Exclusive InterviewSeptember 6, 2015

Q&A: Donald Trump On Golf & The Presidency

The Republican presidential candidate on how he'd run the country versus how he runs his golf business; how much golf he'd play as president; and what problems he could solve on the course

This interview was conducted in Donald Trump’s office on the 26th floor of the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. The day before, the PGA of America had cancelled this year’s Grand Slam of Golf, which had been scheduled to be played at Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles in October, but was moved from that venue after Trump’s controversial comments about Mexican immigrants in July, which caused several corporations to disassociate from him. Trump, 69, seemed unbothered by the news, he and his spokesman pointing out that he still has three years on his contract to host the event, and that the decision to move the venue had allowed time to remove a waterfall on the course.

You’ve become a major player in golf. How would you compare the way you’ve reached that station to how you’ve become a major political player in your run for President?

I think very different in one way, and very similar in another. My golf is very high end. Great locations, great courses, highly acclaimed. And the word quality is important. I get things done, but I like to say I get it done with superb quality. I have locations that are good for many other things. So I’m not necessarily stuck in the world of golf. But I choose to be. But I have land that is so valuable, that if I ever wanted to do housing on it, as an example, but I just don’t choose to do that.

For government, you have to do it differently, but I think the quality of what we would do would be much better. Our infrastructure has to be rebuilt. Our bridges are literally crumbling. They need work and nobody is doing anything. Our roads, our schools, our airports. So I think I’d start a process where we would have a much higher quality at a much lesser cost. I think there would be far better management. You look at the vets, how badly they’ve been treated. Reports have come out that 300,000 vets have died waiting to get into the Veteran’s administration.

It’s probably at the worst point it’s ever been. So I think the management of the country would be much better. And I think I get great credit for management, not only for my golf courses but the way I manage the company.

I respect lean and mean, but I don’t think my style is lean and mean. I spend more money than I would have to. But I like to see it perfect. And I see a lot of people who spend a lot of money and don’t make it perfect, and that’s the worst of all combinations.

There is tremendous fat in government. A lot can be cut. We have to, because look at the budget deficits that we have. Look at the money that we owe. We owe $19 trillion. That’s hard to believe. That’s a big job when you think of it.

But one thing about government, you have to manage, but you also have to manage with a heart. You need heart. In golf you don’t have to manage with heart. Or in business you don’t necessarily have to manage with heart. But in government you do have to manage with heart. And I understand that.

What have you learned from the presidential experience?

Well, I had no idea it would be this big, number one. Because when you look at what’s happened in terms of the level of popularity and the polls, I didn’t think it would be that fast. And once I announced it was like a rocket ship. Nobody thought I was going to run, and once I announced, it’s gone very fast.

Number two, it’s a nasty business. It’s nasty. I find great dishonesty. Sort of the opposite of golf, I find great dishonesty in the world of politics.

Does it give you hesitancy in terms of what you’ve gotten into?

No. If anything, I’m much more glad I did it now. It’s what I say -- make America great again. Although that first two weeks was pretty rough. When I first came out with the whole thing on illegal immigration, I was getting massive [criticism]. Rough even in the sense of the golf world reaction.

How did you react when golf organizations distanced themselves when you made your comments about Mexican immigrants?

Well, I was disappointed in them. I was little disappointed because I didn’t think it was necessary. But at the same time I know it’s part of a process. And I have great respect for Pete Bevacqua, Mike Davis, Tim Finchem. And I understand that the statements I made were very incendiary. And they had to be made, because they turned out to be true. And there was a period of one month where there was a lot of what I call incoming. Golf was very mild in comparison. And I understood the golf. I got it. I understood it.

And those golf leaders, I believe, have seen that what I was saying was right, and I’ve gotten to No. 1 in all the polls, which is telling you that the country thinks I’m right. I can’t speak for them [the golf leaders], but I feel they’re much more comfortable.

You have Mexican immigrants who work for you on your golf courses and other properties. How would you act if you learned some of them were in this country illegally?

Well, we don’t have that. And I’m very careful about that. And I’m careful for a number of reasons. No. 1) because I don’t believe in it, and No. 2) I’m careful because I happen to be running for President. You can never be 100 percent sure, but we check very carefully.

I have a great relationship with the Mexican people. I’ve employed tens of thousands of Hispanics over the years, and I have a great relationship, and I think in the election, I will actually win the Hispanic vote.

But we wouldn’t have them working for us for long. We would not have that worker. A thing like that can happen. Don’t forget that there are 11 million here illegally, maybe as many as 30 million, nobody really knows, so things can happen where somebody gets in. But if we find there is somebody who is here illegally, we won’t hire them. We would start by letting them go, and secondly we may inform the authorities, but the most important thing, we are not hiring the illegals.

Who’s the best politician golfer you’ve played with?

Interesting, but I’ve never played with a great politician golfer. I’ve played with guys who are OK, they are 8s and 9s but not great. And I understand that, from being a politician for three months. I’m in the club championship at my club at Bedminster next week and I haven’t played in three and a half weeks. I’m not going in there with great gusto, although there is no pressure on me, because everyone over there at Bedminster has been practicing all day long. I haven’t picked up a club.

I played with John Boehner, and he’s a good golfer, I’d say he’s an 8 or a 9 handicap. I never played with Dan Quayle, who was a good golfer. But it’s funny, in the world of politics, it’s hard to play a lot of golf.

Who has been your favorite golfing president?

It was before my time, by a lot, but Eisenhower seems to be the guy who loved golf more than anybody else. You could say Ford was very involved, and Obama is very much involved, and Clinton loves it to this day. But of all the presidents the one who seemed to love golf the most was Dwight Eisenhower.

Did you know he played 800 times in two terms?

Wow, that’s a lot of golf.

Do you think playing golf can help a president do his job?

Well, I think you have to have a little moderation, because it’s a pretty busy job.

But I do think this: the beauty of golf is that you develop relationships, and you can make deals on a golf course. And I’ve often said that I don’t mind that Obama plays a lot of golf. He should play with people who can help the country, like if he played more with Boehner, and if he played more with maybe foreign leaders, it would be a wonderful thing. Many of the foreign leaders play golf and love golf.

And you get to know people, you get to know them better on a golf course than anywhere else. I’ve said it many times, so many of the deals I’ve made are because of golf. Not because I play well or somebody else played well. It’s because you develop a camaraderie with people on a golf course that you could never develop over lunch or dinner. And some of my deals were made because I developed a relationship on a golf course.

What about the idea of golf helping a President have a clear mind?

Less so, but certainly that’s something. The great thing about golf is that you go in, you have a hundred things that you are thinking about and all of a sudden all you want to do is properly hit the little white ball. It becomes everything. So I don’t think of it that way, but the answer is yes.

What’s your experience with Bill Clinton as a golfer?

We’ve played a number of times. We have very different games. By the way, he doesn’t cheat. He will drop a ball, but he doesn’t make any bones about it. If he misses a shot -- he doesn’t get to play very much -- so he’ll drop a ball and hit a second shot. But he’s not saying he got a par if he didn’t get a par. It’s not like he’s trying to hide anything. I think he’s been treated unfairly.

If Hilary were to play, what kind of golfer do you think she would be?

She certainly is a competitive person, and I think she’d be trying very hard. I don’t know that she plays, but she’d certainly be trying very hard.

Megyn Kelly offers to bury the hatchet with a round of golf. Would you accept?

Absolutely. Sure. Why not?

What’s your standard golf bet?

I’m not a big bettor. I’ve had bets that were for a lot. Once I was in China, and a group of very wealthy Chinese businessmen, we were playing at course, one of those that it’s millions to get in. It was a group of four guys who always play together, and one of them wasn’t there, so I was the fourth, and they wanted to play for $100,000 a hole. And it wasn’t that they were good players, one said he got 20 strokes, one said he got 15, and I had never seen them play. And I was saying to myself, wouldn’t I feel stupid wiring back home for money telling my financial officers, “Hey, I just lost a million dollars playing golf,” and I’d never seen these guys play. So it was one of the few times where I said, I’ll pass. I always tell my people, watch your pennies because it’s important.

I don’t play for much money. We’ll play for $10, maybe $100 nassaus, usually. Pretty much that’s it. I don’t get a thrill out of gambling at golf.

If you ran golf, what would you change?

I’ve felt strongly that golf should be an aspirational game. It shouldn’t be a game for all strata of society. It should be something that you aspire to. And I think golf got away from that. And by getting away from it, it actually hurt golf.

In Scotland, where golf began and spread among the populace, it’s long been a game for all strata. Why in your opinion does that formula not work now?

I think that formula does work in terms of the daily fee and public courses. I have a course in Los Angeles that is tremendously successful. It’s a great course, but it’s also on the Pacific Ocean. Trump Ferry Point, from 6:30 to late afternoon, foursomes are just going out. Never have an empty slot. Public golf does work if you have a really good course in a really good location.

But those are expensive courses. What about municipal’s like Cobb’s Creek in Philadelphia, where you yourself first began to play game seriously paying $10-$15 a round?

I used to play for even less than that at other public courses. I think those entry points are OK. But I see so much emphasis on getting young people to play the game, and once they get a little bit older they’ll never play. But once they become successful, they will be able to play. And they’ll aspire to play. So it’s good to give them a touch at the beginning, but I just think that you know, golf is not an inexpensive game, whether we like it or not. I just think for golf to be truly successful, it’s got to be more of an aspirational game then they are talking about right now.

How’s your own golf?

It’s hard to believe, but I think I’m a better golfer today than I was many years ago. I think I know the game better. My putting has always been good. I don’t hit a lot of bad shots. Part of the beauty of golf is for me to be able to say at my age that I can be a better golfer than I was 20 years. And I think that’s a great thing for people to see. Because how many sports can you be better as you get older? Now, there will be a point where I fall of the ledge. And it will be, well, that’s the end of that. It happens.

What will happen to your business if you become president?

It will be run by my children, and my executives. My children have become very good at what they are doing. It’s a very big business, but they will be able to run it. And I think they’d run it very well.