Dicey call to join forces with Trump

NEW YORK -- On Thursday in the atrium of one of his gleaming towers in midtown Manhattan, Donald Trump announced he had reached an agreement with the PGA of America to host two of the organization's future championships at his Trump properties: the 2022 PGA Championship at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., and the 2017 Senior PGA Championship at his Washington, D.C.-area course.

For Trump, the event marked the culmination of a 15-year effort to bring a men's major championship to one of his properties. With this move, the 67-year-old real estate mogul, who owns 16 golf clubs around the world, is reaching for the kind of ubiquitous golf presence that his name has in Atlantic City and New York.

The Bedminster course is already set to host the 2017 U.S. Women's Open. Trump National Doral, which he purchased out of bankruptcy in 2012 for $150 million, annually hosts the WGC-Cadillac Championship, one of the most elite events on the PGA Tour schedule.

Earlier this week, Trump also finalized the purchase of the Turnberry Resort in Scotland, which has hosted four Open Championships and will likely hold more in the future.

But there is an aspect of Trump's flamboyant and blunt style that could undermine his appeal in golf.

On Thursday, Trump, dressed in a blue suit with his perfectly coifed blond comb-over, looked the establishment part, nothing like the lightning rod he has personified in the national media for more than three decades.

Never lacking in confidence or showmanship, Trump is very aware that he is a unique personality in the game. But he doesn't fear overshadowing his golf courses or the events that he hosts with his outsized presence.

"The PGA is such a great and old championship that I wouldn't want to overshadow it and I don't think I could do that," Trump said. "What I have been able to do is build truly great courses that have been very successful."

Will he be a good steward of the game or the sometimes racially divisive figure whom he has been in recent years?

Trump and the PGA of America leadership don't believe these two worlds will intersect.

"I'm somebody that a lot of people don't know," Trump said. "I have many great friends and people that know me know that I have great compassion for people and great love.

"When they get to know me, they get it. The fact that I go on Fox and that I'm conservative, people don't care too much about that. The fact that my courses were chosen to host major championships among thousands of courses across this country says to a certain extent who I am. They are only going to go with the right person."

Ted Bishop, the President of the PGA of America, told me that he has no worries about how Trump will represent their organization of 27,000 PGA club professionals.

"What you saw here today is about the PGA of America entering into a partnership with Donald Trump, the successful real estate golf person who has two great venues for major championships," Bishop said. "The Donald Trump that some talk about is a different Donald Trump than the one the PGA of America will deal and work with."

On this issue of the growth of the game, which is widely embraced across all the leading golfing bodies, Trump has a slightly difference of opinion on the matter.

"I'm more concerned about the quality of the game than I am with the growth of the game," Trump said. "I think the growth of the game will follow. I want them to keep the game aspirational.

"So to me, the quality of the game takes care of everything. I'm not into growing the game for the sake of selling some more golf balls and clubs. I'm into the quality of golf. And keeping it at a very high level."

This elitist attitude might keep people away from the game.

Pete Bevacqua, the CEO of the Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.-based organization was equally complimentary of Trump's belief and investment in the game, but he differs with him on the industry-wide, growth-of-the-game strategy.

"We're not going to agree with Mr. Trump on everything," Bevacqua said. "Everybody has personalities and viewpoints. If you operated where you always had to check everybody's opinion, it would be a little difficult to get things done. What's critical is our mission to grow the game, to make it more accessible and diverse as possible.

"It's fundamental to what we're trying to do. And much of our efforts going forward will be to bring more people to the game."

Will this be a long and happy marriage between the PGA of America and Trump?

It's hard to ignore aspects of Trump's record as a political and social commentator.

Recently during the Donald Sterling saga, Trump called the racist comments by the now-banned Los Angeles Clipper owner "terrible" and "despicable." But he also called Sterling's girlfriend, Vanessa Stiviano, the "girlfriend from hell" who set up her boyfriend by taping their conversations.

Did Trump need to damn Stiviano? Shouldn't the attention be focused on Sterling, not the personal failings of the girlfriend, who also happened to be the messenger?

Trump's remarks only serve to deflect attention from the real issue of racism in America.

Trump has also led the so-called birther movement that has tried to prove that Barack Obama was not qualified to hold the office of President of the United States because he was not born in the country. This, despite the fact that President Obama has produced a birth certificate that shows he was born in Hawaii.

In 2011, after charges that he was a racist, Trump said, "I have a great relationship with the blacks."

Trump even dared to suggest that Obama, the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, was a mediocre student who got into elite Ivy League schools simply because of affirmative action.

"How does a bad student go to Columbia and then to Harvard?" Trump said. "I'm thinking about it. I'm certainly looking into it. Let him show his records."

For these diatribes against the President, Trump has been called a "hero" to racists.

How can golf, which has overcome so much to open its doors to African-Americans and other minority groups, not be more proactive about monitoring someone who doesn't always represent in his public appearances the inclusive spirit that the game wants to present to the world?

Trump has the right to share his views on current events and to criticize President Obama. But what's out of bounds is racism, thinly veiled, coded or otherwise.

Trump is an instigator, a media-savvy New York dealmaker who never saw a camera he didn't like. But if the golf establishment wants to truly grow the game, shouldn't it be very careful with whom it gives a platform to represent the game?

Trump can continue to buy up golf courses around the world, but if he wants to host major championships, the leading golfing bodies should actively encourage him to temper his expression of his personal views.

The game has come too far to turn back now.