Occupying a three-mile stretch of North Sea coastline between Murcar Links and Cruden Bay, Trump International Golf Links is the latest American-inspired, high profile course to open in Scotland since the start of the new millennium.
Like Renaissance Club, Castle Stuart and Machrihanish Dunes, ownership of the course lies on the US side of the Atlantic and its proprietor took seven long years to get golfers onto the first tee as he had to overcome a series of objections that were made to siting the fairways within a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
But overcome the protestations of the environmentalists and landowners is exactly what he did and one of the wisest moves that Trump made early on was to promote respected architect Martin Hawtree from “links consultant” to lead designer because his vast experience – particularly in working on Open courses for the R&A – would prove invaluable when it came to routing holes around the dramatic dunes on the Menie Estate.
Apart from the 229-yard par three 13th, all holes are laid out in a north-south direction close to the shoreline and some have criticised this orientation as being somewhat uninspired. However, if the most exciting topography is to be found between the dune systems that run naturally along the coast then why would anyone dream of routing the fairways any other way?
As you might expect at any Trump golf facility, everything here is top spec for a links: bent and fescue grass greens (that are sensibly contoured), fully revetted bunkers (of which there are eighteen on the 18th), at least five tee boxes on every hole (holes 3 and 4 have seven), and an astonishing ten acres of grass pathways to convey golfers from one green to the next tee position – all that and not a cart path in sight.During the official opening ceremony of the course on 10th July 2012 (click here for details), PGA and European Tour officials spoke of Trump International Golf Links as a venue worthy of major professional golf competitions in the future. It will be interesting to see what comes its way in the years ahead.
There are a lot of things that can be said about the owner of this course but one thing is sure to me and that is that he has managed to make some solid courses and add value to the golf world in Scotland with the recent renovation at Turnberry and new build here up north near Aberdeen at Trump International Golf Links.
It would seem this course has been designed with one major goal in mind… to be spectacular and awe inspiring. Most of what I’d heard going into my visit had been positive though little had come through the eyes of critical observers. I don’t feel the need to go through the holes. 2 and 14 have two of the most challenging tee shots from the back tees you will find anywhere. The course has no less than 12 raised tees and 12 raised greens. This demonstrates a central theme revolving around trying to make the course spectacular rather than trying to put the best possible routed golf course in this land. Yes the dunes are massive and that most certainly dictates several aspects of the routing. The main question to the author remains what would top architects have done with the same land, Coore & Crenshaw, Doak, Ebert & Mackenzie, Mike Devries or Bob Harrison to name a few.
That critique aside, yes, Trump International is awe inspiring while standing on the tee of the 2nd hole trying to thread the needle in the wind between a diagonally left to right running native lost ball territory and the parallel running burn that many will struggle to carry. There are several other tough shots that will be faced, the native is deep, prepare yourself mentally to judge the wind correctly and hit straight shots, if you can. Standing on the 14th back tee it hits you that not all golfers are created equally. 250 yds carry to reach the fairway and 50 yds later a steep sloped that if not carried repels the ball back towards the beginning of the fairway. The fairway while having decent width looks like a tiny sliver tucked into the massive dunes and waste deep native. The tee sitting on the top of a massive dune 20-30 yds above does wonders to frame the daunting challenge. Good luck judging the wind on this one. Worst part here is that moving up a couple tees does little to make this hole much easier. I’ve yet to run into a golfer that said #14, yeah piece of cake.
I will certainly admit that there are several excellent holes and even more spectacular holes. In fact, not a single boring hole in the routing which might sound counterintuitive to my critical commentary but there is a distinct difference in my points. One of my favorite holes is a short par 4, 7th. This hole does wonders to temp golfers to go for the crazy green with driver. A couple plays, in my mind, will stop this madness. The green is raised about 3 meters all the way around and falls off steeply everywhere. Recovery shots are extremely tough, so much so that almost driving the green with the tee shot in my best estimate renders a 3, a miracle, a 4 extremely tough and a 6 more than likely. I watched two groups go for the green and double seemed to be the best score. The best way to play it, I’d say 5 iron, wedge or 9 iron depending on the wind and make sure you hit the green.
Standing on the back tee of the elevated 650 yds 18th hole with a strong breeze into your face also has some comical aspects to it, a minefield of bunkers to drop your tee shot into. It’s certain they wanted to challenge the best players, perhaps even Trump himself (that’s a joke by the way).
It's a beautiful place and the visual spectacle alone renders it worth a visit. I'd also recommend staying in the Macleod House which must be the best accommodation in the area with a brilliant whiskey room on top of it all. It would be my ideal place to use as home base for a trip to the area.
Although the location and dunes at Trump Links Scotland are dramatic, the course badly misses the mark and has some serious design flaws that make it a less than enjoyable place to play golf. In particular, all but one hole is routed in a north-south direction. I played the course on a day when the wind was blowing across (from the west), meaning all but one hole was in a cross-wind. Playing seventeen holes in a cross-wind is not fun. Golf course architects surely know that the winds in Scotland are changeable? Why would you route so many holes parallel on the sea? It really makes no sense to me. Why route all the holes along the dunes, why not route some back and forth to play through the dunes, like at nearby Cruden Bay? I also found that the rough is far too thick. Any ball that does not hit the fairway is lost. The rough is so thick and overgrown that there is virtually no chance of finding a ball, leading to a less than fun day. It is roughly the equivalent of every fairway and green being surrounding by water, with a resulting small margin of error available to a golfer. The green contouring is also overdone. Based on my experiences playing in the British Isles a key part of the charm is being able to play bump and run shots. Almost all the greens here are elevated and have false fronts and fall away severely on most sides. Unless a shot is perfectly struck it repels off the green, as a result, the effective landing area is about one third the actual size of the green, making it unduly penal. Combine this with the thick rough and the combination becomes toxic. The character of the course is too Americanized and taking away bump and runs shots doesn’t feel right.
On the positive side, the course conditions were fabulous, there are sometimes beautiful views, the grass is lush and the greens (if you can ever get on them) and in good condition and fast. Giving credit where it is due, the holes do have a variety in length. There is a nice combination of short, medium, and long par threes and fours. The staff was amenable and friendly and the clubhouse was surprisingly understated and tasteful.
I predict that serious changes must be made to make the course playable for the recreational golfer including softening the green contours, widening the fairways and thinning the rough.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
How can anyone rate this course as a 2 ball rating, ignore. Most links courses are built on a thin strip of land so are out and back, as Cruden Bay is.
I have to agree with the other response made to this review. 2 balls out of 6 really? This course is fantastic and has to be played. The holes fit perfectly in between the dunes therefore requiring minimum earth removal and it isn't as if the holes are dead straight! I can count at least 8 doglegs par 4s or 5s on the course. The only hole which I thought was average was no.5 with the rest being of pure quality. The course is tough no question but would you really want an easy ride on a track which probably cost about £200 to play. I can't wait to go back :-)
Let’s remember that this is an area of Special Scientific interest, for the dunescape itself and the flora and fauna that are supported therein.
To do anything other than minimal earthworks in this site would have been reputational suicide for both the developer and his esteemed designer.
Mr Trump May be many things, however, I believe him to be a golf lover and by extension a dune junkie (who isn’t
I was fortunate to play Trump at the weekend and what a course it is. From the moment we drove down the private road to the course we knew we were in for a treat. The clubhouse is surrounded by gigantic dunes. The staff on hand were extremely helpful.
We had about 30 minutes to kill before we went out so we hit some complimentary balls and did some putting on the amazing putting green. The pitching area looked amazing although unfortunately we did not get chance to enjoy that. We were greeted by the starter who at our request took some photos and was more than helpful with information.
Then the fun really began :-)
I play off scratch and didn't care that I was 7 over after 4!!!!! And what a first 4 holes they were especially the short 3rd played to the edge of the sea. No. 5 was ok then 6 was a lovely short par 3. 7, 8 and 9 followed - all excellent holes.
A beer was enjoyed after 9 then we set again on the back 9. No. 10 what an approach shot towards the biggest dunes you will ever see. Further great holes followed especially no.14 a long par with an elevated do or die tee shot. No.18 was also a highlight elevated tee 650 yards into the prevailing wind!
What a course.
What I will say is i am of the opinion anyone could have done a good job of designing the course as the dunes are just there for you to play around with.
There aren't many courses in the world where you can pitch up and pay a green fee to play such a prestigious course - We can't wait to go back - oh I shot 84 off scratch and did I care? Not one bit!!!
I think you can also just pitch up and pay a green fee at all 19 other courses in the U.K. and Ireland ranked above this one
In response to the BB comment my own comment was aimed at the top Private American courses (save for Pebble Beach) where you can't even get in to the grounds let alone get on the course
I was already a little suspicious that Trump himself had written this review, and now that the reviewer suggests "the US" and "the World" are interchangeable terms, I'm even more certain
...but in all seriousness, you make a good point Nick about the accessibility of top golf in the U.K. compared to he US.
Americans seem to have their cake and eat it - i.e. restrict access to their own top tracks but have open access to those elsewhere. As you mention, Pebble is an exception there but as it has little competition for public play at the top end, they can charge $500 a round.
Respect to the UK & Ireland Golf culture then - your soul would clearly go to Golf heaven (if it wasn't already here on earth).
I wouldn't mind this dichotomy too much, but it does seem to put the prices up here to cater for the American Golf tourist and their higher expectations of conditioning and service, and increased willingness to spend on a world class green fee. Tom Doak said an Old Course green fee was £15 in 1982. That's just £53 indexed to 2017 prices (whereas an Old Course green fee this summer is around £170). Add to this specific developments like Kingsbarns and Trump International that must be aimed at this US traffic - they are simply very expensive for the average U.K. punter. It's a shame.
Well there was no way we were going to pay the £185 green fee (each) as we couldn't afford it and were lucky enough to find a voucher for 2 people at the cost of only £80 (each). You make some good points BB and we just need to find some more vouchers!!!!
I played International on Friday and Saturday as part of a very good package which included dinner bed and breakfast at the McLeod. To be frank, I wasn’t really expecting too much, given Mr Trumps reputation over recent months, but the weather was dry, so that was a good start.
The phrase “blown away” is often overused these days, but I found a course which was absolutely unique, and one of those rare occasions when you find something totally different from what you expect.
I played Carnoustie the following day, and having played Royal Dornoch last year, I thought I knew what a first class links course was, but this pushes the boundaries.
If you take Carnoustie, as magnificent a course as it is, and imagine that all the dunes on that course are between 5 and 10 times higher, then you will be getting close to Trump International, and it is astonishing that this course is only 5 years old.
I’m not going to go over every hole, as personally I think it’s better to experience a course as you find it, although if you play it, and the wind is not too strong, use the black tees on 14 and 18 – I don’t think you will get views like that, of either the course, the hole, or the surrounding countryside and beach, anywhere in the UK.
Given that the course is reasonably busy (although with the layout you almost never see anyone else), it was in fabulous condition. The greens were true, and while they were a little on the slow side, I imagine in late October in Aberdeen, that’s to be expected, so I wouldn’t criticise that.
The staff on both the golf and catering side were really, really good, and a special mention to Bob, the caddy master who was wonderful.
If I tell you that both myself and my playing partner scored around 15 shots better at Carnoustie (similar weather), that gives you an idea of how difficult the course is. But rather strangely, they were two of the most enjoyable rounds of golf I’ve ever had.
Perhaps this is a golf course too far for the purists, who revere the openness of many of the top links courses, but for me this is right up there. It may not be the greatest course in the world, but I would be hard pressed to put it below 3rd in the UK. It may never get the Open, but I do hope it picks up perhaps the Scottish Open soon, as it will provide amazing viewing facilities for spectators.
Forget about ownership and just enjoy it.
The first thing to state is that Trump International Golf Links is undoubtedly an exceptionally good golf course. The second thing to say from the off is that it’s categorically not the “World's Greatest Golf Course” as the owner makes out and their website brashly proclaims.
Located on a Site of Special Scientific Interest it opened its doors for play amid much furore in the summer 2012 but that’s another story entirely.
Regards the actual golf course; gigantic dunes provide the framework for many of the holes on the front-nine where drives from elevated tees are the norm at virtually every hole and heavily contoured raised greens, with a profusion of run-offs, greet you at their culmination. This is pure eye-candy to many golfers and if this is your thing you will love your time and experience here.
The fairways are generous, as they need to be in this windy climate, but noticeably flat (à la Saunton) and should you stray from the straight and narrow you are likely to use up your five minute allocation looking for your ball, indeed the starter advised us there is a local rule where the rough is classed as a lateral water hazard regarding dropping under penalty.
From the tee there is an undeniable fairness to it all and into the greens a very real precision is required with an abundance of sand traps to dodge. It screams present-day professional tournament golf to me and this is perhaps its ambition.
In my opinion the back-nine is superior and has a much better flow to it. The terrain for good golf is significantly better and the holes engage with the golfer to a greater degree.
The tenth has a lot of character with a green nestled in the dunes whilst the next has a more classic, understated appearance curving right around more gentle sandhills. After playing to a wide fairway the approach into the 12th is simply marvellous and the next, a par-three across a valley is sensational - as well as being the only hole that doesn’t run North-to-South or vice-versa. The other one-shotter on the inward half is also magnificent with a slightly angled green, which widens towards the rear, and is protected by deep pits down the left. I probably need to take another look at the 15th and would next time play from the blue tee which benefits from an angled drive as opposed to the back tee which makes this a dead straight hole.
The 17th may well be the best hole on the entire property with a sweeping drive and dreamy approach to a green set slightly to the left; it’s a hole that looks superb from the tee and gets better every stride of its 466 yards.
Meanwhile, the final hole is noted for its 18 bunkers and although there appears to be a bit of a scattergun approach to their locations (in fact all four of the par fives would benefit from less bunkers) this is undoubtedly a memorable finishing hole and at over 650-yards from the back tees, which you are encouraged to play from, it is a real bruiser.
It should be said that any critical comments for Trump International come from a very high base line and there’s absolutely no denying that this is the type of golf course many golfers will drool over. However, it’s not a golf course for those seeking an authentic and genuine links golf experience where your ball is predominantly played along the ground and where subtlety and nuances of the land dictate the way you play.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
I hail from the North East and grew up on Cruden Bay but never had played here. After playing Trump Aberdeen off the middle tees in mid May and having played 60 of Top 100 in the world , this course to me is the best course in the North East. Yes better than RA...
Put the Trump politics to the side and the design seriously impresses.
In fantastic nick and with a definite sense of seclusion on nearly every hole this course is of major championship caliber. Lots of variety on the 4's- outstanding par 3,s and risk and reward par 5,s.
it's hard to believe it's only a few years old...I bet the Scottish Open heads here soon and I would strongly recommend playing here if you visit the area.
Scottish Open won't touch Trump Int. Far too controversial. He'll get the Open at Turnberry one day but won't get anything on tour at Aberdeen.
Played in September 2016 as part of a golf trip.
The course is visually spectacular and when we played it in good condition. Despite it being only a few years old, the fairway were really firm and running just what you want from a links course.
For me a short hitting 14 handicapper the course was over penal. Of the Tee it was generous with many fairways 60/70 yards wide which allowed you the chance to get the big stick out, but if not straight - good night (fair enough) The problem that I had was that some holes like the fourth for instance 130 up hill into the breeze,4 massive bunkers to carry. Now my 5 wood only carries 150 yards which i hit pretty well but did not make the carry then you are in a bunker the 10 foot high with no chance of making the green, for me not good. For me any new links course has to give the more mature, higher handicapper a chance to run the ball into the green, we are the target market for these courses and if you fail, a reasonable chance to get the ball out unless you are up the face.
The other hole which was really annoying was the 13 an uphill 200 yard par 3 again forced to take the driver they have a deep bunker 50 years short of the green "what is that doing their" no decent golfer would go in it, it catches the higher handicapper with a low ball flight running the ball into the green!!! Come on you course designer think.
I have to say we liked the smaller clubhouse and the service was what you would expect from a 5 star resort - food excellent. We had been rained on the day before and the clubs were all wet, the caddie master had someone dry them for us which was very useful.
Interesting review and great to hear that it is playing firm!
It does however sound like you might have played from the wrong set of tees. The 13th is 200yds when you play from the 7,000yds tees. From memory, it played quite a bit shorter from the Whites or Green (?) tees (170-150yds). Not sure the course designer is at fault here.
We played of the white T,s which made it 178 yards and unfortunately still a driver. To be fair the length of the course is not a problem as there are many T options, for me it is poor over penal bunkers- which spoiled the experience.
Having played Kingbarns and Castle Stewart these in my opinion are better new links courses for all handicap levels.
Beautiful layout, in pretty poor condition when I played it (greens reminiscent of the Persian gulf - oiled sand). Very long from the the tips, obviously, Grande luxe facilities slightly compromised by the underwhelming clubhouse (development suspended as a result of the argument about the wind turbines, I believe). I love the seclusion of the fairways worming their way through the dunes, but it makes it hard to believe it will ever be a tournament course - where will the galleries go? And the risk-reward on the par 5s is a bit skewed - you either lay up 180 yards short or take your chances with a rash of very severe pot-bunkers. I grew up round here, and I would say that Royal Aberdeen and Cruden Bay are clearly better and fairer tests and there are half a dozen others that run it close.
This is a magnificent golf course now, and will only improve as the grasses bed in and mature. The course starts strongly with an attractive par 5 (reminiscent of the first at Doonbeg, but not as good, obviously). The third (par 3) towards the sea is simply stunning and the walk between 3rd green and 4th tee is mesmeric, almost ethereal (not Old Head but still up there). Fortunate to play in light winds which made the course playable. (Handicap 7 played off the Blue tees, which was plenty long enough.) Enjoyed the back 9 more as there was a feeling of isolation between holes. Every hole beautifully crafted and strategic enough. In my view, the only "weak" hole was the par 3 16th, which was, in comparison with the feast before and after, was bland. One other general comment is that the best view of a number of holes was from the tournament tees which were located high in the dunes. Its a shame that the tees are so infrequently used which results in so few golfers experiencing the full majesty of this special place.
Despite what you think of the owner's politics, hefty price and slightly out of the way location, it is worth the effort. A substantial golfing experience that will stay in the memory.