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 and Perry 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.
Let’s try and keep politics out of this review, shall we?
I played this course on a trip to Los Angeles and Palm Springs in which I also played several PGA West courses. Trump National played very differently from the desert layouts. First off, the scenery at Trump National is unreal. The views of the ocean, Santa Catalina Island, and surrounding Rancho Palos Verdes landscape are simply stunning, rivaling Pebble Beach or Torrey Pines in that regard. It’s especially apparent at the highest points of the course, holes #2 through #4, where the entire course unfolds on the slope below you. Unfortunately, scenery where the similarities with those top tier layouts end.
My overarching takeaway from Trump National was that things were made to look top-of-the-line, but underneath everything felt a little bit cheap. The course was a very stark green with bright white sand in contrast to the browns and blues of the landscape, but the fairways and greens were a bit shaggy and overwatered. The routing itself wasn’t anything spectacular, as most holes were routed down narrow corridors east-west across the property between artificial mounds. Very few holes truly take advantage of the spectacular terrain as I’m sure it was designed for forgiveness rather than challenge, and whatever Trump did after taking over the previously failed property probably made it even more so.
I’d consider it worth a twilight rate of <$100 if you can get it, but not much more than that, and purely for the scenery.
Played March 18, 2014
Views were fantastic; conditioning was excellent; winter weather was perfect; most of the front nine was a little bland (up and down) despite the views; some very interesting holes at 8, 9, 12, 15 and 16.
I don’t agree with the previous reviewer’s comments on the greens. They were extremely fast and when combined with some severe countours several were unfair. Front left pin position on 1 saw three of the four in our group putt off the green. The 12th green has a nearly six foot step from the middle to back sections.
Overall, I enjoyed the round (a strong 4* ) but won’t be rushing back.
The rack rate for the Sunday morning round was USD275 but a website called UnderPar provided a discounted rate of USD150.
And...my mate and I were joined with two middle-aged locals...who listened to music on a portable speaker and smoked (now legal) joints the entire way around. I don’t recall a similar experience at Sunningdale...
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.