The Irish Times reported that Trump originally wanted to meet with Varadkar at his golf club, but Varadkar wanted to meet at another nearby hotel. The two leaders settled on an awkward compromise: the VIP lounge at the airport.
Trump will leave Doonbeg on Thursday, visiting France for D-Day commemorations. He will return to Doonbeg on Thursday night, before flying home Friday.
Despite the odd geography of that schedule — which requires flying hundreds of miles west to Ireland, then hundreds more miles back east to France — Trump said he stayed at Doonbeg for convenience.
“We’re going to be staying at Doonbeg in Ireland because it’s convenient and it’s a great place. But it’s convenient,” Trump said before he left Washington.
The visit marks the third time Trump has paused during an overseas trip to visit one of his businesses, which he has maintained ownership of as president. He made a brief stop at his Waikiki hotel in Hawaii on the way to Asia in 2017 and spent two nights at his Turnberry golf resort in Scotland last summer.
This visit has brought a large contingent of U.S. and Irish officials, as well as police and security forces, to a village of about 750 people. It was not clear how many of them, besides Trump, were staying at the Doonbeg course’s 120-room hotel.
But if they wanted to stay in Doonbeg, they didn’t have many other choices. TripAdvisor lists three hotels, total. Trump’s hotel is rated No. 1. The No. 3 is not a typical hotel but a group of “camping pods” that resemble cozy wooden sheds.
The visit is also bringing worldwide publicity to a course that Trump bought in 2014, after its former owners had struggled to turn a profit.
Trump paid $11.9 million, according to Irish corporate records. After that, Trump put in an additional $30 million into renovating and operating the property, without taking a mortgage loan.
Doonbeg was one of 14 properties that Trump bought without loans between 2006 and 2014, an all-cash spending binge that topped $400 million — defying his history as the heavy-borrowing “King of Debt.” The Trump Organization has explained this unusual spending — which defies the usual practices of the debt-loving real estate industry — by saying its other businesses produced enough cash to make it easy.
“I took a chance, I bought it and — no options, no nothing, just bought it for cash, no mortgage, no debt, no nothing,” Trump told The Washington Post in 2016. “I don’t have debt on any of them. I don’t have debt on very much, period.”
Since then, Doonbeg has never reported turning a profit, losing more than $1 million every year from 2014 to 2017, according to Irish corporate records.
In 2018, the course’s revenue rose slightly — up about 2 percent from $14.2 million to $14.5 million, according to Trump’s latest U.S. financial disclosures.
But those disclosures do not show whether the course turned a profit, and the Irish records that would show profit or loss are not yet available.
The course is now waiting on two decisions from Irish planning authorities that the Trump Organization says are crucial to the club’s future.
One is on a proposed sea wall to stop the Atlantic Ocean from eroding away part of the golf course.
The Trump Organization cited climate change in its application for the permit, according to a Politico report from 2016, saying that sea-level rise and more-powerful storms had worsened the threat of erosion. Trump the politician, of course, has questioned the idea that climate change is a threat at all — defying the overwhelming scientific consensus and his own golf course’s assessment of its future.
The application for that sea wall is now before Ireland’s national planning authority.
In 2018, the Trump Organization also applied to local authorities to expand the hotel by adding more than 50 new rental cottages and a large ballroom for events. It is awaiting approval from local officials.
At Doonbeg, Trump was likely to find something that escaped him in London: a warm welcome. Trump’s club employs more than 200 people, making it one of the largest employers in a rural area of County Clare. Reporters visiting the area in advance of his visit found that locals — even those who disagreed with his politics — thanked him for bringing customers and money to Doonbeg.
“People divorce Donald Trump the owner of the golf course from his politics,” said James Griffin, a member of the Trump club interviewed by the Irish Times. “People have their own ideas about his policies. The big thing here are the jobs he supports.”