ABERDEEN, Scotland - "A playboy with too much time on his hands." That's how one golf-course official I talked to in the Scottish Highlands views Donald Trump.
Another questioned the U.S. mogul's wisdom in situating a proposed Trump resort on 1,000 acres just north of Aberdeen, subject to North Sea winds that are heavy even by Scottish standards.
"When the weather's bad here, it's usually worse down there," said David Corstophine of Nairn Golf Club.
Environmental activists fear the development will damage dunes that are a sanctuary for an abundance of wildlife.
But, as is often the case with The Donald, the real reason this plan is drawing criticism is its maestro's ego.
After personally touring the land in question with Trump's people in Aberdeen, it seems clear that he means well with this massive development, even if his good intentions are overshadowed by his swagger.
Why is Trump here? Because he honestly believes he can create a special golf course that will better the game. Golf is a passion of his, and he wants to leave a legacy.
I believe it too.
There's plenty of local support for the project, which has the potential to spark the Aberdeen region's economy and turn it into a bona fide golf destination rivaling any in Scotland.
"I'm sure everyone is expecting it to be 'Donald Trump: Las Vegas glitz and glamour,'" said Ronnie MacAskill, director of golf at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club. "But I'm sure he'll put the right people in and do it the right [way]. When he was here I got the impression his heart was in it.
"I'm excited about it. We [in Aberdeen] are all excited about it."
And let's not forget that Trump is a golf nut, as most recently evidenced in his Battle of the Sexes skins game on Governor's Island in New York. He knows golf, and he knows Scotland better than most people assume. His mother was born in Scotland and spent the first 20 years of her life here.
Trump's cocky demeanor puts off many of the more conservative, skeptical Scots he'll have to win over. The resort plan, being finalized by Trump International as of late October, is subject to review and approval by local officials. Project coordinators hope for passage next summer and groundbreaking shortly thereafter, with an eye toward a spring 2009 opening.
"It's our ambition to build the best course in Europe and maybe in the world," Trump said in one interview. "And I think we have the land to do it. ... I'm willing to spend the money to make it the finest course of its kind anywhere in the world."
That's the kind of quote designed to spark interest and sell timeshares, but it's also going to stir up locals in St. Andrews, Dornoch, Carnoustie, etc. History immortalized their clubs, not money or marketing. There weren't built with £500 million, but with legends, stories and time.
"What gives us the confidence is that nowhere in Great Britain or Ireland do the dunes and links exist in the quantity we have here," said Neil Hobday, manager of the Trump project. "The challenge is finding the best 18 holes out of the possible 72 that are naturally laid out there."
Trump exemplifies what much of the rest of the world finds irritating about America. He's egocentric. His projects are big and brash, his name and attitude bigger and brasher. It's also safe to assume the resort will be priced out of most Scots' budgets. Most clubs here are nonprofit and publicly funded. Members pay yearly dues between £300 and £1,000.
This wouldn't be the first course to break that mold. Loch Lomond Golf Club, Macdonald Hotel's Spey Valley Golf Course at Aviemore and Kingsbarns north of St. Andrews are all privately owned, have high green fees and turn profits.
Still, if Trump is going to cite his Scottish heritage as a factor in his decision to build here, he must honor the Scots' tremendous pride in tradition. The land is sacred. Change seems to come slower here than in most parts of Europe. Substance crushes style.
Kingsbarns, revered by most Scottish golfers, seems to have made this leap. Trump can too.
He has said his ultimate hope is for his course to host the British Open. That might sound farfetched now, but once upon a time Turnberry was just a nice links course with a ritzy hotel. Now it's a regular Open Championship stop.
To host the Open - a privilege earned, not bought - Trump's course will have to strike a chord with the Royal & Ancient. That will be done by winning the hearts and minds of Scotland, not the pockets.
I think Trump can succeed with this resort. Anyone who sees this incredible piece of land in person would agree. But if it opens with a 10-foot "Trump International" sign out front and giant waterfalls and dazzling out-of-place architecture within, I won't blame the locals if they don't embrace the place.
November 10, 2006