President Donald Trump allegedly pressured Woody Johnson, United States ambassador to the United Kingdom and owner of the New York Jets, to ask the British government if it would steer The Open Championship to his resort in Scotland, the New York Times reported Tuesday. The alleged directive came in February 2018 in an effort to secure a major golf tournament for Trump Turnberry, one of five golf courses Trump owns outside the United States.
Johnson's deputy, Lewis A. Lukens, advised against bringing the request to the British government because of a potential ethical violation that would come with the President using his position for private gain, according to the Times. But Johnson, a Trump donor who received the ambassadorship in 2017 after the President's election, felt pressure to proceed and broached the subject three weeks later with Scotland's Secretary of State, David Mundell.
Lukens, a career diplomat nearing the end of his term who previously served as U.S. ambassador to Senegal, alerted officials at the State Department of the impropriety. He was forced out of his position by Johnson months later.
The White House has not commented on the story, and Mundell chose not to elaborate on any dealings he's had with Johnson in an interview last week. The British government issued a statement denying any requests of Mundell were made regarding the British Open "or any other sporting event."
It's unclear if Johnson's efforts to sway the British were, or will be, fruitful for the President or his properties, which would be enriched and receive publicity if a major golf tournament takes place on the grounds. None of the upcoming four Open Championships are scheduled to be played at a Trump-owned course. Further, host sites for The Open are chosen by The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, not government entities.
As for the R&A, chief executive Martin Slumbers said last year that the course was under consideration to play host in the future.
"We have 10 courses that we look to stage the Open Championship on, of which Turnberry is one of them," Slumbers said via Golf Channel. "Turnberry will be in consideration for 2023, but it's not a rota. We look at all the issues in the round, but Turnberry remains as one of the 10 courses where we could stage the Open Championship."
Trump purchased Turnberry in 2014. The course has hosted three Opens over the last four decades, most recently in 1994 when Nick Price edged out Nick Faldo, David Feherty and a host of other big-name golfers to win his second career major.