Laid out on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, The pay and play facility at Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles endured something of a troubled golfing gestation before it finally opened to the public in 2006.
The course was originally developed for Ocean Trails Golf Club in the late 1990s but a landslide caused much of the 18th fairway to slip away from its cliff edge position towards the Pacific during construction.
The resulting stabilisation work cost millions of dollars and ultimately forced the club into bankruptcy, allowing the Trump Organization to step in and rescue the project in 2002. Following further costly repairs, the 18-hole layout finally opened for play on 20 January 2006.
It’s said that Donald Trump himself made improvements to the original Pete Dye design, softening greens, repositioning bunkers, removing some of the forced carries and adding a number of elevated tee boxes.
Unfortunately, the course was scheduled to host the annual end of season PGA Grand Slam of Golf tournament in 2015 but the event was cancelled due in large part to the then presidential contender’s controversial comments about illegal immigration.
Given the hype surrounding this course (their web site calls it the best course in California), I was prepared to be disappointed. But the place does have some redeeming value, the most obvious of which is views of the Pacific Ocean (and, on a clear day of Santa Catalina Island) from every hole. The ocean views are the result of the course being benched into a hillside. This became a problem during its first life as Ocean Trails, when most of the 18th fairway slid into the Pacific. Much of the $250 million spent on resurrection by the Trump organization was used to stabilize the finishing hole. Manny, the starter, says he watched the entire reconstruction and tells me he has no qualms about it. “If the entire town starts to slide,” he says, “I’m heading straight to the 18th green. It’s the safest place around.”
The golf doesn’t quite match the views, but most of Pete Dye’s green complexes remain and they are spectacular. The most audacious is the 12th, an upside down potato chip that you can’t help but smile about as it first reveals itself. All the greens have undulations and that provides multiple options for recovery when an approach shot misses the green. I miscalculated on more than one occasion.
Away from the greens, the course is less interesting. Some holes allow options for the approach shot, but the majority will only accept an aerial shot. There are a number of narrow fairways where a miss will land in the deep underbrush never to be seen again. And other than at the 5th, 6th, and 16th, there’s no strategic thought required from the tee….one side of the fairway is as good as another.
Trump National is a cartball course….I saw no other walkers. Besides the ocean views, there’s one other feature that will remind golfers from the other side of the Atlantic of home: the walking paths that are interlaced with the holes. Unlike some courses in the British Isles (Nefyn & District comes immediately to mind) dozens of locals manage a seaside perambulation without disturbing the golf.