It started with a mysterious cellphone call — one that didn’t register anything on the screen (no digits, no blocked call, no private number, it just rang). I had just gotten a new cellphone number, and I’d barely given it out to anyone at this point. But He had it.
“CIA stuff,” my friend called it. In reality, it was Donald Trump stuff.
When I answered the second such call, a beautifully efficient voice (one that conjures up visions of militant Swedish models) briskly instructed, “Mr. Trump would like to speak to you now. Please hold for Mr. Trump.”
And then, He was on the line. When Donald Trump calls you to complain, it can end up sounding a lot like a pep talk. One you didn’t know you needed. At least it did for me. There was no screaming, no raising of the voice at all, no calling me a “dishonest journalist” or a bad person, not one instance where I could imagine him turning as red-faced as a lobster on the other end of the line. He didn’t invoke the Second Amendment people. He didn’t even threaten to have a campaign manager push me around a little bit.
Of course, this was back in 2006, long before Trump ever dreamed that America would threaten to elect him president. Actually, it was before Trump even really decided he was a Republican.
I was working as golf writer then for one of the rare independent publications in that realm (it’s since been purchased by the Golf Channel and quickly became as corporately dictated and Machiavellian as Evil Corp — I kid), and Trump sought me out because he didn’t like that I left one of his showcase golf courses off my Southern California Top 10.
It’s the first time a potential future president has ever rang. Needless to say, Barack Obama didn’t seek me out to talk golf when he was a young senator. He had more important things to do.
The Trump Call has become something of a joke with my boys — including the one who was in diapers when it happened. They tell me there’s no way someone who called me is going to become president. They say that should immediately disqualify Trump.
Funny, how a 10-year-old seemingly can be more perceptive than large segments of the American voting public. (For the record, my oldest cast his ballot for Bernie Sanders in his school election project; if only the DNC hadn’t stopped Bernie from tapping into the elementary school vote — conspiracy!).
But back to The Donald. Our call included some classic salesmanship, the kind some people write gushing books about. “Everyone’s pretty much loved it,” Trump said in urging me to reconsider and put Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles in the Top 10. “Everyone except for you, really.”
Trump was only warming up. Besides trying to make me feel like the one outlier who didn’t get his course’s obvious brilliance, he went full name drop. “Tom Brady is out on it playing today,” he told me. “He’s loving it, having a great time.”
Yes, Trump has been using his buddy Brady’s name for at least a decade to sell himself. Or a somewhat over-the-top golf course in Rancho Palos Verdes, not far from Long Beach.
Trump went on to invite me back to Trump National LA, challenging me to play it again and see if my mind had changed. He couldn’t have been more polite about the whole thing. I took him up on the offer (the publication paid my travel, not Trump) and … still left Trump National off the Top 10. Nothing personal. The course just didn’t quite measure up to Southern California’s other top courses at the time, in my opinion. Which didn’t make it a bad golf experience by any means.
I enjoyed Trump’s version of The Tunnel of Love — dubbed Trump Tunnel, of course (he wasn’t into walls till later) — underneath the waterfall on hole No. 1. The ocean views are very nice, though not Pebble Beach-worthy. The celebrity tales were amusing — Jason Kidd taking nearly his entire Nets team on the course and then getting drubbed by the Clippers that night, Paula Abdul’s love for the restaurant that I found to be the most disappointing part of the experience. A helicopter even landed near the course during my round (it wasn’t Trump’s).
This may bother my most liberal of friends, but the Trump who called me was anything but a monster. He came across as another powerful guy used to getting his way who was trying to sell something. He displayed plenty of charm — something pointedly missing from his campaign speeches. There are PR pros who turn complaints about a story into an overdrawn battle. Not Trump. Not with me.
Still, where you stood was always clear. When I stood by my opinion and didn’t vault Trump National into the Top 10, I never heard from The Donald again. My chance to hang with him and Brady was forever gone. I was a non-believer.
There are worse people in golf than Trump. Which doesn’t mean a guy who is calling me and sweating his golf course rankings should be president. Though, a stay in the Lincoln Bedroom would be nice. That would shut up the kids.
Call me Donald. I’m sure your people have the number.