We take a look at the two Scottish courses Donald Trump owns.
Donald J Trump, entrepreneur, billionaire, one-time host of the US reality TV show, ‘The Apprentice,’ golf resort owner, now, however unlikely that may have been a couple of years ago, President of the United States of America and arguably not only the most powerful man in the world, but also the most controversial and divisive public figure in more than a generation.
But, setting all of that to one side, Trump’s twin golf resorts in Scotland, from where his late mother hails, (there is a third, Trump Doonbeg, a links resort in the west of Ireland) are genuine gold standard, authentic, challenging championship-standard courses, but with a variety of tees, sympathetic to mid-and-high-handicap golfers too.
In terms of the overall package, great golf and luxe-de-luxe hospitality, Trump Turnberry is every bit the real deal; since acquiring the resort from Dubai-based Leisurecorp for a reported US$60m in April 2014, his company has spent almost US$300million on renovations and a hotel that was fraying at the edges.
At the reported behest of the R&A and in order to regain its place on the Open Championship roster, Trump hired renowned course design team Mackenzie and Ebert to bring the Ailsa Course up to 21st century standards and afford the course opportunity to defend itself against today’s bighitting professionals armed with new technology.
The course has been stretched by 150-yards to 7,357-yards, with the par increased from 70 to 71, the 5th hole becoming a par-5, although it will test the best by reverting to 70 if, and when The Open returns as it surely must.
Once the weakest opening hole on the Open Championship roster, the 1st has been substantially stiffened, followed by five new holes, the 6th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 14th, with significant alterations to all other holes including the reshaping and positioning of bunkers, new tees and green positions and the softening of green contours to provide for more options for pin positions.
The Ailsa Course at Turnberry has hosted the Open Championship on four occasions, most famously, the memorable 1977, ‘Duel in the Sun,’ when Tom Watson prevailed over Jack Nicklaus in a final day shoot-out between two of the best in the business under a rare Scottish summer sun, Watson almost repeating the feat at the age of 59 over the Ailsa Course in 2009, a story that would have eclipsed the famous Duel in the Sun and, arguably, every other sports story of all time.
With Royal St. George’s staging the 2020 event, and St. Andrews accorded the 150th anniversary Open in 2021, 2022 would be the next opportunity for Turnberry to host the oldest ‘Major’ of all, and with Muirfield said to be back on the R&A roster after last year’s controversial vote to allow women to join the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers which owns the course, Turnberry’s prospects look favourable in the medium to long term, especially as money talks loud and the power of an American president, or possibly ex-President is highly-persuasive.
The highlight of the remodeled course is a stretch of eight new consecutive holes following the rugged shoreline: the 5th, a yard short of 500-yards, a demanding Par-4; the 7th, a muscular 572-yard Par-5; but the jewel-in-the-crown is the 9th, formerly a picturesque but somewhat limp Par-4 with the iconic Turnberry Lighthouse towering over the green.
But on, it is said, the specific instructions of the Commander in Chief, an awe-inspiring 244-yard Par-3 has been chiseled out of the granite shoreline, demanding a 200-yard carry across a watery grave, placing this, unquestionably, amongst the finest holes in world golf.
The new Ailsa Course is relentless, barely a respite from a barrage of challenging Par-3s, hefty Par-4s and robust Par-5s, only the 408-yard, Par-4 13th offering any forgiveness, the 17th, one of three bruising Par4s to finish, the 17th, at 506-yards fully deserving of its colloquial name, ‘Lang Whang,’ Scots for a, ‘Lengthy thwack.’
Many thin skinned and onedimensional, professional PGA TOUR players are willing and able at the end of a Presidential aide’s phone to drop everything for a round with their Commander in Chief; to date, his Guest Book will carry the names and signatures of, amongst other, Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, even Jack Nicklaus and one can only speculate as to the apres-round party when wild child John Daly came calling in the summer of 2016, ex-President Bill Clinton making up the three-ball.
Back at Turnberry, which he visited recently on a, ‘Goodwill trip,’ leaving the Scottish taxpayer with a reported US$10m security bill, Donald J Trump has not got where he has, both in politics, in business and in the media without having an eye for the main chance, and he’s has taken it in abundance with the 485-yard, Par-4 finishing hole.
At 7,453-yards from the championship tees to a more manageable 6,250-yards for men and 5,800-yards for women, there can be few more exhilarating, if challenging links golf experiences on Planet Earth; Pebble Beach, Cypress Point, Royal Melbourne, Royal County Down, The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, the Links at Fancourt all spring to mind, but the new Ailsa Course at Turnberry, which, despite all the history and heritage of St Andrews, makes the Old Course look – and play – like a pitch-and-putt course.
But, for this correspondent at least, Trump’s Turnberry pièce de résistance is, without question, his treatment of the famous 1878 lighthouse, creating not only a world-class halfway house for golfers, but also, appropriately enough, the appositely-named, ‘Presidential Suite,’ an exclusive, secluded luxury retreat, a snip at US$4,250.00 per person, per night.
Responding to fears that Turnberry might be transformed into a gold-and-marble replica of Trump Towers in New York and the Ailsa Course a clone of the other archetypal, over- designed layouts in the Trump Golf portfolio, a surprisingly, genial and understated Eric Trump sought to reassure sceptics.
And lead architect Martin Ebert was pleased with his creation too, saying, “There is huge international respect for the existing course at Turnberry and therefore we were very careful to make an in depth study of the evolution of golf at Turnberry before making these changes.
“The re-born Ailsa course will create a much-enhanced golfing experience, making even more use of the spectacular landscape and the iconic historic scenes that make Turnberry so special. That, in turn, will lead to even more enjoyable golf for everyone and further dramatic championships at Turnberry,” concluded Ebert.
Meanwhile, the final piece in the Trump Turnberry jigsaw will be in place later this year, with the remodelled Kintyre and Arran ninehole courses amalgamated into one 18-hole, Par-72 layout, to be named King Robert the Bruce, in honour of the 13th century Scottish King, who was born in Turnberry Castle, where the ruins still sit close to the lighthouse.
Also designed by Martin Ebert, this will be an ideal course for the recreational golfer, with breathtaking vistas from the
8th, 9th, 10th and 11th offering spectacular views of the castle ruins and the lighthouse, the craggy shoreline coastline providing a tremendous visual feature and sporting challenge, with the approach shot to the 9th genuinely awe-inspiring with its green perched high above the waves crashing onto a rocky outcrop.
Almost 200-miles north east of Trump Turnberry, on the opposite coast of Scotland lies Donald J Trump’s Trump International Golf Links, which, with suitable bombast if not a great deal of evidence to back it up, the US President describes as, “The greatest golf course in the world.”
Opened in controversial circumstances following a lengthy planning process and environmental concerns in 2012, in fairness to arguably the most powerful man in the world, his US$150m creation is good, very good, the 7,428-yard Par-72 course near Aberdeen was designed by another renowned master of his trade, Dr. Martin Hawtree.
Hawtree says of his creation, again undertaken under the watchful eye of the man the Scots call, ‘The Donald,’ “The course offers a sequence of superlative topographies, panoramic views, landscapes alternating between spaciousness and enclosure, the whole time a rich texture of vegetation and wildlife habitats surrounding the golf holes.
“The golf course is lacking for nothing, there are no weak holes,” adds Hawtree, concluding, “It is simply the most dramatic, stimulating, invigorating stretch of golf anywhere I have seen in my career.”
A traditional Scottish links course comprising two out-and-back loops of nine holes, Trump International Links threads and weaves, ducks and dives its way through the ecologically-important Great Dunes of Scotland, rising to find panoramic views of the coastline before plunging back down to sea level and some delightful, secluded valleys redolent with native flora and fauna.
With a variation in elevation of over 100ft from some tees sculpted atop the towering dunes down to the fairways and greens, dodging the 93 deep, revetted bunkers, many of them invisible to the ballstriker, is the name of the game, as is keeping out of the perilous, tangling rough at all costs.
Not one single hole reveals itself until on the tee, each and every club in the bag is tested, each shot presenting its own particular challenge, this is a course that lures the golfer into going for his or her shots, but cruelly punishes anything not struck with authority.
Most golf course designers are coy on the subject of signature holes, and, as Dr. Hawtree rightly says, “There is no weak hole on the course,” but when pressed, he says, “The Par-3 sixth, It’s got everything: a burn, dunes, the sea view, a demanding shot, it’s got it all.”
The testimonials come thick and fast, Sandy Jones, chief executive of the British PGA, gushed, “There is no doubt in my mind it will certainly be in the top three in the world, but I don’t know what’s going to be number two and number three,” the whiff of vested interest
To date, one very fine course has been built along with a modest clubhouse and a major makeover for the Menie Estate mansion, McLeod House and Lodge, which can accommodate just 19 people, no residential properties, with 150 people currently employed, many on a seasonal basis, not them “Fivethousand-plus,” he had promised.
As one respected American golf course reviewer put it, “We pulled into the parking lot, and I was kind of surprised with how, I suppose, unimpressive things were,” adding, “Don’t get me wrong, it was nice, with ornate lamp posts and a very quaint, small clubhouse, but this is Trump we’re talking about.”
Trump International Golf Links Scotland is like a Rolls Royce body without an engine or an authentic Rolex Daytona watch case without a mechanism, but ‘The Donald’ is sufficiently distracted, wealthy and cussed enough to take the heat, bide his time and make Scotland pay for disobeying his orders.
Donald J Trump, the 45th President of the USA may not be your archetypal politician, and it’s difficult for a Scot to process how such a brash, bombastic individual could have emerged from the womb of a mother, Mary Anne MacLeod Trump, born and raised in the tiny hamlet of Tong on the outlying Scottish Island of Lewis.
But, love him or hate him, believe in or belie his political persuasions with both a capital, ‘P’ and lower case, his golf properties, both around the world in general and in Scotland in particular, the home of golf, may be a contradiction in terms, but, boy, they are, without question, the real deal.
(T-B) US president Donald gives a press conference to officially open his golf resort. The 365 yards par 4, sixth hole at the Trump International Golf Links Doonbeg in Doonbeg, County Clare, Ireland.
11th hole on the Ailsa Course at the Trump Turnberry Resort on July 29, 2018 in Turnberry, Scotland.
(T-B) Donald Trump arrives in a helicopter at Trump International Golf Links. 14th hole designed by Martin Hawtree at the Trump International Golf Links Doonbeg.
9th hole on the Ailsa Course at the Trump Turnberry Resort in Turnberry, Scotland.