THE BRONX, N.Y. — Tony and Patty Tiseo arrived at the Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point on Halloween morning not knowing what to expect. Residents of Whitestone, a small neighborhood in northern Queens directly across the East River from Ferry Point, the Tiseos had never been to the Trump-operated public course before, but they had heard good reviews of the clubhouse’s brunch offering, and wanted to check it out for themselves.
The French toast, however, was not the only reason for their visit. In January, the Department of Parks and Recreation, which controls New York City’s public golf courses, announced that it was ending its outstanding contracts with the former president’s organization, citing former President Donald Trump’s role in inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol riots. Although three of the city’s contracts with the Trump Organization expired on their own in April, the former president’s company has taken the city to court over its attempt to end its Ferry Point contract, which entitles it to manage the course through April of 2032. On Nov. 4, a judge in New York issued an injunction barring the city from evicting the Trump Organization until the courts can rule on the company’s claim that it is entitled to continue managing the property through 2032 — or, alternatively, that the city owes it a $30 million cancellation fee.
With the course in legal limbo, the Tiseos decided to make the short trip across the East River from Whitestone to show their support for the former president by eating at the course’s restaurant. They don’t support the city’s effort to ditch the Trump name, and they’re even less enthusiastic about the possibility of the city spending $30 million in taxpayer money to make the change.
“What a waste of money,” said Tony, a sturdy man with a thick Queens accent. “$30 million for a name change? That’s a good way to spend our money.”
In the clubhouse and on the greens, there are few visible signs of the Trump Organization’s possible departure. The general manager declined to comment, and the organization didn’t respond to questions. The Trump Golf logo — which also happens to be the Trump family coat of arms, featuring three lions, two chevrons and a torso-less arm clutching a solitary arrow — continues to adorn nearly every conceivable surface: the cocktail napkins in the restaurant, the soap dispensers in the locker rooms, the club head covers in the pro shop, the flagsticks on the greens, the upholstered seats in the golf carts and the valet stand in the driveway. An overlarge, gold-plated chandelier in the clubhouse’s main foyer announces Trump’s influence as clearly as any logo or sign. The only sign that the end could soon be nigh is the course’s online calendar, which listed no events after November.
That leaves the course in much the same position as the rest of the country: perched precariously between a Trumpified past and the uncertain promise of a post-Trump future, and suffused with a profound ambivalence about the former president’s legacy. The ongoing saga over the course’s future invites many of the same questions that Americans are asking about the country itself: Without the Trump brand attached, what would become of Trump Golf Links? Would Trump’s critics begrudgingly embrace it? Can the club — and the country — ever escape Trump’s shadow?
Then again, if the city ultimately prevails in its attempt to strip the Trump name from the course, would Trump voters ever return?
“I dunno,” said Tony Tiseo. “Let me get done eating and I’ll let you know.“
Before it was a golf course, the 192-acre property that is now Trump Golf Links was a municipal landfill, the final resting place for thousands of tons of garbage from New York’s northern boroughs. When the idea of building a new golf course at the location first surfaced in the late 1990s, environmental and public health experts raised concerns about placing a recreational oasis atop a former trash heap, warning that the construction process could release underground pockets of methane gas into the atmosphere and leach dangerous chemicals into the groundwater.
Their concerns, as it turns out, were not totally unfounded. In 2012, while the course was under construction, city inspectors detected methane levels at the construction site that well exceeded the “lower explosion level” — the threshold at which flammable gasses like methane can cause combustive explosions. The finding caused concern among course’s neighbors in the nearby residential neighborhood of Throggs Neck, but it didn’t stop the site’s developers from moving ahead with the project anyway. Now, the course features several inconspicuous vents that allow any lingering methane to escape into the atmosphere at a safe distance away from the golfers.
In the current political environment, the most toxic thing about the golf course in the minds of many New Yorkers is not the methane or the chemical leachate but the Trump name itself. Since the course opened in 2015, northbound travelers leaving New York City by way of the Hutchinson River Expressway have been taunted by the Trump Golf Links name, etched 15-feet-high into the side of a hill near the clubhouse entrance. The modern-day crop circle is virtually impossible to miss from the nearby expressway, and because of the slope of the hill, it’s even visible from airplanes descending into LaGuardia Airport across the river. Its prominent placement on the side of a major throughway makes it a frequent object of New Yorkers’ ire. In the three-plus hours I spent wandering around the course and its surrounding environs, three separate drivers on the expressway rolled down their windows to yell unkind words in the direction of the sign. At least two of them concluded their profane declamations with a loogie-laden exclamation mark.
Even if you disapprove of the former president, there is something undeniably beautiful about the property to which he has lent his name — and, in the case of the $10 million clubhouse constructed by the Trump Organization in 2018, his money. The southern edge of the course hugs the bank of the East River, offering river views framed to the east by Whitestone Bridge and to the west by Throggs Neck Bridge. There are virtually no trees anywhere on the course, and the gently undulating greenways appear to tumble casually off the edge of the horizon, like a lumpy comforter thrown carelessly onto the edge of a bed. The New York City skyline looms quietly off in the distance, visible from the course’s northern holes.
“Politics aside, his golf courses are certainly really, really well run,” said Peter Pujols, a financial services provider from Long Island who had come to play the course with some clients from the city. “I’ve played a bunch of his golf courses over the years, even the private ones down in Florida, and they’re spectacular. He spends money, and it’s a first-rate experience.”
The luxuries afforded by the course and its clubhouse were a common refrain among the course’s visitors, many of whom cited the quality of the course’s greens, the high standards of service and the course’s proximity to the city as a major source of its appeal. These perks, they say, more than justify the price, which at $185 per round for New York residents and $228 for non-residents is more than three times as expensive as any of New York’s standard municipal golf courses.
The air of exclusivity and country-club posh is a major part of the course’s appeal. In the sprawling parking lots in front of the clubhouse, BMWs, Porsches, Teslas and Bentleys far outnumber Toyotas and Fords — except in the small area designated for employees. The drivers of those BMWs and Porsches and Teslas and Bentleys were overwhelmingly white men, while the drivers of the Toyotas and Fords were not. Despite the course’s claim that it is just a stone’s throw away from Metropolitan New York, the course is practically inaccessible via public transportation. It would take a car-less visitor around two hours to get there from midtown Manhattan, involving, at minimum, a trade ride, a bus ride and a 1.2-mile walk. Judging by its prices, the course’s inaccessibility may be a feature, not a bug — and it certainly does not bother its visitors.
“I think it makes the community a little more upscale,” said Dan Sabino, a resident of Throggs Neck. “What do they want to do, take off the Trump name and put in low-income housing? With Trump’s name, it’s an exclusive club. That’s what you need. You can’t just give stuff away all the time.”
The Trump Organization, it should be said, does not seem eager to give anything away. As soon as the golf course’s general manager learned that a reporter was on the premises, a beefy security guard with a Secret Service-style earpiece appeared at the entrance to the clubhouse, joined soon thereafter by a dour-faced woman dressed in all black. The pair would have made for an intimidating duo if not for the fact that the woman was accompanied by a tiny Yorkie terrier whose name, I later learned, was Lala. It being Halloween, Lala had come dressed in a tiny blue-and-red superhero costume, with a tuft of hair on top of her head dyed bright pink. For the remainder of my visit, Lala and her handler joined me wherever I went, lagging about twenty feet behind. For a brief moment, I thought I had shaken my tail, only to have them reappear moments later with Lala newly disguised as a pumpkin.
If this seems like an excessive level of caginess for a public golf course security team, it’s worth remembering that Trump Golf Link’s function as a public golf course is at best secondary to its more essential purpose of serving as an immersive, 3D billboard for the Trump brand — and by extension for Trump himself. This dynamic did not seem lost on the course’s visitors, whose opinions of the city’s decision to end Trump’s contract mingled freely with their opinions of their former president and his politics.
“Why are they crucifying this guy? Why?” Sabino asked. “They crucified him the minute he beat Hillary. The guy could s— friggin’ golden eggs and he still would be no good.”
Only Demoyne Anderson, one of the few patrons I met who didn’t consider himself a Trump supporter, tried to disentangle his opinion of the course from his opinion of the president. And even he didn’t seem so sure it could be done.
“To me, one thing has nothing to do with another,” said Anderson, a Bronx native who sported a purple leisure suit and a diamond-encrusted Mickey Mouse wristwatch. “I don’t like his political views, but this is a separate thing from politics — isn’t it?”
“I just thought it would be nice to visit the restaurant,” he added, somewhat apologetically.
Of course, it’s not especially surprising that the people who visit Trump’s properties are predisposed to like Trump the politician, just as it’s not surprising that the people who like Trump the politician generally disapprove of the city’s attempt to remove Trump’s name from public facilities. What is surprising, however, is the readiness with which the course’s visitors are willing — even eager — to position a contractual fight between the New York City Parks Department and a powerful real estate developer in a sweeping narrative about the rise and fall of civilizations.
“They’re changing everything,” said Robert Scherr, a sleekly-dressed brunch-goer from Westchester County and a two-time Trump voter. “They’re changing names, they’re bringing down statues — everything is going crazy.”
In the greater moral universe of liberal America, there is no equivalence between rebranding a golf course and removing statues of Confederate generals. But in this 192-acre outpost of Trump-topia, there is a discernible logic to it. Short of striking a blow to Trump’s credibility, the fight to de-Trumpify Trump Golf Links seems perfectly designed to bolster the apocalyptic worldview that drives support for Trumpism. At once nostalgic, masculine, exclusive, moneyed, suspicious, hostile and unapologetically white, the golf course at Ferry Point is Trump’s vision of America, distilled down to 18 holes and a clubhouse.
And soon, if New York City gets its way, it could be no more.
If the city ultimately prevails in court, the Ferry Points golf course will reopen in April of 2022, scrubbed of any visible evidence of Trump’s past involvement and under the management of a rival firm chosen by the city, Bobby Jones Links. According to Whitney Crouse, a founding partner of Bobby Jones Links, the new management team hopes to implement several new community outreach initiatives, including opportunities designed to attract young people, people with physical disabilities and people of color. They also plan to decrease prices by 10 percent across the board.
Among Trump Golf Link’s mostly older, able-bodied and white clientele, the arrival of a more woke management company wouldn’t on its own be enough to discourage them from returning to the course.
“If the course is in good shape and they keep it nice and everything else, we’ll see,” said Pujols. “If the service and the condition of the course start to suffer, nobody’s going to pay $200 to play a round of golf.”
New outreach initiatives aside, any future iteration of the Ferry Points golf course will likely look much the same as the current one. The New York City skyline will still loom peacefully in the background. The 18th green will still lie in the shadow of the Whitestone Bridge.
“When he goes to run again, he’ll put it back,” said Scherr, without a shred of irony.
But with the Trump name gone, New York could pride itself on having taken another small step toward complete de-Trumpification. Sure, the Bronx would still have an 18-hole public golf course that is too expensive and too inaccessible for many of the city’s residents to enjoy. But at least New Yorkers driving along the Hutchinson River Expressway wouldn’t have to be confronted with a 15-foot-tall reminder that once upon a time, their city did business with a distasteful man.
If nothing else, the possible demise of Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point has emboldened the Tiseos, who, having eaten their fill at brunch, were finally ready to deliver their review.
“It was great. Great. Great. Great,” said Patty Tiseo. “F— Biden. Go Trump.”