President Donald Trump plays a lot of golf – far more than President Obama did – but his obsession with hitting the links is not in line with the rest of America, where the game of golf is in a severe decline.
That is terrible news for the Trump Organization, which owns 18 golf courses worldwide and has spent millions upgrading and expanding them.
This is a big deal for Trump’s finances. According to Trump’s financial filings with the Government Ethics Office, analyzed by the Wall Street Journal, golf accounted for over half the revenue the President reported in his last year as a private citizen.
“Amid a general slump in the golf industry,” reports the Wall Street Journal after an extensive analysis of the privately held Trump golf operations, “the value of those properties hasn’t kept pace with the amount of money he has invested to make long-term upgrades.”
Trump has turned over the running of his privately-held company to his sons. A company spokesman insists the golf assets are doing well.
However, the WSJ took a look at the local property and public tax assessment records for the golf properties and came up with a different conclusion. The value of the ten U.S. golf clubs in 2016 was $266 million, which is $24 million more than they were worth in 2012, an increase of about 10 percent.
“But that increase in value falls well short of the $310 million that Mr. Trump’s company has said in news releases or media reports it has spent on renovating the properties during the same period, including $250 million on upgrading the Doral resort in Miami.”
“That means,” reports the WSJ, “the net value of the clubs after investment has declined significantly over the last five years.”
Last year, the Trump Organization filed a tax appeal for the Doral Resort, which showed it has suffered a $2.4 million loss in 2014. That does not include the payments made on a $125 million loan on the property.
Last March, the Doral cut the fee to join by 20 percent, to $40,000. Such end-of-season offers are common in the golfing industry, according to a person close to the Trump Organization.
A Trump golf club in the Hudson Valley which is north of New York City, reports the WSJ, saw its assessed value decline 23 percent to $4.6 million, down from $6 million. That happened after an appeal by Trump’s company which claimed the property was actually only worth $2 million.
A Supervisor for the town where the Trump golf course is located, John Hickman Jr., said the reality is, “People aren’t golfing a lot and we’re pretty saturated with golf courses these days.”
An analysis by TIME and Money magazines said golf was hard hit by the 2008 recession and has lagged behind since because of the high cost of equipment, golf club memberships, alternative leisure activities, and people are too busy.
“It’s just not cool,” reported the magazines. “In 2009, Jack Nicklaus lamented, ‘Kids just don’t play golf anymore in the United States and it is sad.'”
Golf’s decline just keeps getting worse.
“We really don’t know what the bottom is in golf,” Edward Stack, the CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods was quoted in the Time-Money Magazine article. “We anticipated softness, but instead we saw significant decline. We underestimated how significant a decline this would be.”
In Trump’s case, there is another reason. While activity at Trump’s golf course in Palm Beach may be up because of people hoping to catch a glimpse of the President swinging away, sometimes accompanied by visiting foreign dignitaries, that isn’t the case elsewhere.
As Trump’s poll numbers have shown his favorable ratings dropping to historic lows – below the worst Obama ever registered – and his unfavorable numbers climbing to new highs, there is anecdotal evidence a lot of people won’t go to his golf clubs or his hotels or other properties.
While Trump may be on pace to play golf nine times more frequently than President Obama did while in the White House, his huge investment in golf, golf properties, and golf clubs seems to be following his poll numbers in an on-going downward swoon.
If Trump really ever gets tired of winning, he can look at the books for his golf properties and find out what it feels like to be a loser.