environmental damage, he insisted.
“There so much misinformation about everything we’ve done there from the handful of critics that we have, most of whom haven’t seen the site,” he added. “When you see what we’ve actually done, I think many of the misconceptions and inaccuracies that have been written over the years will be lifted.”
Film-maker under personal attack from Trump
The Scottish director of an award-winning documentary about Donald Trump’s golf course has come under fierce personal attack from the US property tycoon’s senior aide.
Anthony Baxter, whose film, ‘You’ve been Trumped’, is being released in cinemas this week, has been accused of “shameless self-promotion” by Trump’s executive vice-president, George Sorial. He would soon be out of a job, Sorial predicted.
But Baxter was strongly defended by his producer, Richard Phinney, who described the allegation from one of the world’s greatest self-promoting organisations as “supremely ironic”. Baxter’s work had been done “at great personal cost”, he said.
In a telephone interview with the Sunday Herald from New York, Sorial disclosed that he had seen the documentary. He said that he didn’t know whether Trump himself had viewed it.
“I found it boring, but most importantly it was a complete misrepresentation of the facts,” Sorial said. “The film is really more about Anthony Baxter promoting himself as opposed to creating an accurate documentary about our project.”
Baxter keeps re-releasing the film “to shamelessly self-promote himself at the cost of providing an accurate description”, Sorial claimed. “When the course opens, the world will see what we’ve done and soon realise that Baxter’s film was inaccurate and he will be out of business.”
He added: “People can come and make judgements for themselves and they will realise that his film is not based on fact, but fiction. It’s about self-promotion on the back of the Trump name.”
‘You’ve been Trumped’ is an account of the conflicts provoked with local people and environmental groups by Trump’s plan for a luxury golf resort at Menie on the Aberdeenshire coast. It has won ten awards at film festivals in the US and Europe, and has been generally well reviewed.
Baxter wasn’t originally intending to feature in his own film, but this changed in July 2010 when he and Phinney were arrested and jailed after filming on Trump’s estate. All charges were subsequently dropped.
Phinney pointed out that Sorial had not highlighted any specific inaccuracies in the film. “Mr Trump was asked on several occasions to put his views forth in a formal interview, but he declined, as did other members of the Trump Organisation,” he said.
“For a representative of the Trump Organisation to accuse someone else of shameless self-promotion is, to say the least, supremely ironic. Anthony Baxter has tirelessly tried to call attention to the under-reported but undeniable environmental consequences of the Trump development, and the plight of the local residents.”
According to Phinney, this had all been done “at great personal cost”. Film reviews had also commented on Baxter’s “integrity, bravery, skill and modesty”, he added.
Trump’s repeated denials of the problems were not surprising, Phinney argued. “He denies a lot of things. In talking about his objections to wind farms in an interview with the BBC, he denied that mankind has anything to do with climate change. He denies that President Obama was born in the United States.”
March 2006: Trump announces plans to build a “world class” golf resort at Menie on the Aberdeenshire coast
April 2006: First Minister, Jack McConnell, denies that he broke any rules in his dealings with Trump
March 2007: Trump submits planning application
November 2007: Aberdeenshire Council’s infrastructure committee refuses planning permission
December 2007: Scottish ministers make an unprecedented decision to call in the application
March 2008: a Scottish parliamentary inquiry accuses the First Minister, Alex Salmond, of taking a “cavalier” approach to his involvement
June 2008: public inquiry opens in Aberdeen, where plans come under fire from environmental groups
November 2008: Scottish ministers approve development
March 2009: Trump asks Aberdeenshire Council to consider compulsory purchase of neighbouring properties
November 2009: 84-year-old Aberdeenshire pensioner, Molly Forbes, launches legal action to try and prevent Trump from building on her land
July 2010: construction of golf course begins, local people have their water cut off and two documentary film-makers are arrested
October 2010: Trump demands up to £50,000 in legal costs from Forbes, after she dropped her case because she couldn’t get legal aid.
January 2011: Trump says he has “no interest” in pursuing compulsory purchase, and police drop charges against film-makers.
January 2012: Trump says he will not build associated hotel and housing development if offshore wind farm goes ahead
March 2012: Trump says he will not pursue Forbes for costs, and labels Salmond “Mad Alex” for backing wind power
April 2012: Trump appears before parliamentary committee to denounce wind power
July 2012: Golf course opens amid renewed controversy