My Turn: Trump, Golf Courses, and the Environment: Go Figure?

Story by David R. Holland

When I think of environmentalists and golf courses, a thousand thoughts leap gazelle-like through my brain.

After working and editing some Forest Service Environmental Impact Statements, I learned that it’s not bad to cut down trees. It can clean up dead fuels that make forest fires tougher to fight and it makes the forest even healthier – fire regenerates new growth.

Eventually a tree-lined 100-year-old golf course will have a problem with encroachment and grass stops growing in those areas.  The solution is to thin out the growth.

So, I started delving into the good and bad of environmental issues and the world we live in. And I decided we have enough golf courses, but if we decide to make some changes and improve the environment surrounding a new golf course then it is a win-win.

I was recently introduced to Pres. Donald J. Trump’s long-time environmental adviser. His name is Ed Russo and before you close your mind to the words Trump and the environment let me tell you a positive story that is about the President, golf and the environment.

Russo is the former chairman of the planning board of Bedminster Township, N.J., and once co-chairman of the Bedminster Township Environmental Commission.

When this bird-watching champion for the environment heard that John DeLorean’s 435-acre estate, Lamington Farm, was for sale because of bankruptcy and that it could likely become a golf course project Russo got engaged.

Yep, DeLorean was the guy behind the wing-doored car made famous in the movie “Back to the Future”.

Russo remembers making speeches warning residents that Bedminster’s zoning and land-use ordinances were not strong enough.

“Someday, I predicted darkly, a Donald Trump will come to town, and we will not be prepared to defend its rural character,” said Russo in his book “Donald J. Trump, An Environmental Hero”.

Imagine Russo’s dismay when it was revealed it was The Donald Trump wanting to make the old farm and ranch into Trump National Golf Club Bedminster.

But things changed. He moved to Key West and was happy to hear rumors that Trump was having difficulty with the environmental “landmines stipulated in the Bedminster ordinances”.

Then the phone call came that asked Russo to travel to Trump Tower and discuss environmental issues connected to the proposed golf club in Bedminster.

Long story short, Russo went to Trump Tower, told him a lot of things Trump didn’t want to hear and the meeting ended with Trump unhappy and Russo left without even saying goodbye.

End of story, right?  Wrong. Soon after, while playing at Key West Golf Club, he got a phone call from Trump who told him he was going to build Trump National Golf Club Bedminster and if he had to adhere to environmental ordinances he would do just that.

“I’ll send you a contract you can’t refuse,” Trump told him. “I’m putting you in charge of the property.” Then, Russo said, he hung up the phone without another word.

That’s when the hard work began. Russo found the Bedminster property had significant environment problems. “The habitat was a toxic site,” Russo said. There was a whole list of problems. The property had been neglected for years.

Why can’t we use golf to clean it up Russo asked? Others working on the project fought him day after day, but Trump sided with Russo and the clean-up began.

“David Peifer, Executive Director of the Upper Riparian Watershed, recommended we stabilize the patient before operating,” Russo said.

Erosion control and stream stabilization was tackled first.

“We took open, uncovered, eroding soil along stream corridors and transformed the area into lush, herbaceous layers of grasses that stabilized the soil, filtered surface runoff, and provided new habitats for threatened and endangered species of indigenous and migratory grassland birds.

“A specific seed mix was developed to promote the habitat of grassland birds, a combination of warm season and cool season grasses,” Russo wrote. “We called it Donald Trump Golden Fescue. It looks great, stabilizes soil, provides passive filtration for surface runoff, and creates a perfect habitat for grassland birds.”

That fescue was instrumental in stabilizing the highest dunes in Scotland – at Trump International Golf Links Aberdeen – a breathtaking golf course I have seen and played and will never forget the awesome experience.

“We took the fescue work from New Jersey and transferred that innovation to Scotland. The seed mix we came up with was a healthier bio-diverse version that created tall and short grasses,” Russo said. “That allowed nesting birds areas of tall grasses and the shorter grasses allowed you to find your golf ball.”

But I have another substantial instance of Trump and the environment.  That would be Trump National Golf Links at Ferry Point located just minutes from Manhattan in the Bronx and underneath the Whitestone Bridge.

“Ferry Point was a toxic time bomb in a spectacular location,” Russo remembered.  “It really wasn’t a land fill, this was a dump, owned by the city, and people would just come there just to throw anything and everything away.

“We took it as a challenge to address air quality, habitat enhancement for shore birds, soil stabilization and surface water filtration. It went from a mess to a beautiful golf course,” Russo said.

Final words from the bird watcher turned Trump environmental advocate and adviser?

“Trump was very direct with me,” Russo said. “He deserves all the credit. He made it happen. Most of environmental habitat enhancements are elective. He has planted millions of dollars worth of trees, stabilized shorelines, expanded and created new habitat. I gave him choices and options and he knew more about the subject than I knew. He supported every crazy environmental thing I asked of him.”

By the way, Trump National Golf Club Bedminster hosted the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open and the 2022 PGA Championship is scheduled there.

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