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Trump visits his for-profit golf course during California trip

Golfers play a round at the Trump National Golf Club in Los Angles in 2017. (Dania Maxwell for The Washington Post)

President Trump visited his for-profit golf course in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., on Friday night, where he hosted a dinner for the city council and dozens of friends and supporters, according to one person who was told about the gathering.

Trump just wrapped a West Coast trip, which also included stops at the U.S.-Mexico border and fundraisers in Beverly Hills.

The dinner — Trump’s first visit to the California course as president — comes at a pivotal moment for that club, which is one of the largest new development opportunities for the company since he took office and said he handed control of the company to his sons Eric and Donald Jr.

Once, Trump envisioned the seaside course as a rival to Pebble Beach. But it has suffered from blue-state backlash since Trump entered politics, with charity tournaments departing and golf revenue declining.

Now, the Trump Organization faces a critical choice: how, and when, to develop 23 newly approved home lots on the course’s west side.

But now that he is president, the Trump Organization says Trump is no longer involved in that sort of decision.

Invitees to Friday’s dinner included members of the Rancho Palos Verdes City Council. One eyewitness said Trump also dined with Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp owns Fox News, and Fox spokeswoman — and former White House Communications Director — Hope Hicks. Hicks declined to comment on Saturday.

In September, the five-member city council approved an amended development agreement between Trump’s company and the city, allowing the Trump family to advance its plans for the new lots.

Two members of the city council, Mayor Jerry V. Duhovic and Councilman Eric Alegria, recused themselves from the vote because they live within 500 feet of the property. It passed 3-0.

Earlier Friday, neither the White House nor the Trump Organization would say if Trump planned to visit the club, called Trump National Golf Club, Los Angeles.

Eric Trump, who is helping to run the company during his father’s presidency, also declined to answer questions about the course, or his father’s trip.

Trump owns 12 U.S. golf courses. But as president, he has spent significant time at only four of them — two in Florida near his “winter White House,” Mar-a-Lago, one in Virginia near the actual White House, and one in Bedminster, N.J., that he uses as a summer retreat.

Trump treats those clubs as second homes, full of high-paying club members he knows personally.

The Los Angeles course is not like those.

It is a public venue, which means it offers no memberships and no ready locker-room crowd of Trump friends.

It is Trump’s only West Coast course, which means he has visited only rarely in the past. And, unlike other courses, it is a place where Trump is also in the real estate business — developing and selling new home lots near the fairways.

Trump bought the Los Angeles course in 2002 for $27 million from a previous owner who had gone bankrupt after a landslide pulled part of the 18th hole into the Pacific Ocean. Trump took out a $20 million loan, which he has already paid off.

At the time, Trump promised “a course to rival Pebble Beach.” He shored up the land and reconfigured it into a course that is beautiful to look at but notoriously hard to play because it requires hitting narrow fairways in the teeth of strong ocean breezes.

“Most people don’t play it regularly. It’s a one-off kind of golf experience” for tourists or golfers looking for a splurge, Gene Krekorian, a California golf-course appraiser who has assessed this course, told The Washington Post in 2017.

Krekorian said the club, which is open to the public, was too expensive: Prices used to reach $300 per golfer; this week, the fees went up to $195. The closest nearby public course — with similar views — costs $30 per round.

“It’s a spectacular facility, but it’s way overpriced,” Krekorian said in 2017.

The course’s business seemed to suffer after Trump got into politics in 2015.

Sports teams and charities moved their charity golf tournaments. The club’s revenue from golf dropped and stayed down: Last year’s receipts were 10 percent lower than the figure from 2014, adjusting for inflation.

The club found other ways to make money. It rented itself out as a Hollywood set: It played a U.S. Embassy on “Criminal Minds” and hosted a wedding for “Modern Family.” But that business, too, dropped off after Trump got into politics.

The club has also made money by selling land, much of it with beautiful ocean views.

In the past few years, that has brought in far more money than golf.

First, Trump got permission to sell 36 home lots on the west side of the course. He has now sold 33 of them, bringing in $84 million.

In most cases, Trump minimized his costs by selling the lots vacant. Developers built homes on the empty lots and often sold them for $2 million or $3 million more than they paid Trump.

Now, Trump’s company is facing a decision about how to develop the other side of the golf course, where the city recently granted approvals for those 23 home lots.

Until this week, the Trump Organization was delinquent on $36,000 worth of property taxes at the course. The delinquent taxes were for a section that includes all 23 of the proposed home lots. The company paid after The Post pointed out the unpaid bills.

Correction: The headline of this story previously said that President Trump’s son Eric attended a dinner with him on Friday night at the president’s golf club in California. The story and headline have been updated to reflect that Eric Trump did not attend the dinner.

Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.