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The links between Donald Trump and Scotland stretch back to the 1930s

Donald Trump at the Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire.
Donald Trump at the Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire.

It’s a very long way from the remote pebble-dashed crofts of the Outer Hebrides to the palatial splendour of the White House in Washington.

Yet Donald Trump’s family has embraced both these aspects on his thorny, often controversial and noisy journey from entrepreneur to becoming US president – and whatever one’s views of the man who is still fighting Joe Biden’s victory in last week’s election, it’s impossible to dismiss his many links to Scotland, dating back nearly 100 years.

Trump’s mother, Mary Anne MacLeod, who was raised in a Gaelic-speaking household in Tong, on the Isle of Lewis, made the sort of rags-to-riches story one would expect to find in a fairy tale.

Donald Trump’s mother, Mary Anne MacLeod grew up on Lewis.

The youngster who left Scotland on board the RMS Transylvania in May 11 1930, and worked as a domestic servant on Long Island for four years, witnessed genuine poverty during the worst days of the Great Depression.

But her experiences as an immigrant – one of the many ironic twists in the Trump family story – led to her becoming an ardent believer in the American Dream; and when she met, courted and married businessman Fred Trump and the couple were married in 1936, it was the start of a family dynasty which led all the way to the highest echelons of US society.

Elaborate hairstyle

As a parent, Mary was more reserved than her husband, but she poured herself into philanthropic work and was renowned for her elaborate hairstyle, which was described in one account as “a dynamic orange swirl”.

This later became connected with her son, Donald, who later wrote: “Looking back, I realise now that I got some of my sense of showmanship from my mother”.

The childhood home of Mary Anne MacLeod in the village of Tong.

In short, the two never disguised their passion for Scotland and, even before he defeated Hillary Clinton in the race for the White House in 2016, the Republican politician had spoken about her influence on him as he became embroiled in creating a new golf course at the Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire.

When his mother passed away 20 years ago, the death notice in the Stornoway Gazette read: “Peacefully in New York on August 7, Mary Ann (sic) Trump, aged 88 years. Daughter of the late Malcolm and Mary MacLeod, 5 Tong. Much missed”.

Mr Trump has never been interested in compromise, either in business or golf. The same brash, take-no-prisoners approach which he displayed in the American version of The Apprentice was evident when he set about creating his course in the north east of Scotland.

Golf resort

In 2006, he purchased the 1400-acre site with the intention of turning it into a £1bn golf resort, complete with a hotel and hundreds of luxury houses, and what he claimed would be “the world’s best course”,  and one capable of hosting world-class events such as the Open.

Mary Anne MacLeod.

There was significant opposition from many people, not least because parts of the course were designed on a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), which protected the 4,000-year-old sand dunes at Balmedie.

It was a battle of wills which led to many bogeys and three putts as the plan attracted all manner of coverage and criticism, and involved everybody from the former First Minister, Alex Salmond, to the late Sir Sean Connery and Queen guitarist, Brian May, who sided with local residents, after they were threatened with forced eviction by the Trump organisation.

In 2011, the latter lodged a formal objection to the proposed construction of a giant wind farm off the Aberdeenshire coast, and Donald Trump wrote personally to Mr Salmond.

Tensions were already rising and a documentary You’ve Been Trumped, directed by Anthony Baxter, highlighted the plight of residents who were adversely affected by the resort.

Donald Trump at the house in Tong, on the Isle of Lewis, where his mother was brought up before she emigrated to the United States.

But, regardless of the sound and fury, the course which was designed by Dr Martin Hawtree, opened in 2012 to generally positive reviews about its quality and beauty.

Golf Monthly acknowledged the many rows and recriminations which had happened behind the scenes, but offered the critique: “The good news, indeed the great news, is that he has created a masterpiece – an instant classic.

“It’s rare that you play a links where every hole is both strong and unforgettable, but this vast, sprawling course is an unqualified exception.”

That view was shared by such exalted figures as Jack Nicklaus, who has won more golf majors – 18 – than anybody else in history and Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie, who was involved in the opening of the site in July eight years ago.

Donald Trump at his Aberdeenshire resort.

Trump was piped to the first hole with former Ryder Cup captain Montgomerie, who said it was “an honour” to play on what he described as “a marvel of a course”.

And he dedicated it to the memory of his mother, while continuing his battle to prevent the wind turbines being built; a campaign which was ultimately unsuccessful, though not before it went all the way to the Supreme Court.

Tong Lewis sign.

These were strange times for many of us who covered the story. On the one hand, protesters such as Michael Forbes and David Milne expressed anger at how the planning application had been railroaded through, with suggestions of political intervention at a higher level. Yet they spoke passionately about their objections.

Turnberry

But, on the other side of the coin, many members of the public applauded Trump’s ambition and welcomed his association with his adopted homeland. Even after he became an increasingly divisive figure in the US and across the globe, and his purchase of Turnberry in Ayrshire sparked mass demonstrations and blackly comic responses from the likes of Janey Godley, one golfing fan told me: “We can see the Donald for what he is – a Lewis man on the make.

“But he has built a terrific golf course and he has created jobs in the process. You don’t have to agree with his politics to see that he is an entrepreneur and a good one.”

Considering the scale of the furore, which has enveloped his spell in the White House, one might imagine that Trump would be glad to avoid any more dealings with Scotland. But not a word of it. On the contrary, an area of land has already been earmarked for a second facility in Aberdeenshire and it has gained planning permission, which means we could be involved in Groundhog Day scenes in the future.

Donald Trump in the White House.

Conservation experts had urged Shire Council to block the proposal, but members gave Trump International Golf Links Scotland the go-ahead, despite concerns from locals, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, and other bodies.

The new 18-hole course will be named MacLeod – after his mother – and will share the golf house and related facilities currently serving the Menie Course.

Start date

Work is likely to start on the project in 2021 and it doesn’t appear to matter that both the original course and Turnberry have incurred significant losses in recent years.

Nor do many people seem to remember that when the first Menie Estate initiative was proposed, Trump pledged to create up to 6,000 jobs by building a five-star hotel with 450 rooms, shops, a sports complex, timeshare flats, and up to 650 luxury houses.

Almost none of this has materialised and there is little prospect of it coming to fruition in the current economic landscape, particularly as the world grapples with Covid-19.

But, love him or loathe him, Trump is in his element on the fairways and links. Where did he go even as Joe Biden claimed victory at the weekend? To the golf course.

And what event will be on his radar this week while his lawyers contest the election result?

The US Masters in Augusta – a course originally designed by a Scot, Dr Alister MacKenzie.

On balance, perhaps “a Lewis man on the make” isn’t a bad description.

Meet the trailblazing Scots who designed the cream of the world’s golf courses

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