Donald Trump may be bidding to be one of the most powerful men on earth, but he can’t hold back the Aberdeenshire sand.
The would-be US president’s much-disputed golf course at Menie on the northeast coast has been damaged by mobile sand dunes, according to private emails from his staff published by The Ferret.
This has prompted critics to accuse Trump of failing to learn from the fabled King Canute, who highlighted human impotence by showing that he couldn’t command the tide. Trump can’t defeat nature, they say.
When Trump won permission from the Scottish Government to build his golf course on a prized nature conservation site in 2008, he promised he would “stabilise the dunes”. But now the dunes have proved to be just as restless as experts said they were.
An email from February this year released under freedom of information law to the online Aberdeen Voice reveals that Trump International Golf Links Scotland (TIGLS) has struggled to protect its greens from encroaching sand.
A member of TIGLS staff, whose named has been blacked out, was in correspondence with Aberdeenshire Council following a site visit by council officials on 19 February. TIGLS was describing photos, which haven’t been released, of damage caused by storms.
The TIGLS email said: “You will clearly see that the burn is full of sand which has caused the water levels to rise and flood and cause damage to our bridge, etc. You guys personally witnessed the sand blow/movement that was blowing sand into areas of the burn. And that was not even a dry windy day.”
Marram grass, which helps to stabilise dunes, had not been cleared, TIGLS said. “All these areas were pure sand caused by the storms which resulted in the sand blowing all over the 4th hole and filling up the burn on the far side,” the email continued.
“As you witnessed we are doing our best to replant with marram to try and save/stabilise the dune and also protect our championship golf course. Also you will see the tunnel/area where it was cutting through from the sea to the golf course.”
In response an Aberdeenshire Council official, whose name has also been redacted, warned that similar problems could reoccur in the future. “These dune systems are very dynamic in nature and one of the features it is particularly noted for is the mobility of the dunes,” the official wrote.
The Aberdeenshire Green councillor Martin Ford, who was sacked as a committee chair after opposing Trump’s plans, argued that the golf course had done “immense damage” to the dune system. “I have many times seen the wind blowing large amounts of sand onto Mr Trump’s golf course,” he said.
“It’s an inevitable natural process. Trying to stop it is as futile as trying to command the tide. Mr Trump should have learnt from King Canute. He is not God .”
Mr Trump should have learnt from King Canute. He is not God. Martin Ford, Aberdeenshire councillor
According to the Scottish Wildlife Trust, trying to stabilise dynamic dunes destroyed an important eco-system and created significant engineering challenges. “It was always obvious the greenkeepers at Menie links would have to struggle against nature to keep the course intact,” said the trust’s senior policy officer, Bruce Wilson.
He highlighted similarities with another golf course now being proposed by another US millionaire, Mike Keiser, at Coul Links on the Dornoch Firth. A nationally protected dune system was also under threat there, he warned.
Concerns were also expressed by Dr Tom Dargie, a leading expert on sand dunes who was commissioned but then ignored by Trump. There had been a “basic error in course construction” at Menie with the building of a culvert instead of a bridge at the 4th hole, he argued.
“It was already known to be an area of strong sand deposition, both from sediment coming downstream and material brought in by storm tides. A culvert was certain to become blocked, inducing erosion of adjacent sand banks.”
TIGLS, however, said its golf course was “in great condition and has never been better.” It pointed out that damage from last year’s “unprecedented” winter storms had forced other golf courses in the region to close.
“Our golf course stood up to the storm and was not impacted other than a clogged burn on one hole,” said a TIGLS statement. “Ongoing maintenance is part of any coastal golf course programme and anyone who has seen our golf course would know that these assertions are completely untrue.”
The Trump International Golf Links Scotland emails in full
TIGLS emails thanks to Aberdeen Voice.
A version of this article was published in the Sunday Herald on 18 September 2016.