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Donald Trump flanked by his children and pipers on the official opening day of the Trump International Golf Links course in Aberdeenshire in 2012
By Andrew Picken
BBC Scotland News

The man who helped broker the deal for Donald Trump’s first Scottish golf resort says the country was “hoodwinked” by the ex-president’s claim it would be a £1bn project.

Neil Hobday was the project director for Mr Trump’s controversial course in Aberdeenshire, which opened in 2012.

Mr Trump said he would spend £1bn on the scheme – but this did not happen.

Trump International Scotland said it had invested “hundreds of millions of pounds” into the economy.

And the company added it had “delivered on its promise to build one of the greatest modern links golf courses of all time”.

But Mr Hobday told BBC News he felt “hoodwinked and ashamed that I fell for it and Scotland fell for it”.

Mr Hobday, who was a consultant project director for the Trump Organization, has spoken to Trumped, a new BBC Sounds podcast which revisits the controversy surrounding the approval for the course.

“I don’t think even if he could raise the money to build the whole thing out, he wanted the golf course and that was it,” he said.

“He was willing to fight the environmental battle and create this impression that this was a $1bn project and Scotland absolutely needed it. But I think he never really had the money or the intention of finishing it.”

He added: “I feel very hoodwinked and ashamed that I fell for it and Scotland fell for it. We all fell for it. He was never going to do it.”

Situated eight miles north of Aberdeen, the Menie Estate was a windswept stretch of sand dunes, meadows and woodlands before Donald Trump unveiled plans in 2006 to transform it into what he promised would be the world’s greatest golf course.

The first official announcement by Trump International Golf Links anticipated that costs would be “in excess of $500m” – but by the time Mr Trump landed in Scotland and got in front of the TV cameras it had become a £1bn development.

The plans got the backing of a sizable chunk of the local business community, won over by the scale of promised investment that would attract major golf tournaments.

But those who had chosen this quiet spot by the North Sea to live were dismayed from the outset.

Menie residents refused to sell up to Mr Trump and he famously accused local farmer and salmon fisherman Michael Forbes of living in a “pig-like atmosphere”.

Environmentalists were also concerned about the impact of the development.

Michael Forbes was one of the Menie residents who refused to sell his land to Mr Trump

The northern part of the course covered part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest regarded as one of Britain’s best examples of a mobile sand dune system.

After the course was built, Scotland’s countryside watchdog ruled they had lost their special status as a nationally-important protected environment.

Planning permission was granted by Scottish ministers – who controversially overruled the local council’s decision to throw out the application – on the basis that the potential economic benefit would outweigh environmental harm.

The Trump Organization has previously said it spent around £100m on the Aberdeenshire golf resort but its latest accounts show the facility has a net book value of £33.2m and 81 employees.

In addition to the golf course, the original proposal also included approval for a 450-room hotel, 950 holiday apartments, 36 golf villas and 500 houses for sale.

None of these elements, and the thousands of new jobs promised, have materialised so far – and the golf resort has yet to turn a profit, racking up £13.3m in losses since it opened.

Trump International Golf Links course was last year included in a New York civil court ruling that the former president and his company had misrepresented his wealth, including a “false valuation” of the Aberdeenshire course. Mr Trump has denied any wrongdoing in this case.

Mr Hobday, who has managed golf stars such as Colin Montgomerie and Sam Torrance, was instrumental in persuading Mr Tump to build the new course in Scotland.

Leafing through a Sunday newspaper in 2005, his eyes had lit up at an article suggesting Donald Trump was considering expanding his business empire in Europe.

“I thought, oh well, he’s into golf and he’s into property and development and he’s half Scottish – maybe I should give him a call,” he explained.

Neil Hobday (on the left) with Donald Trump (on the right) during his first visit to Aberdeenshire in 2006

Within months he was standing in Mr Trump’s office in New York, flanked by Scottish government officials, making the case for investing in a golf course capable of hosting The Open in Aberdeenshire.

Mr Hobday then spent five years helping to develop the Aberdeenshire golf project before quitting in 2010.

‘Steadfast commitment’

Trump International Scotland has previously said that the 2008 financial crash and the Covid pandemic had slowed the pace of its development plans in Aberdeenshire.

A statement from the firm said it had invested “hundreds of millions of pounds into the Scottish economy” and that both the Menie course and Trump Turnberry are “globally acclaimed and responsible for driving thousands of international visitors into the country each year”.

It added: “There are very few, if any, investors in the sport that have done more for Scottish golf in the past decade than Trump.

“In spite of the many global economic challenges, where other investors walked away – and despite spiteful opposition, the Trump Organization has remained steadfast in its commitment and delivered on its promise to build one of the greatest modern links golf courses of all time in Aberdeen.”

Trump International Scotland also pointed to support for its golf courses from local firms and suppliers it does business with.

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