BALMEDIE, Scotland – David Milne loves the view of the North Sea from his home high above the roiling surf, but he finds his eye often falling onto the golf course next door and, when it does, on the tiny figures below.
He counts the people coming off the buses in the parking lot and the people swinging at the 1st tee and the 10th tee and he counts the people walking the fairways and after all this counting he’s convinced of something that must be satisfying given his tussles with the owner, Donald Trump.
There aren’t enough people.
“The carpark is rarely even half full,” said Milne, 53, looking out again on Friday under clear blue skies. “For what was supposedly the best golf course in the world, I don’t really think this is a resounding success.”
A few hours after Milne spoke, he got some confirmation. A financial report that Trump’s company filed with the British government shows he has lost millions of dollars at the resort, called the Trump International Golf Links, as well as at a second one on the other side of Scotland overlooking the Irish Sea.
The report from Britain’s Companies House released late Friday showed losses last year more than doubled to 17.6 million pounds ($23 million). It was the third year in a row of losses. Revenue also fell sharply.
Trump’s company has faced several setbacks since it ventured into Scotland a dozen years ago.
The company has angered Milne and other neighbours for what they say are its bullying tactics to get them to sell land. A local fisherman became a national hero of sorts when he, like Milne, refused to sell to Trump, despite a $690,000 offer.
Then the company got some unwelcome publicity. Two documentaries about the fights with residents were shot, “Tripping Up Trump” and “You’ve Been Trumped,” the latter shown on the BBC despite threats from one of Trump’s lawyers to sue the broadcaster.
Troubles have only mounted since then.
A few months before Trump clinched the Republican nomination last year, he lost a court fight to stop an offshore windmill farm near the North Sea resort. He has been repeatedly stymied in his plans to build a luxury hotel there and a second course because of, among other things, strong objections from environmental regulators that his plans will threaten the sand dunes for which the area is famous. And there also are signs that he is at risk of losing a bid to host the coveted Scottish Open.
Just how much these setbacks have hurt Trump’s business is unclear, however. Other factors appear to have played a big role in the latest financial results.
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In Friday’s report, Trump’s company noted it had to shut down its Turnberry resort on the Irish Sea for half the year while building a new course there and fixing up an old one. It also blamed losses on a hit from fluctuations in the value of the British pound.
The report and Milne’s math aside, some residents think Trump’s resorts are attracting plenty of golfers and doing just fine. In fact, whatever troubles Trump has encountered appear to only have helped business in the North Sea area.
He has only 16 rooms for overnight guests at his resort there, leaving other hotels to pick up the slack.
“I’ve gone from doing an average of 400 room nights for golfers per year to 1,400 room nights in six months,” said Stewart Spence, 70, owner of the Marcliffe Hotel and Spa in nearby Aberdeen. “There can hardly be a golfer in the world who doesn’t know about this area because of what Trump has done.”
Rival courses have seen a bump in business, too.
“We’ve gone from about 4,000 golfers per annum to almost 5,500 a year,” said Les Durno, 54, general manager at the Cruden Bay Golf Club about 20 miles from Trump’s course.
Then there is the sheer spectacle itself, a chance to gawk at a U.S. president’s property and maybe spend 19.95 pounds ($26.07) for a cap embroidered with Trump’s family crest.
“When we drive past Trump International, I often get people, Americans mostly, asking to stop so they can go into the golf shop and buy something,” said a bus driver waiting in the parking lot Friday who didn’t want to give his name. “They don’t play golf but they want a Trump Scotland souvenir.”
Or as Hector Emslie, 58, the golf project manager for the local tourism organization, VisitAberdeenshire, put it: it’s like having the “Disney World for golfers” on our doorstep.
Others are less enthusiastic, including the leader of the Scottish government, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Shortly before Trump visited his North Sea resort in June last year, and Milne ran a Mexican flag up a pole in protest against his immigration policies, Sturgeon stripped Trump of his title as business ambassador for Scotland. She cited his comments about Muslims during the campaign.
Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University also revoked Trump of his honorary degree for the same reason.
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Trump’s incendiary comments while president have only added to his woes.
A corporate watchdog group started an online petition to stop Trump’s development plan at his resort. The group, SumOfUs, seized on Trump’s reaction to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, arguing that his rhetoric has “bolstered white supremacists” across the globe.
“Now we have a chance to reject Trump’s hatred,” it said in its online appeal, “and protect our environment in one fell swoop.”
As of Sunday, the group had collected 94,888 signatures.
In July, the CEO of a major sponsor of the Scottish Open was quoted in a local newspaper casting doubt on Trump’s chances of hosting the event.
“There’s no decision made but, look, there are clear issues,” Aberdeen Asset Management CEO Martin Gilbert was quoted saying. He added, “Politics aside, Trump would be an ideal venue _ but you can’t put politics aside.”
Whether any of this will hurt profits at Trump’s Scottish business in the long run is another matter.
In Friday’s report, Eric Trump, the president’s son and a director of the British subsidiary that owns the two resorts, included a letter expressing confidence that the resorts will attract plenty of golfers.
Amanda Miller, a spokeswoman for the Trump Organization, declined to comment. She also said that Eric Trump was not available to talk.
Trump handed over management of his company to Eric and his other adult son, Donald Jr., before becoming president, but he still retains a financial interest in it.
For his part, Milne is convinced the course will continue to suffer. He thinks Trump’s election as president has hurt the business.
“It has hindered the success of the club,” said Milne as his Mexican flag flapped in the wind. “Some people come because it is the president’s golf club, but others avoid it for the same reason.”