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Fri 10 Feb 2017 01:52 AM

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Will Damac's relationship with the Trump Organization pay off?

An exclusive preview of the Trump International Golf Club Dubai reveals less about the egotistical new US president than you would expect, says Courtney Trenwith

Will Damac's relationship with the Trump Organization pay off?
Akoya Donald Trump has claimed he will get a PGA Tour to Dubai.

I expected lavish helpings of gold, perhaps a neon Trump sign and a Michelin-starred chef. But a sneak preview of the Trump International Golf Club Dubai on February 7 revealed the complex is actually understated.

Well, let me re-phrase that: understated for Trump.

There is not even one photo of The Donald himself, let alone the golf ball he used for the first tee-off when launching the course in 2014, which at the time he told me he would have framed and put on display in the clubhouse. Of course, it has not opened to the public yet — those trimmings could still be to come.

The development is expected to open in about a week (the date is yet to be confirmed but a stage set up for a party of 1,000 suggests the operators are confident of an imminent launch) and will be the first Trump project to debut since he became US president on January 20.

The course is already open and those who have teed-off say it is a phenomenal green. For anyone hoping that Trump’s discourse and policies as president would see a boycott of his Dubai project, the sheer beauty of the golf course will be disappointing. The reality is, most serious golfers will flock there. Particularly while memberships to the course are currently half-price. Whether the decision to cut the joining fee to AED10,000 ($2,700) was based on a typical opening marketing tactic or the result of a lack of interest, I was unable to confirm.

Whether the likes of Michael Jordan and Bill Clinton travel to play on the course, as Trump proclaimed in 2014 they would, we will have to wait and see. But the presence of Tiger Woods in Dubai last week suggests he is still willingly moving along with Trump’s second Dubai golf course, which the famous player is designing.

Damac Properties, the developer behind the Akoya by Damac project that includes the Trump golf course and clubhouse and about 100 villas designed by Ivanka Trump, no doubt would have longed for the headline-grabbing American to have returned to Dubai for the official opening.

Given the new US president is tied up fighting court orders against his travel ban and deflecting accusations that he has not properly distanced himself from his business, he will not be swooping in to lead the opening show.

Will one of his sons, who have — at least on paper – taken over Trump Organization operations, attend on his behalf? Maybe. But unless they send their more alluring sister along too, their attendance will barely be the drawcard that Damac would have assumed it was getting when it signed the mega deal to use the famous family name.

The partnership with Trump has not evolved as we can assume Damac founder and chairman Hussain Sajwani had anticipated it would when he signed the first contract in 2013. He certainly would not have expected the controversy that ensued. Like the time that Trump said he would ban all Muslims from the US. Damac then swiftly pulled down enormous billboards alongside Sheikh Zayed Road that advertised its Akoya development with a grotesque and irrelevant picture of Trump surrounded by beautiful women.  Other signage also was removed — but quickly returned when (we assume) Trump’s team reminded Damac of their legal obligations.

“We were in the middle of the pressure,” Sajwani conceded in November.

His plans for another $2bn worth of development projects with Trump also have been bunkered by the now too-busy president, signalling an end to any hopes of blossoming the relationship further. At least for the next four-eight years, anyway.

Back to the Dubai clubhouse, and it is actually a well kitted-out building. With four restaurants and a shisha lounge, it is the largest golf clubhouse in the emirate - would Trump have had it any other way?

Sajwani — and all of Damac’s public shareholders — will be eagerly (some anxiously) hoping that Trump’s less-than-diplomatic tact as president doesn’t drive away patrons from the Dubai project.

But who would have thought such a dilemma should be written into a contractual clause?

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