The decision to pull a marquee golf tournament from Donald Trump’s New Jersey course in the wake of the deadly Capitol riot in January has emerged as a central issue in an intensifying legal dispute between the former US president’s business empire and New York City.
The Trump Organization has sued the city for breach of contract over its termination in February of the company’s 20-year deal to manage a municipal golf course in the Bronx borough known as Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point — and it has enlisted some of the sport’s famous names to help make its case.
According to the termination notice that the New York City parks department sent to Trump in February, the “actions of January 6 have destroyed [Trump Ferry Point’s] capability to attract tournament quality events, because the Trump brand is now synonymous with an insurrection against the federal government”.
The notice specifically cited the decision by the PGA of America to move its Open Championship from Trump’s Bedminster course where it was scheduled to be held in 2022.
The city has cited language in the licence agreement with the Trump Organization that said Trump Ferry Point had an obligation to operate a “first-class, tournament quality daily fee golf course”.
The company argues that it contained no requirement that it actually host a top tournament, however. In court papers posted recently, the Trump Organization argued that New York mayor Bill de Blasio “harboured a politically-based predisposition to terminate Trump-related contracts” and used the PGA’s move as a pretext.
It supplied the city with several letters from golf stars such as Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, John Daly and Rocco Mediate. Each identically describe Ferry Point as a “first class, tournament quality golf course”. The Trump Organization also provided a letter of recommendation from the Metropolitan Golf Association, a well-regarded non-profit that oversees the sport in the New York City region.
The former US president’s legal challenges are mounting in New York. The Trump Organization may be criminally charged as soon as this week by the Manhattan district attorney’s office over its accounting for employee fringe benefits, the Financial Times and others have reported.
The Trump Organization signed its deal for Ferry Point in 2012 with Michael Bloomberg, New York’s previous mayor, to complete construction of the course and then manage its operations, paying licence fees to the city. The Ferry Point project had taken the city decades to finish and Trump’s involvement was seen as a coup at the time.
The developer had mused then, including in an interview with the FT, that the site, with its dramatic views of the Manhattan skyline, could be a venue for high-profile professional golf events. The course opened in spring 2015 just weeks before Trump would launch his presidential bid.
Trump’s various inflammatory comments after launching his campaign led de Blasio to speculate about ending his company’s contracts with the city, not just at Ferry Point, but for other New York attractions including a carousel and a skating rink in Central Park. The city never followed through at the time, but believed it had solid legal grounds after the events of January 6.
The decision by the PGA was followed shortly after by comments from the UK’s R&A, which organises The Open, that Trump’s Turnberry course in Scotland would not be awarded that British event.
The lawsuit has resulted in the publication, in court filings, of correspondence between the Trump Organization and the city in the wake of the deal’s termination.
The company wrote that its contract does not “contain a morals or ‘bad boy’ provision”. It noted that the city can terminate the Ferry Point contract “at will”, according to the letter of the contract, but said it would then be owed a termination fee of $30m.
The city argued that the contract allows it to end the deal “for cause”, which allows it to escape paying a fee.
The Trump Organization also argued in the correspondence that de Blasio’s public statements made shortly after January 6 showed that the city’s legal argument regarding the PGA was a pretext.
In particular it cited a January 13 tweet from de Blasio that said: “New York City doesn’t do business with insurrectionists.”