D. Trump vs. Golf Digest (Industry Press Division)

trump_headshot02_299x400.jpgYou may recall the Trump-Golf Digest-NY Post dust-up from a few months back, and Michael Bamberger does his best to flesh it out for our entertainment.

Remember Jerry, I merely copy and paste!

Well, and add just pinch of snarkiness. This is fun:

A few weeks before the May 2007 Golf Digest came out — the one with the '07–08 list of America's 100 Greatest Golf Courses, As Ranked by Golf Digest — Trump received distressing news: His West Palm Beach course, the one that had been No. 84 on the '05–06 list, had fallen out of the top 100. Trump was stunned. It made no sense to him that the course, which he obsessively tries to improve, would drop 17 or more spots. Such dramatic drops don't often happen.

Remember how certain things in business are on the short list of things that actually matter to Trump? Getting dropped from the Golf Digest top 100 qualifies. The list has had broad credibility in golf, and it's the kind of seal of approval Trump craves. Trump is a sucker for the word greatest. He knows that almost every course chosen for a major championship is on the 100 Greatest list.

And then something happened that got Trump even more upset. A reporter from the New York Post called and said that a p.r. person from Golf Digest, a Condé Nast magazine, was pitching the paper on a story about the Trump course falling off the list. "I suspect Mr. Trump will be extremely displeased when he learns of this," the Golf Digest director of public relations, Andrew Katcher, wrote in an e-mail to the paper. "Depending on what he says, we thought this could be a fun — and potentially biting — piece."

The Post reporter read the e-mail to Trump, and Trump responded with this: "It's despicable they send out a release to announce Trump is not on their list. For shame!"

When Trump recounted the entire episode to me, he was still livid. He said that a former publisher of Golf Digest, Mitchell Fox, had told him in 2002 that the Westchester course was going to be named by Golf Digest as the second-best private course opened that year. Trump said that Fox, who is now a high-ranking Condé Nast executive, was regularly playing at the course for free with clients and friends, though he was not a member. "I told him, 'Trump does not do Number 2 — take me off the list completely,' " Trump said. The course was not on the list.

 The Donald has such sway! Or maybe the course just wasn't that good?

Sometime later, after Fox had played the course, by Trump's count, about 30 times and always for free, "I told my people to tell him not to come back," Trump said. I asked Trump why he had allowed Fox to play the course so often and for no charge in the first place. "Look," Trump said, "I'm no angel." It was his way of admitting that he was trying to curry favor. "But the way he was using the course was not appropriate."
Hey, at least he's honest about attempting to bribe the Golf Digest panel.
Trump described a round he played at the West Palm Beach course with Jerry Tarde, the editor of Golf Digest; Ron Whitten, the magazine's architecture editor; and Gary Wiren, a noted golf instructor. "On my 18th hole Whitten made a 30 — a 30!" Trump said.

Later, at a dinner at Mar-a-Lago, Trump, Tarde, Whittenand Trump's wife, Melania, sat at the same table. At the end of the evening, according to the host, Mrs. Trump said to Mr. Trump, "You know those two men don't like you very much." Trump thinks personal animosity plays a role in why he's no longer on the list.

Oh don't worry Donald, Ron's that way with everyone!  Just kidding Ron! Just kidding!

I reached Fox on a weekday morning at 8:30, and he said he wanted to talk about Trump but that he was busy right then. He told me to call back at 10:45 a.m., which I did. I was told he was in a meeting. I was told the same thing in my subsequent calls. He did not respond to phone messages or e-mail. Ditto for Tarde.

Whitten, a former prosecutor, answered all my questions. He said he did not make a 30 on the par-4 home hole that day with Trump. He said it was no more than an 11.

 But did he stroke on that hole?

He said he doesn't dislike Trump and doesn't know why Melania would make that observation. He said he barely spoke to her all night. In any event, he said that his own personal feelings for course owners could never influence the Golf Digest rankings. He said that Fox could not have called Trump to tell him that his was going to be the No. 2 best new private course because Whitten is the first person to know where the clubs land on the various lists and the Westchester course never made any of them. Regarding the West Palm Beach course falling off the list, Whitten said the list was in no way manipulated to keep Trump off it. "We're not saying the Florida course is not a great course," Whitten said. "We're saying it's not one of the 100 greatest." To my ear, that last sentence would've sounded less arrogant had he added the words as ranked by Golf Digest.

Isn't it fun with the media covers its bitter rivals?

I asked Whitten if human error could creep into the rankings. He described his careful procedures, the automated counting, how much time he devotes to the whole thing. The chance that he would make an error, he said, was highly remote. I asked if any independent accounting agency came in to check Whitten's work.

Whitten said, "Did Trump's lawyers put you up to asking that question?"

I assured him that they did not. I was thinking of the Academy Awards. There's always that little bit about the accredited accountants at PricewaterhouseCoopers and how they count the ballots. In fact, Whitten described the Golf Digest list as "the Academy Awards" of the various magazine course listings.

"No," Whitten said, there has never been an outside, independent auditor. (Neither Golf Magazine's nor GolfWeek's rankings are independently audited.)

After all, you'd think all of those times Medinah landed in a top 20 that it would have prompted a federal fraud investigation.

There's only one thing that could move this dustup between Trump and Golf Digest into something more major, and that's if anything comes of a 2 1/2-page April 2 letter Trump had his lawyers send to Fox, with copies to Tarde, Whitten and Thomas Bair, the publisher of Golf Digest.

Trump wrote most of the letter himself. The letter mentions all the free golf Trump maintains that Fox and his clients and guests played at Westchester, along with free food and drink. The letter maintains that Trump is "disappointed" in Tarde and Whitten's unspecified "behavior." It accuses Bair of coming to Trump's office last Nov. 28 and telling Trump that none of the Trump courses would make the 100 Greatest list unless Trump would agree, and here he says he is quoting Bair, to "play ball with us." (A Conde Nast spokesman denied all of Trump's claims.) The letter demands that all the course rating information be forwarded to Trump. "It is our contention," the letter says, "that representatives of Golf Digest fraudulently manipulated the results of the raters with the intent of embarrassing Mr. Trump and doing harm to his reputation."

Well, that's a great way to get your courses ranked in the future Donald!

I asked Trump what he thought the letter would accomplish and what he might get out of a lawsuit, if one ever happened. Eleven years ago, in a settlement with the city of West Palm Beach concerning air traffic over Mar-a-Lago, he was awarded the land where the West Palm Beach course sits today. He's all lawyered up, all the time.

In answering, Trump was unusually circumspect. "At the end of the day," Trump said, "I think you'll find I will get not just one course in the Golf Digest top 100, but several. On merit."

I think The Donald about as much of a chance of making a Golf Digest list as he does of hosting the U.S. Open.