US president Donald Trump is almost two weeks into the impeachment hearings that have roiled his administration. But it hasn’t prevented him from making some winter plans to play a little golf.
The president spends a lot of time on the links, almost exclusively at his own properties. At the end of October, Trump made his 224th visit to one of his 17 golf courses since assuming office three years ago. On each outing, the Secret Service must follow. And with those carts come a big bill for the American public.
As Trump rides around with his invited guests—on his last visit to the Trump National Golf Course in Potomac, Maryland, he was accompanied by Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, and Republican senators Lindsey Graham and David Perdue—the Secret Service is never far behind, in their own carts. As Quartz first reported, the carts require modifications that allow them to go at least 19 mph, about 5 mph faster than a standard cart.
The Secret Service has rented 84 golf carts for Trump’s planned visits to Florida between now and May 2020, costing US taxpayers more than $50,000, according to federal procurement filings. That brings the total cost of the agency’s cart rentals for Trump’s protection to more than $550,000.
The vendor supplying the golf carts this time around—a company called Maddox Joines Inc, which does business as “Sunshine Golf Car”—is a 24-mile drive down the turnpike from Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach. The president’s protective detail rented the same number of carts from Maddox Joines last winter, plus 36 additional carts on an “as needed, periodic basis.”
The price of protecting Trump on the course continues to climb. Yet, the 2019-2020 presidential winter golf season will, at least, be slightly less expensive than the 2019 summer season, which required some $95,000 from American taxpayers to pay for Secret Service golf carts in Bedminster, New Jersey. Bedminster is the home of the Trump International Golf Club. In 2018, the Secret Service spent nearly $120,000 on golf carts to be used there, rented from Associates Golf Car Service of Poughkeepsie, NY. New golf carts range in price from about $4,000 to about $15,000.
The Secret Service did not respond to a request for comment, but previously told Quartz: “For operational security reasons, the Secret Service cannot discuss specifically nor in general terms the means, methods, resources, costs, or numbers we utilize to carry out our protective responsibilities.”
Before he was elected, Trump regularly excoriated former US president Barack Obama for golfing.
However, Obama played 333 rounds of golf during his 8-year tenure as president—roughly 1,665 hours—or about 3% of his total time in office. Roughly 61% of his outings took place at golf courses owned and operated by the US military. In a little less than three years, Trump has so far spent nearly 2,200 hours golfing, or roughly 20% of his time in office. He has played all but two rounds at his own private clubs, according to Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen, a DC watchdog group. Obama’s predecessor, president George W. Bush, played just 24 rounds of golf during his two terms as commander-in-chief.
“Needless to say, this is yet another example of the brazen hypocrisy that marks Donald Trump,” Holman told Quartz. “All of these taxpayer costs would otherwise be minimal if Trump followed the precedent of all other presidents by conducting business and vacationing on government-owned properties.”
And even though Trump himself is not personally pocketing the Secret Service’s cart rental fees, Jordan Libowitz, a spokesperson for the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said Trump’s refusal to separate himself from his business empire still makes it a conflict. Revenues at many of Trump’s golf clubs have declined in recent years.
“The issue isn’t that Trump enjoys golf, the issue is that he continues to make promotional appearances at the businesses he still owns,” Libowitz told Quartz. “So taxpayers aren’t just footing the bill for the president’s hobby, they’re picking up the bill to help him drum up business for his struggling golf properties.”