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.
I will focus on the best holes which in my opinion are 3-7, 10 and 18. The 3rd is an improved version of the 11th at Castle Stuart which is high praise indeed but absolutely deserved. The green seems to be elevated in an island of rough with a large and deep bunker to the right and the unforgiving North Sea coastline tucked tightly to the left hand side. Demanding a faded approach it offers very limited opportunities of redemption for a less than perfect tee shot and a 3 is a great result. The fourth is a stunning par 5 featuring a wide burn enclosed by granite slabs that advances up the entire right hand side. With no bunkers off the tee you can let one rip to try to get there in two but a myriad of fairway bunkers short of the green means that only the purest of ball strikers will make it. For those laying up the green is sufficiently sloped with some great run-off areas to ensure that birdies are very hard earned.
The fifth is a short par 4 from one of many tees positioned high on the dunes. It gives you the option of nailing a driver over a fairway bunker or papping a 3 wood to the right side bail out. Again the green is raised and narrow to ensure that nothing is taken for granted with the approach. Not a long hole but one which can be played in different ways and where each shot must be given absolute consideration. Six is another great par 3 seemingly played from the top of one dune to the top of another. A shot played to the left side will kick down from a blind area to the left of the green which is just as well as there is a deep bunker, marram clad slope and burn to the right. Unfortunately the Aberdeen haar was in when I tackled this one meaning that the selected line was something of a lottery. Hole 7 is a great risk/reward par 4 although it possibly overly favours the former over the latter. At only around 280-300 yards it is seemingly there for the taking but anything other than a perfect strike will give birdie opportunities. Anything too far left or right is as good as lost in the dunes and there are bunkers at exactly the point you would want to lay up to. The green wouldn't look out of place at Dornoch meaning that even good drives may still get par at best. An fascinating hole that verges on being unfair but still great fun to play.
Ten is an interesting par 5 which has a magnificent green placement at almost 90 degrees to the fairway and located in a bowl of huge dunes. There is supposedly an option to take on the green in 2 from the right side of a split fairway but the positioning of the tee meant that the right hand route would have been sheer folly to attempt. I’d like to think that Dr Hawtree had an extra kummel the night before he drew this one up or maybe this was Trump's doing. Not too sure but I’d bet that some tweaking is done here in the next few years. And then there is eighteen. At a mere 650 yards from the tips it is what all finishing holes dream to be. Again playing from a huge dune the view back over the rest of the course is stunning but there is no relaxing here! You can go for length down the left and risk finding a watery grave or lay up short right of a group of fairway bunkers that must be avoided to stand any chance of making par. In the 180 yards up to the green there seems to be more sand than grass as this is where the majority of the hole's 18 bunkers reside. A spectacular end in keeping with the 17 holes preceeding it. In time I may reflect that the 18th, like much of the rest of the course is somewhat over the top. However at the moment I can only see it in a positive light as every hole brings an interesting and new challenge to be considered.
The land was just destined for golf and world class golf at that, just a shame it had to be Trump to make it happen. Five stars now but a guaranteed six in a year or two when the conditioning comes together, can't wait to return.
Although not a native, I lived in the area for many, many years and know this particular stretch of coastline and duneland well. It it wonderful area and, as a golfer since childhood, I couldn't help but think that it would make a wonderful location for a links golf course...........but, and it's a huge but..............as well as having peoples homes and farms and coastal fishing access within it, the area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest............ and this is a very, very important aspect of environmental protection legislation. The Scottish Parliament in particular, should be ashamed of itself for intervening and various local authorities and bodies, especially Robert Gordons Uni and the local police, didn't come out of the programme smelling of roses either. As for Mr Ego's argument that it'll bring long-term jobs to the areas residents, that's simply PR baloney, for example, as the programme showed, the Head Greenkeeper is from Ireland not from N.E. Scotland and the course architect is English. Looks like the only growth area employment wise is in private security staff!!
If you're visiting this area there are already some cracking links courses to play on this coastline with the standouts being the ever-so-difficult Carnoustie, rumpled Montrose, the truly wonderful Royal Aberdeen, Murcar, Newburgh, the slightly idiosyncratic but always fabulous Cruden Bay plus Fraserburgh, the 7th oldest golf club in the world. Perhaps better golfing interest could be obtained by playing several of these other tremendous links and/or the many other splendid courses in the area instead of paying out £170 to play a 5-6 hour round on Mr Ego's Plaything behind groups of golfing voyeurs ticking off their personal 'I've played it" lists and oil etc industry bigwigs on freebee corporate events.
Although the photos on the courses website make it look a stunning course, ultimately I imagine the high cost of play, the measly discount offered to local residents (the opposite policy of Castle Stuart) plus the interesting climate in N.E. Scotland for at least half the year - icy winds and goretex jackets galore, yippee! - will determine who actually tees it up at Mr Ego's Plaything. Just a disgraceful shame that peoples homes etc and environmentally legislation including an important SSSI had to be trampled over to build it. No more development like housing or hotels either. This issue has gone on to long and has gone to far already. Maybe plans for even more offshore windturbines (sic) will halt Mr Ego's further intentions, but on second thoughts, lets not get into that debate...............
On arrival you are offered free use of the superb practice facility and range. The chipping area is made up of numerous greens and bunkers and is certainly the best we have seen in Britain. The putting green is a massive 300 square metres in size and will test your skills to the limit. The current clubhouse is a temporary structure, but it is expected that the larger more permanent version will be complete by the end of 2013.
Arriving at the first tee you are reminded more of the West Coast of Ireland than anywhere in Scotland. At times recollections of days spent at Enniscrone, Ballybunion, Carne and Doonbeg came to the surface but in truth the sand dunes here are on a much grander scale. Choice of tee is vital to your enjoyment as the fairways need time to bed-in and therefore are offering very little run at present. The greens and surrounds are excellent without being tricked up but are understandably quite slow at present. Even if you avoid the deep revetted bunkers, there are plenty of run-off areas around the greens which will give your short game a full work out.
The grass pathways between greens, tees and fairways are a classy addition. They weave around some dunes and cut right through others leading you expectantly to the next visual delight.
Most of the fairways are routed through the natural corridors; many give you uneven stances but in the main they are quite generous in width. However many of the tees are set at an angle which can deceive you in to thinking that the landing areas are quite narrow. Add thick marram grass and strong crosswinds to the mix and even the best players may feel intimidated at times.
In our opinion there is not a weak hole on the course. Not every hole can be magnificent but here a very high percentage most certainly are. The collection of par threes is simply stunning. The 3rd is set between a high sand dune and the sea; the 6th sits amongst dunes left and rear with a huge drop to a burn on the right. The13th is a majestic valley hole and the 16th with its cavernous bunkers, runs away from you at an angle making correct club selection vital.
The four par fives are also memorable. The 1st provides an exceptional start, the 4th has a burn running the full length of the fairway and the 10th doglegs to a green which nestles beyond a narrow entrance between dunes. The final hole is a beast measuring 651 yards from the tips so be sure that the wonderful views of the North Sea don’t distract you from the 18 bunkers on the hole.
There is great variety amongst the par fours with the 5th, 7th and 15th offering a risk and reward option to the better player. Depending on wind direction and which tee is being used you may wish to have a go at the putting surface. The 8th, 9th and 17th on the other hand offer a stern challenge for anyone hoping to get there in regulation.
Another of our favourite holes was the spectacular 14th. Walking through a narrow gap in the dunes you are suddenly met with one of the most magnificent vistas in golf. You tee off from high dunes to a ribbon of fairway running along the valley floor, with panoramic views of the sea on your right this is a magical spot to linger for a few moments so don’t forget the camera.
Course architect Martin Hawtree should be immensely proud of his work here which will undoubtedly see his reputation rise even higher across the world of course design. Give this masterpiece a year or two to mature and we could potentially have another British high-flyer in the World Top 100. The press have already spoken of Donald Trump’s desire to host a major tournament and the 2022 Ryder Cup has been mentioned as a possible target. Donald has friends in high places in the golf and business world as well as the necessary financial clout. I for one would not bet against it. Brian Ward
On Monday, Brian Ward, our Midlands and North West England correspondent, played here and was suitably impressed (as you will see from his above review).
It was a great surprise for us to find that one of the UK’s leading golf magazines decided to rank the Trump International Golf Links as the 8th best course in Britain & Ireland two months before it officially opened for general play. This was the highest new entry in the magazine’s long-established rankings and might in retrospect be considered a mistake.
I have spoken to Brian in length about his experience at Trump’s latest venue and there is no doubt that this course will in time become worthy of a very high ranking position indeed. But the course is currently not playing like a links course, with no roll on the fairways and slow putting surfaces. I can understand how frustrating it is for golf clubs such as Royal Dornoch, Royal Lytham & St Annes and Carnoustie to find a brand new course, that has not even officially opened let alone bedded in, ahead of them in the magazine rankings of a publication that biennially claims to be definitive.
We suspect that Trump International Golf Links will become the highest new entry in our next rankings, but for the meanwhile the new links will have to settle for entry as a Gem. I hope to play TIGL next year, by which time I think it may be ready for a more meaningful ranking assessment. Keith Baxter, Editor-in-Chief
The portrayal of the Scottish Government, the Grampian Police and the fact that a blind eye was turned to Trump’s off-plan earth moving left me sick. Anthony Baxter’s arrest was outrageous and should be answered by the Police Complaints Commission.
In my response dated 14th September above, I stated that I hope to play the course next year but I now find myself wrestling with my principles. I’d like to see what unlimited money has created, but I’m nervous that I will find an excellent golf course that has been created by someone who does not play with a straight bat.
I usually prefer the lighter touch and am surprised that Trump did not route the course sympathetically through a supposedly protected site. If this development had occurred in the USA I’m convinced the golf course would already have Audubon status.
On the west coast, David Southworth and Joe Deitch developed Machrihanish Dunes on a SSSI site with a feather-like touch, respecting the fragility of the coastal environment. On the east coast Doctor Donald Trump bulldozed his way past residential homes, flagrantly ignoring plans.
For the love of money I’d like to know what went wrong at Balmedie and why greed prevailed?
After waking up this morning in a grumpy mood, The Guardian’s TV critic Sam Wollaston made me smile: TV review: You've Been Trumped; The Thick Of It
I have regularly visited this area now for the last 15+ years and have played a lot of the courses around Aberdeen / Moray, I do see that the course does look very appealing (though very expensive) but having seen the TV programme I am probably going to boycott it out of principal because of the complete lack of Trumps consideration to the local peoples past history and their current lives. I could be wrong and the TV programme might be biased against Trump, but my feelings are that a different approach should have been taken to help both the locals and Trump to find some sort of amicable agreement, there did appear to be lots of space to re-route the golf course layouts and position the new buildings whilst looking at existing features …… such as people’s homes ! Funny how other new courses (Kingsbarns, Castle Stuart and St Andrews Castle) never had this sort of trouble, and they are possibly less money to play !