Eighteen Holes With 'Apprentice's' Carolyn Kepcher

Peek behind Donald Trump's latest golf operations in an interview with his right-hand woman.
Author:
Publish date:

For Amish or amnesiac readers, Carolyn Kepcher has become famous as Donald Trump's right-hand woman on NBC's hit series " The Apprentice," the steely blue-eyed yin to the gruff yang of right-hand man George Ross.

Less well known is Kepcher's leadership role in Trump's ever-expanding golf operation. She serves as an executive vice president of The Trump Organization and managing partner of Trump Golf Management, LLC, the umbrella unit for all six current golf properties, and is responsible for both their marketing and operations.

Kepcher was a central figure in the creation of Trump National Golf Club, Westchester in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., in 2003, and Trump National Golf Club, Bedminster, N.J., in 2004, working throughout course construction with their architects Tom, Jim and Tommy Fazio, and with input from Trump.
The two courses allegedly cost $120 million and now sport a combined membership of 600.

Kepcher's current tasks include overseeing the $150 million real estate sales offering of the Residences at Trump National (Westchester) as well as oversight of

Trump National Golf Club, Los Angeles, and

Trump International Golf Club, West Palm Beach, Fla., which this year will again host the

LPGA Tour's season-ending ADT Championship. (You may sense a not-so-coincidental branding theme.)

TheStreet.com

spoke to Kepcher, 37, a married mother of two and far more affable than her TV persona would suggest, from her office at Trump National Golf Club, Westchester.

Tell us about your background in golf.

Believe it or not, I learned how to play golf after I took on the job here at Trump National. I didn't know anything about the game.

Then I took a few lessons, enjoyed it and started doing exceptionally well. And then two things got in the way -- Connor and Cassidy, my two kids. So I've put it off for a while, but now that they're almost 6 and 4, I'm starting to get back into it.

So how does someone without golf experience get into that side of Mr. Trump's business?

It was more on the business end of things in the beginning. First, I was doing sales and marketing -- budgets and controls, things like that. Then I learned the golf business very quickly.

What's a typical workday like for you?

I don't ever have a typical workday -- there's no such thing here. During the season, days are long.

We typically take some time off during the winter, but this has been a crazy ... winter. We had the opening of the California property about two months ago. We just opened the 65,000-square-foot clubhouse here at Westchester. We're in the midst of preparing to build an additional 18 holes at the Bedminster site. We just opened an additional nine holes at the Florida course. And we just closed the deal in Scotland. It's a very busy time.

When Mr. Trump got started in golf, there was a lot of emphasis in the press, not all of it positive, on trappings like the $7 million waterfall at the Westchester course. But the Bedminster property in particular has drawn raves. Is it a matter of golf getting used to Mr. Trump, or has Mr. Trump been altered by golf?

I wouldn't say altered. Right now, there are a lot of developers in golf. I don't think anyone is spending as much money or time as Donald is right now.

He's an avid golfer who loves the game. He has a new appreciation for developing and running courses. It's in his blood now. He's fostered great relationships with the

USGA,

PGA and LPGA. It's something he's dedicated himself to.

Is there a sense that the architecture of a Trump course somehow has to say "Trump"?

I can't speak to the courses, but I can say that we're chameleons at Trump Golf. We build according to the location -- it's conducive to the area, the land and the clientele.

Basically, Trump is synonymous with the best. Donald wants to make sure that every single one of these properties, no matter where it is or what it looks like, is competitive. You can say that about the courses and the clubhouses. And they fit in with their surroundings.

There's been a lot of buzz about Trump Bedminster hosting a U.S. Open or U.S. Amateur down the road. Is that a goal? It's hard to picture the blue blazer set at the USGA working with such a big personality as Mr. Trump.

We have been speaking with the USGA as well as the PGA, and I think our relationship with them is better than great. We're talking about hosting some amateur events and eventually ... we'll get some major events. But we understand that, like everyone else, you've got to climb that ladder. We're fostering relationships now and talking about various tournaments.

Trump Golf's latest project is in Aberdeen, Scotland, with two courses, a luxury hotel and a residential component on the drawing board. What's the thinking there -- that you can't develop any more credibility than by building in the birthplace of golf?

What brought it about is Donald. His mother is from Scotland, part of the MacLeod family. This is something that's very near and dear to him. As a matter of fact, he was at the "Dressed to Kilt" kickoff for

Tartan Week here in New York. Sean Connery is our first honorary member at the Scotland property, and we're pretty proud of that.

There's a general misperception that the golf industry is booming in the wake of Tiger Woods' success, when in fact the game has been flat at best financially; even some top private clubs are struggling to find members. Has Trump Golf been immune to this?

What's different about Trump Golf vs. some of the other players out there is really the checkbook.

Donald will not have a property that's rundown. It's not a situation where we have to talk to the members to finance improvements.

He goes out, and he improves it. He wanted to lengthen one of the holes at Westchester -- he wrote a check and did it. You'll constantly see improvements at our courses, and I don't think that's the case everywhere else.

Do you have any rules about how or whether to conduct business on the golf course?

I've conducted a lot of business out there. One thing I've definitely learned is to keep it fun. It's not the time to be competitive.

But I think it's a fantastic way to do business. It's not often that you can get a client alone for a good four hours of real talk time. Everyone who's in business should network on the golf course.

What's Mr. Trump like on the golf course?

I don't play much with him. He's a competitive player, a 6-handicap. I'll go out and walk some holes with him, usually. We try to keep it light out there.

What have you learned about golf since you got into the business?

That it's a business, but also so much more than a business.

The integrity of the game and its players struck me, for starters. I love the tournaments, too. Years ago, I never watched

The Masters. Now I look forward to it.

Do you find that some people attend your potential member functions just to meet you?

Yeah, I have definitely had that -- people who show up with their cameras. That's maybe the telltale sign they're not truly interested in membership.

Enjoy the Good Life? Email us with what you'd like to see in future articles.

Evan Rothman is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. A former executive editor at Golf Magazine, his work has appeared in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Esquire, Men's Journal and other leading publications.