The devastating impact of Donald Trump’s Scottish golf courses

The devastating impact of Donald Trump’s Scottish golf courses

Alicia Bruce photographs the redevelopment of Menie, the natural heritage spot that lost its conservation status and local community to make way for 18 holes.

In 2006, Alicia Bruce had just graduated from studying Photography, Film, and Imaging at Edinburgh Napier University, when a story in her local newspaper caught her attention. A celebrity property tycoon from the USA, a certain Donald Trump, had announced that he was planning to build “the greatest golf course in the world” in Menie, Aberdeenshire – a stone’s throw away from where she grew up and would play as a child.

“What really shocked me was the fanfare from the local press. They were rolling out the red carpet for him,” Bruce recalls. “Many local residents were vilified, they were called ‘peasants’ and ‘pigs’ – they were thrust into the media against their will. I couldn’t quite believe what I was reading because it seemed like an empty promise.”

With its lush greenery, brushing the ocean location and moving dunes, Menie was a particularly beautiful and special patch of nature on the Scottish east coast. But it was also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) – the same designation granted to the Amazon Rainforest – and the idea that the area would be developed was unthinkable to many who had lived in the area their whole lives.

“The local council rejected it, and then they were vilified for it,” alleges Bruce. “But the decision was overturned by then-First Minister Alex Salmond. He had met with Trump and then the building started a few years later.” Salmond, who was also the MSP for Menie, would predict the economic benefits of the course to “substantially outweigh any environmental impact”. Called the Trump International Scotland golf course, it stands today as an 18-hole, 500-hectare, money haemorrhaging scar on the former natural beauty hotspot.

Seeing the environmental damage and now stripped of its conservation status, Bruce began travelling to the northeast coast to document its impact on Menie’s landscape and locals – making portraits of residents, who resisted in the face of compulsory purchase orders for their homes and land and refused to pack up and leave. Now, ten years after the course first opened in 2013, those pictures are presented in her soon-to-be-published photobook I Burn But I Am Not Consumed.

While a controversial and potentially criminal term as a President of the USA has taken some of the original sheen off of Trump’s image in Scotland, his impact in the local area remains. Featuring interviews with those in the area, most of whom have now become close friends with Bruce, the book’s pictures show a community who not only have seen their access to local land heavily restricted, but have been allegedly forced to deal with aggression and intimidation from Trump’s employees.

“There was a journalist I know who was arrested, and had DNA samples taken and all of his equipment taken off him,” she claims. “Because he went to Trump’s office and asked why Molly, Mike and Sheila’s water had been cut off.” Another friend, Rohan Beyts, was walking on the dunes when she realised that he needed to go to the toilet. Finding a quiet spot to relieve himself, she continued onwards thinking little of the moment until police turned up at her door three days later to charge her under the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act – she had been filmed urinating by Trump employees and a newspaper photographer. A judge would later criticise Trump Scotland, saying that the actions could be “viewed as voyeurism."

There’s also a subversive element to the portraits, with Bruce having her sitters (she doesn’t like the term ‘subjects’) recreate scenes and poses from classic paintings including Grant Wood’s American Gothic. “Traditionally you would go into a gallery expecting to see the great and good on the wall and there’s this sort of cultism,” Bruce explains. “So what I wanted to do was show these amazing, remarkable people and put them at the centre of attention.”

Perhaps the most powerful shot sees Susan Munro sitting on a sand dune, casually smoking a cigarette while re-enacting Archibald D. Reid’s painting On the Bents (1873). “I was speaking to Susan and Sheila Forbes over lockdown, and we were speaking about how nice it would be to bring everything together in a book for them and then both of them died,” Bruce says. “So it’s a tribute to them.”

I Burn But I Am Not Consumed by Alicia Bruce is published by Daylight Books.

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