By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Warning bells have sounded on the health of golf, from lower participation and course closures to environmental demands for reduced water use, but billionaire Donald Trump says business at the high end is grand.
Trump on Tuesday will stage the grand opening of Trump Links at Ferry Point, his latest golf enterprise, where he oversaw the transformation of a New York City dump into a jewel of a public course designed by Jack Nicklaus.
"We're very proud of it. It's doing great business. People are thrilled," the businessman told Reuters from behind his massive desk on the top floor of Trump Tower on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue.
"And I’m happy because I did a good thing for the city."
A very good thing, at least, for Big Apple golfers with the means to pay weekday green fees from $175 for city residents to $225 for those from beyond its borders, including cart.
The treeless links-style course with dramatic mounds dotting the fairways, stretches from the foot of the Whitestone Bridge in the Bronx with views of the Manhattan skyline and East River.
"It's the best municipal course in the world," said Trump, not prone to understatement. "It will be the home of many majors over the years."
When real estate magnate and avid golfer Trump jumped into the golf business some 20 years ago he began by building courses. After the market swooned he took to 'buying low' and rebuilding distressed, luxury properties.
Despite some sagging economic results in the industry, Trump said his golf interests are thriving.
"Golf is doing great," he said in his man-cave of a 26th floor executive office, surrounded by plaques and golf trophies and a picture window view of Central Park greenery. "Places that should never have been built have now disappeared."
When he started, he said his goal was to host majors. Trump now has 17 courses and a string of majors lined up.
Trump National Bedminster (New Jersey) will be hosting the 2017 U.S. Women's Open and 2022 PGA Championship.
Trump National Washington, D.C., set along the Potomac River, will be site of the 2017 Senior PGA Championship.
Trump National Los Angeles will host the 2015 PGA Grand Slam of Golf, featuring winners of the year's four majors.
International acquisitions include Turnberry in Scotland, Trump International Golf Links Scotland in Aberdeen and Doonbeg in Ireland, now Trump International Golf Links, Ireland.
Turnberry is holding the Women's British Open this year and remains a candidate to host a fifth British Open.
Some feathers have been ruffled with Trump's rise.
He was a vocal critic of the U.S. Golf Association's presentation of the 2014 men's and women's U.S. Opens at Pinehurst, where native grasses were planted to conserve water as part of a USGA initiative giving a browned look to the event.
"I like the brown at Turnberry," Trump said about the vegetation at the seaside course. "But I didn’t like the brown at Pinehurst because it was artificial.
"I love Mike (Davis, USGA executive director). I just thought that it wasn’t good for television. I don’t think it played well on television and I don’t think it was good for golf."
In the highlands of Scotland, Trump took to tilting at windmills.
His Aberdeen project hit a snag when he sought to eliminate alternative energy windmills he felt marred views from the course.
"I’ve been really successful in stopping the windmills. These windmills are a blight," he said. "I've been suing the Scottish government for about five years."
PGA of America chief executive Pete Bevacqua called Trump a positive force in golf.
"He just gets the game. He loves the game, he puts his effort, his personality and his energy behind the game," Bevacqua told Reuters. "I wish more people with his influence and resources would become passionate about this game. Right now, he has the Midas touch in golf."
Trump, who made his fortune in real estate, has combined his zest for the art of making a deal with his sport of choice.
Of the distressed sale that brought him the coastal property south of Los Angeles, Trump said: "You couldn’t buy a piece of land like that for a billion dollars today. And I bought it for $27 million. Six hundred acres on the ocean in Los Angeles."
Looking tan and fit with his famed comb-over carefully in place, Trump recalled how he took on the Ferry Point project that had languished for decades.
"It was a horrible, horrible disgrace. They asked me numerous times during the course of years because I get things done," he said. "But we could never make a deal. Then Mayor (Michael) Bloomberg said can you take a look at it, it’s a disaster.
"I got it built."
(Fixes typo in first paragraph)
(Editing by Frank Pingue)