Florida’s West Palm Beach is the location for the best of the six layouts in the growing Donald Trump portfolio of golf clubs. But if Trump’s hype is anything to go by, his new development in Aberdeen will culminate in the greatest golf course in the world. Naturally we are sceptical about that but we do hope that it will generate some serious opportunities for Aberdonians.
There are 27 Jim Fazio designed holes at Trump International Golf Club at West Palm Beach but the one is the Championship course which opened for play in 1999. The third loop is a nice nine-holer which is also a good test but it’s not quite in the same league as the main 18-holer.
With six tees per hole to choose from, try not to let bravado get the better of you. With 2,000 yards between the front tees and the tips, select your medicine wisely for maximum enjoyment on this 7,300-yard monster. Trump certainly moved the earth; in fact, some three million cubic yards were shifted to create the Championship course. Lakes were dug to a depth of more than 50 feet, 5,000 mature trees were strategically transplanted coupled with new streams and waterfalls that would make Walt Disney proud.
The Championship course was a host venue for the LPGA tour and was the location for ADT Championships between 2006-2008. The winners walked away with a $1 million paycheque, the largest in the history of ladies’ golf.
Many are familiar with Tom Fazio as one of the most highly respected architects in golf, but lesser known is his big brother Jim Fazio who also does incredible work that is clearly displayed at Trump International Golf Club Palm Beach, which is fantastic. From the moment you arrive you know you are at a special place. Much of the inspiration for this golf course came from Shadow Creek in Las Vegas, this week’s host of the PGA TOUR (October 2020).
That inspiration turned into a reality with what Jim Fazio and the TRUMP GOLF team accomplished here. Many determine the quality of the architecture of a golf course by the type of land it sits on which has a direct impact on the ability to hold a golfers interest throughout the round. Prior to Trump International Golf Club being built, the land was nothing like the incredible elevation changes here today, turning what would otherwise be typical Florida course into majestic beauty that continues throughout the round. The experience is enhanced by one of the best caddie programs anywhere in the country. The golf operations are led by long standing PGA Professional John Nieporte who is as passionate as anyone you will meet in the business.
Standing on each tee, you will think you are looking at a picture frame photo, rather than a real golf course, that is how pristine this property is kept. The attention to course conditioning and maintenance here is such that on any given day, you could host tour players and they would find the course in condition sufficient to host a professional event, it’s really that good. You’ll find some of the purest putting greens not only in Florida but in the entire country.;
As for the course architecture, the routing is excellent and you never feel like you are on top of any other golfers as the separation between holes is wonderful. Elevated tees throughout the course not only create the views I described earlier but clearly define each hole. The approach shots are all fair but plenty challenging, just the way great architecture should be. Lots of water comes into play throughout the course and adds to the beauty. The final 5 holes of the course offer a wow factor that would rival the finishing holes of any course in the country.
The 14th hole is a dogleg left that faces a severe uphill approach shot, you will literally forget you are playing a Florida golf course seeing this kind of elevation change. It's not about length here but about accuracy as it’s not a long hole.
The 15th is not only my favorite hole on the course but it may very well be my favorite par-5 in the entire state of Florida. The first time I saw this hole, I could not believe the beauty and cleat risk / reward. The hole has a stream that runs completely down the right side and then cuts across the fairway as your near the green. If you hit a really solid drive you have a thrilling chance to take on this green in two shots for an eagle opportunity. On great par 5's an eagle opportunity brings a bogey or worse in play, thus defining what a true risk/reward hole is all about. This hole has it all, an elevated tee with an off the charts view followed by a risk/reward approach shot the will get your heart rate pumping.
The 16th is an uphill par-4 where you cannot see the green from the tee; once you come over that hill and see the approach shot that you are facing, you realize that you had better hunker down and hit a solid and accurate shot or likely wind up in the water that surrounds most of the green. The only bailout is missing right and that leaves a nerve-wracking recovery shot that isn't for the faint of heart. This two-tiered green comes at the perfect point in the round and I cannot think of a better 16th hole than this one. If you were here playing a match this is the type of hole where champions are made.
The par-3 17th is dramatic requiring a lengthy tee shot over water with a thrilling and unique water fall behind the green. It's a great opportunity take in the beauty knowing this special round is nearing conclusion. Nothing less than a solid shot will work out well on this challenging par-3. Luckily, once you are putting on this green, the modest undulation will be welcomed.
Finally, you arrive at the truly championship finishing hole that has one of the most elevated tees on the entire course offering you not only a panoramic beautiful view but a clear visual on the challenge ahead. It's a lengthy par-4 that requires an accurate tee shot followed by a slightly uphill approach shot to a slanting green that you do not want to miss to the right as there is plenty of water throughout this hole to give you fits. A par on this finishing hole will require you to hit two or three great shots.
When you walk off this course, undoubtedly there is the exact wow factor you would expect of a true championship experience that describes on of the best courses in the country. All who appreciate great architecture and what was accomplished on this piece of land by Jim Fazio, will be hard pressed to not consider this course one of the best in Florida and a top 100 in the United States.
I have a close friend from the Toronto area and I remember him telling me he could define America by one word and I was very much interested in knowing. His reply -- more. America has "more" of plenty of things -- cars, houses, boats, you name it. But, as he was quick to tell me, the more discerning dimension is whether those elements are indeed "better."
That's the case with a number of the Trump properties I have played over the years. There's no question the focal point is on the affluence -- the luxury -- the finer things in life being accentuated to the max. In the Trump case -- the non-golf related items are the ones often pushed to the forefront.
The missing ingredient with a fair number of them is the so-so nature of the overall architecture. The Championship 18 was created with over 3 million cubic yards of material moved. Given the inherent liability in playing Florida golf which means dead flat land -- the need to "spice" things up can often be carried out to extreme. That's the case here.
The limited size of the property doesn't allow for much wiggle room and things are fairly compact. The features that have been created are just overdone and superimposed on the layout. That's the quandary architects face when creating golf in The Sunshine State. The lack of natural topography means the need to go into high-speed mode in producing all of the items. Knowing how much to do -- and what NOT to do -- are the central questions that need to be successfully answered.
The story of the course is really how it was created -- not what was actually produced.
The layout is the Florida equivalent of Shadow Creek in the Vegas area and I am not a big time fan of that layout either. The focal point for Shadow Creek and for Trump International Championship 18 is about the "experience" in being there. Like I said -- there's no question the pampering is done at a high level but the golf course overdoses -- as many Florida courses do -- on the insertion of water hazards. Do or die golf can be quite repetitious and a real challenge for the high handicap golfers when also confronted with varying wind velocities which is not uncommon in southeast Florida.
There's no question the course is demanding -- with a CR over 76 and a slope at 155 from the tips. However, there are also holes where quality golf shots need to be executed. The par-5 3rd and 15th holes respectively are good examples where plenty of thought needs to be weighed on just how aggressive you wish to be.
The long par-4 8th is also a real tester placing particular pressure on the tee shot. But there's also a repetitious desire to create holes turning right with water on the inside portion of the turn. The 6th, 8th, 10th and 18th are all examples of this. Often times this is done in order to deal with the lack of available acreage and that's likely the case here.
In summary, if you believe course architecture is simply no more important than the food you eat and the manner in which locker service takes care of your needs it's more than likely you'll thoroughly enjoy what the facility provides. But, if you're looking for something that truly distinguishes itself -- that resonates far deeper and lasting -- you'll have to find another golf option in the immediate area.
M. James Ward