Donald Trump is no stranger in New Jersey, owning three properties containing four entries in our New Jersey Best In State rankings, including Trump National Philadelphia and Trump National Bedminster, host of the 2022 PGA Championship. Often getting less than its share of the highlights is Trump National Colts Neck.
The course was designed by Jerry Pate to emulate the aesthetics of links golf, with mounds of fescue separating the holes but — as Pate won the U.S. Open during his career and not The Open — it is not so surprising this course takes a more American approach to championship golf. The course plays more than 7,500 yards from its tips, and features numerous par three putting surfaces perched alongside ponds, while the serpentine No. 9 features a lake all along its right side.
Tom Fazio II came and made tweaks to the course, the most noticeable of which is the least linksy of all. Although not part of the round of 18, players may settle bets to an island green that floats right in front of the clubhouse veranda (Pate, having won the initial Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, would have been familiar with the concept). Be careful not to get a hole-in-one: There will be many eyes watching to see if you’ll foot the bill for their drinks.
As with all Trump courses I've played -- roughly a dozen or so -- the turf quality is extremely good. For those who enjoy the highly manicured presentation -- TN Colts Neck layout delivers on that front. When someone mentioned to me the courser is "links inspired" I had to chuckle because far too often there's an attempt at marketing something when the reality says differently. Although Colts Neck is often mentioned as New Jersey's horse country -- the overall terrain for the course is fairly flat with a modest rise at best. To say it's "links inspired" is an advertising pitch that takes chutzpah in the league of Don Draper from "Mad Men" fame. The man made creation features a heavy dosage of mounding to create "framing" for the golfer's eye.
The amenities at a Trump facility are clearly top of the line. You have a quality practice area -- a short course and a 19th hole par-3 to settle all bets before heading home. Ditto on the locker rooms and the food service.
The course is a tough test -- choosing the appropriate tee box is essential. Much of that comes from the intersection with water hazards and wetlands that are major obstacles to be avoided. The par-4 9th is one of the better holes as players must avoid leaving the ball out to the right on the tee shot. Of the two sides -- the inward half is the better of the two for hole diversity.
But architecture is not simply about increasing difficulty to the point of where it's a repetitive venture with little else to provide. What TN Colts Neck lacks is a comprehensive inclusion of various design details -- such as ground movements in the fairway not just the predictable straight razor-like cuts. Bunkers that need to be far more than ornamental placements. Providing both a pacing of holes in conjunction with different shots and executions. It means having greens that include a range of shapes, dimensions and internal movements.
For many a visit to TN Colts Neck will be a satisfying experience because all the creature comforts are certainly handled in a top tier manner. New Jersey is blessed with a deep array of courses that excel in getting the golf architecture to a high level of detail and sophistication. TN Colts Neck nails the secondary dimensions -- it's the primary emphasis that's lacking.
M. James Ward