TURNBERRY, Scotland – President Donald Trump has a special affinity for Scotland: His mother was born there and he owns two championship-level golf resorts in the verdant country, including Trump Turnberry, where he is spending the weekend before a meeting Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland.
But Scotland hasn’t always welcomed the real estate and casino mogul turned president.
Ever since Trump ventured into Scotland a dozen years ago, he has been losing money and battling with longtime residents, wind farms and politicians. Dozens of protesters rallied outside of Trump’s golf resorts on Saturday to protest his visit, while thousands marched through the capital of Edinburgh in opposition.
“President Trump knows this country probably better than any president in recent history,” Trump’s ambassador to the U.K, Robert “Woody” Johnson, told reporters before Trump left the White House earlier this week for the trip through Belgium, England, Scotland and Finland.
Trump’s mother, Mary McLeod, was born in Stornoway, a place Trump has described as “serious Scotland.” He says his mother adored the queen and the pomp and circumstance of events like royal weddings.
“Any time the queen was on television, my mother wanted to watch it,” he told The Sun newspaper in an interview this week.
But Trump has faced endless opposition as he’s worked to renovate the Turnberry resort on the west coast and expand Trump International Golf Links Scotland in Aberdeen.
David Milne, whose property overlooks Trump International Links, planned to mark the president’s visit the same way he did Trump’s last visit in 2016: flying the Mexican national flag over his house within sight of the clubhouse to protest Trump’s hardline immigration views.
“He is the president of a country that is allies with us and we have to give a certain amount of respect to the office of the president, even if we think the incumbent is a complete idiot,” said Milne. But, he added, “it would be better for a lot of people if he just stayed at home and saved the fuel.”
Anger at Trump has been especially hot in Aberdeen, where Trump’s plans have been mired in controversy from the day he bought the land in 2006. Neighbors have accused Trump of harassment and bullying to get them to sell land; a local fisherman became a national hero of sorts when he refused to sell to Trump, despite a $690,000 offer.
The Trump Organization was initially rejected for approval to build on legally protected dunes, but the Scottish government eventually granted permission because of a pledge to create around 6,000 jobs, a five-star hotel with 450 rooms and two golf courses worth 1 billion pounds ($1.3 billion). So far, only one course has been built along with a clubhouse and a boutique hotel with 16 rooms.
Conservationists also claim the course risks damaging an important site of special scientific interest. And a few months before Trump clinched the Republican nomination, he lost a court fight to stop an offshore windmill farm near the North Sea resort.
While Trump likes to brag about the properties — he called Turnberry “a magical place” during a news conference at the NATO summit in Brussels — they’ve been losing money. A financial report Trump’s company filed last year with the British government showed it had lost millions of dollars on both properties and losses had more than doubled in 2016 to 17.6 million pounds ($23 million). It was the third year in a row of losses. Revenue also fell sharply.
Asked about the losses, The Trump Organization emailed a statement that pointed to Turnberry’s positives: “Trump Turnberry is one of the most spectacular properties anywhere on the world and we are incredibly proud of its continued success. The Ailsa, home to four Open Championships including the famous 1977 ‘Duel in the Sun’ was recently listed as #10 in the World by Golf Digest and #16 in the World by Golf Magazine.”
During his last visit to Scotland, Trump created a made-for-TV spectacle as he held a news conference at his course in Aberdeen. Reporters in golf carts followed Trump as he moved from hole to hole, holding court along the way. The event doubled as an advertisement for the course, with Trump extolling its North Sea views as among “the great sights of the world.”
Trump also spent the visit hailing Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, and drawing parallels between that vote and the anger driving his presidential campaign. That, despite the fact that Scotland voted to remain in the EU.
“I love to see people take their country back,” he said at a news conference marking a $200 million-plus rehabilitation of Turnberry.
Paul Kelbie reported from Edinburgh. Associated Press writer Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.