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Playing with paradise: Defunct Bali golf course another Trump fiasco

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Plans to redevelop the once-thriving Nirwana Golf Course in Bali under the Trump banner have fallen by the wayside./AFP
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Dec 09, 2022 - 05:29 AM

Tanah Lot, Indonesia — Beer bottles and broken plastic chairs litter the fairways of a derelict golf course on the Indonesian holiday island of Bali, where laid-off workers lament the unfulfilled promises of a Donald Trump “dream project”.

Nearly a decade ago, the real estate mogul and future US president signed a deal to license his name to a six-star holiday destination intended to displace the Nirwana Golf Resort, one of the world’s best.

But today, the once-thriving golf course is filled with weeds — another failed project for Trump, whose six casino and hotel bankruptcies spanning two decades have run up billions of dollars in debt and impacted thousands of lives.

“There was no clarity about our future. We heard that we would be re-recruited but it has never happened,” said Ditta Dwi, a 26-year-old former caddy who was forced to take a waitressing job while awaiting a reopening that never came.

The Trump Organization and Indonesian developer MNC Group shut the resort in 2017 and laid off hundreds of workers after partnering to rebrand the Nirwana, which boasts idyllic views of the Indian Ocean.

The planned redevelopment — Trump’s first venture into Southeast Asia’s biggest economy — was dubbed a “dream project” by his son Donald Trump Jr on a 2019 visit to Jakarta.

But Trump’s deal to license his name to the new resort and help operate it — first struck in 2015 — has turned out to be a pipe dream for Indonesian workers.

Five years after sending staff home, the hotel sits demolished and its course defunct, its forlorn fairways the domain of a solitary security guard who wheels around on a cart, warding off tourists.

The derelict, overgrown and empty site is a far cry from the luxury image Trump long maintained for his real estate interests before setting his sights on the White House.

But the property magnate, who recently announced he will seek the presidency again in 2024, is no stranger to colossal flops.

Six times between 1991 and 2009, his casino and hotel projects fell into bankruptcy.

The first to fail, the Trump Taj Mahal in the beachside gambling mecca of Atlantic City, New Jersey, threatened Trump’s personal fortune. To cover some of the casino’s debts, he had to sell off his yacht, private jet and half his shares.

‘Postponed’ 

MNC chief and Trump ally Hary Tanoesoedibjo — who bought the Nirwana in 2013 — has previously cited lower consumer spending during the Covid-19 pandemic in explaining delays, but the project’s troubles predate the outbreak.

Edwin Darmasetiawan, director of MNC’s property arm, refused to confirm how many Indonesians were sacked when the development was abruptly sidelined.

He said “financial matters” had caused the years-long delays and said he hoped it would still be developed within two years, even though no work has begun.

“I don’t see this project as a failure, but as postponed,” he told AFP.

“We have another project in Lido, now we are focusing on that,” he said, referring to a planned mega resort city of the same name south of Jakarta.

The project in West Java, which will include a Trump golf course and resort, has courted controversy over builders allegedly exhuming Islamic ancestral graves without locals’ permission.

The Trump Organization did not respond to a request for comment about the Bali resort.

Many Balinese workers have lost opportunities due to the billionaires’ decision to let the plot stagnate.

While hotel workers were compensated after losing their jobs, about 150 caddies on temporary contracts received no money when they were suddenly released.

“It was hard. The time I lost my job as a caddy was difficult. Many people were angry,” said Dwi.

She earned a 1.3 million rupiah ($86) monthly salary, but tips from wealthy golfers meant she could earn as much as 15 million rupiah in a good month. Now she makes the same salary, but no tips.

‘Moving on’ 

Yet the hotel and golf workers whose livelihoods were sliced into the rough are trying to forgive and forget.

Dwi, the former caddy, told AFP that getting her old job back now seemed “impossible”.

“I have just let it go. I’m moving on,” she said.

Pita Dewi, who worked at the hotel’s spa for 18 years and now runs her parents’ cafe, said Trump’s shutdown of the resort had left her fearing for her future.

“I got stressed thinking about how I would earn money, because I have children,” she said.

“I was 48 years old, how could I get another job?”

But in typical Balinese fashion, optimistic locals who believe staunchly in forgiveness are quick to throw away any negative feelings towards the larger-than-life tycoon.

“We have to continue our life,” Dewi said.

“If we hated him, would that make him give us money?”

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