Reacting to a recent claim that the Trump family teamed with Russian investors to buy golf courses, a Trump Organization spokesperson told the Observer Monday that the firm paid cash for its Lake Norman golf property and used no outside financing.
The Trump National Golf Club in Mooresville was thrust into the spotlight last week after James Dodson, a book author and golf journalist, said Eric Trump, the president’s son, told him in 2013 that the firm used money from Russian investors to buy its courses at a time when financing was scarce.
Dodson, who said during a radio interview that the conversation took place during a golf outing at the Mooresville course, told the Observer he stands by his claim. But Eric Trump has said it’s untrue.
In a statement Monday, a Trump Organization spokesperson said Dodson’s claims are “totally false,” calling it a “fabricated and ridiculous story.”
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Public records show the entity that owns the Mooresville course has used financing from various lenders over the years. Those records don’t indicate any foreign investment sources, and the loans do not appear to have been for the original purchase. No loan amounts were given.
Potential Trump ties to Russia are under increasing scrutiny as the FBI and congressional committees investigate whether Trump associates coordinated with Russia to sway last year's presidential election. Trump has dismissed the allegations as false and politically motivated, but they gained renewed attention last week when Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who was leading the agency’s investigation.
In 2013, when Dodson says he talked to Eric Trump, the Trumps’ real estate company was coming off a spending spree on golf courses, taking advantage of a downturn in the industry.
Trump bought the Mooresville property in March 2012. The Greg Norman-designed course, which is surrounded by nearly 900 homes, was previously named The Point Lake and Golf Club. Trump bought it for $3 million, according to news accounts at the time, and rebranded it Trump National Golf Club, Charlotte.
At the time of the purchase, Trump told the Observer the property had “a lot of future.”
“We love this piece of land, the lake, the tremendous lake,” Trump said. “The views from the course are magnificent.”
It was one of about 10 U.S. golf properties Trump bought over a five-year period, beginning in 2008. Trump’s investments were well-timed: coinciding with the recession, golf courses and resorts around the world were struggling.
Some members of the Mooresville club, which requires hefty membership fees and initiation costs, were opposed to Trump’s offer in late 2011 and early 2012 to buy the property. They worried the real estate mogul would hike fees, develop surrounding property and change the culture of the club.
Since then, the Trumps have poured millions of dollars into renovating the golf club’s amenities.
Dodson says he questioned in 2013 where the money was coming from, given that U.S. banks and investors were not confident in golf courses’ long-term prospects and had pulled back financing for such projects.
Dodson says Eric Trump told him then: “We have all we need from foreign investors.” Eric Trump later specifically mentioned Russia, Dodson says.
The younger Trump – who leads the Trump Organization with his brother, Donald Trump Jr. – took to Twitter quickly last week to say Dodson “fabricated” the story.
The golf club purchase and subsequent renovations were paid for in cash, “with zero financing of any kind,” the Trump Organization spokesperson told the Observer Monday, adding that the golf club is owned “free and clear” by the firm and has enjoyed great success.
Records show the Mooresville course receiving financing starting in July 2012 – after the purchase – and continuing through 2016. The collateral for the financing includes “equipment leased and proceeds,” according to public filings. One of the financial firms is a unit of Wells Fargo, which said Monday it could not comment on client relationships.
The Trump spokesperson didn’t comment on the business filings.
Trump’s interest in the Mooresville property became public in 2011, when Crescent Communities, which had developed the course and surrounding houses, was preparing to hand over authority to the club’s private members.
Donald Trump and Eric Trump made their pitch personally to members of the golf club, who eventually voted to approve the sale to the Trump Organization. Since then, the company has added an office for Trump International Realty, a luxury real estate venture operating in and around Charlotte.
Rob Derry, a golf consultant who represented investors making a competing bid for the golf course back in 2011 and 2012, said Monday that he did not hear any details about the financing for Trump’s bid at the time, including any potential Russian ties.
“We were definitely fighting an uphill battle in purchasing The Point, although I believe our offer was superior,” Derry said. “We weren’t given the access Trump was in dealing with the board and our message was never properly delivered.”
A spokesperson for the FBI in Washington would not comment on whether any possible Russian connections to Trump golf courses were being investigated as part of the agency’s broader probe.
Staff writer Joe Marusak contributed.