Located on the site of a former ski resort, Pine Hill Golf Club opened to a great fanfare of publicity when it opened its doors to members at the start of the new millennium. Less than a decade later, the property was purchased by Donald Trump and rebranded as Trump National Golf Club - Philadelphia.
Occupying 365 acres of hilly, sandy terrain overlooking the distant Philadelphia skyline, the course lies less than a couple of miles to the east of Pine Valley Golf Club and it’s here that designer Tom Fazio skilfully routed the fairways across a thickly wooded landscape, bringing water into play at three of the holes (5, 14 and 15).Trump National is a tough track, bearing many of Fazio’s aesthetically attractive hallmarks, with more than a modicum of strategy thrown in for good measure, such as at the 471-yard downhill par four 14th, where the fairway doglegs markedly right towards the green..
Many might wonder given Trump National GC Philadelphia's close proximity to the iconic Pine Valley if the Tom Fazio design has qualities of a comparable sort? The answer is no.
That's not to say the layout is lacking overall. The design is done well with holes slotted through the beauty of the NJ pinelands.
Given the high bar Fazio has created throughout his career, the end product is a serious test of golf but the richness in the design details is lacking a consistent theme. The course is not in the same elite level with other Fazio efforts such as Shadow Creek, Victoria National, Gozzer Ranch and Martis Camp, to name just a few of his upper echelon efforts. But, that's not to say the course is without distinction.
The best holes are the ones which conclude each side. The uphill par-5 9th is a solid three-shot hole. The 10th plays in the opposite direction from a high point near to the clubhouse. The tee shot must be played with a right-to-left ball movement and the green is one of the very best -- angled slightly with bunkers protecting the far right side.
The concluding two holes are also strong. The par-4 17th turns left and features a cut-off waste area which must be cleared on the approach. The look of the hole shows the creative handiwork of Fazio but there's also a clear demand on the shotmaking side. The closing hole plays uphill to an elevated green and on clear days one can see the Philadelphia skyline.
Overall, the course should be judged on its own merits without being compared to nearby Pine Valley. Fazio provided a quality effort and make no mistake, there's plenty of teeth on the course to provide some serious bite on wayward play. But, does the course add beyond what Fazio has already created? The answer, at least for me, is it didn't.
M. James Ward