The Trump National Golf Club Westchester began its life around a century ago as the 6,300-yard Devereaux Emmett design, the Briarcliffs Country Club, but its identity has changed dramatically since being purchased by its namesake during 1996. Trump has worked with Tom Fazio at a number of his other properties and in this case he tapped the famed architect’s brother Jim Fazio to handle the design.
The result was a championship course capable of holding its own against increasing distance in the game, stretching to 7,300 yards from the back tees. The club managed to find the extra distance by placing seven of the holes on a new length of property that stretches south from the original plot. These holes are noted for water hazards, as the present ponds create creeks that flow alongside holes such as Nos. 2 and 5.
The other side of the course makes up for a relative lack of water hazards by enforcing accuracy with plentiful bunkering. No. 11 has a metaphorical Rockettes line (up from Manhattan) of bunkers leading up to its green, issuing kicks to the teeth of any golfer who strays right.
Other than the unsurprisingly over-the-top fountain in the front and tacky Donnie T. memorabilia in the clubhouse, the course was really good.
They had just received a lot of play after the July 4th holiday weekend, so there were some spots that were a bit burned out, but considering the temperatures the week before & the minimal rain, the grounds crew was doing a great job minimizing those areas.
Courses accentuating overall difficulty are fair game provided one important attribute is present -- the wherewithal for recovery shots to be reasonably available. Trump National Westchester plays over 7,300 yards from the tips and to a muscular 77.8 course rating and 153 slope. That is no misprint. Even if one moves up to the blue tees the CR equates to 74.7 and slopes out to 149! It's mind-boggling that the former Briarcliffs Country Club -- a middling Devereux Emmet design -- was completely obliterated for a massively reconfigured layout.
When one adds into the mixture the rolling terrain and fairly narrow fairway corridors it's akin to traipsing ever so gently over ground littered with mines. Explosions are bound to happen and for those not blessed with a single digit handicap that will likely mean a very tough slog. Anyone having a so-so day in driving the ball had best be prepared for countless wedge shots backs to the fairway. The experience is akin to playing in Florida where water is overly inserted into the process. The net result is plenty of "either or" moments. If the layout had sufficient width the navigation needed would clearly be more balanced than what is there now.
Like many other Trump properties, the turf quality is not the issues although I would have preferred seeing the ground firmer so tee shot runouts were more likely. Of course, the downside with firmness is that when combined with tight fairway landing areas it's more than likely any errant bounce of the ball will just travel deeper into trouble.
Much has been written about the spectacular massive waterfall found at the par-3 13th. It's truly an eyeful. However, such inclusions are high-priced sideshows offering little in terms of meaningful core architecture elements. Sometimes the understated resonates far longer than going for the big bang elements. Naturally, there will be those who fawn over such inclusions. Conversely, there are those who favor a "less is more" approach and Trump National Westchester is the antithesis of such layouts. Sadly, there's this tendency in the USA that having "more" is the equivalent of being "better." That's not necessarily so.
A good example comes with the long par-4 3rd hole. The drive zone is ably defended with water down and aided by the demands of two fairway bunkers pushing in from the right as the fairway tightens up considerably. Having no fairway bunkers and a bit more width would add a playability element that is truly limited. There are fine holes during the routing but the relentless emphasis on "more" is overkill.
Interestingly, not far from Trump National Westchester is another high-profile torture track called Pound Ridge which is available to the public. The diversity of the holes at the latter makes for a better layout but one has to wonder if pushing the pedal down squarely on bolstering the difficulty is blatant ignorance from promoting a more lasting "fun" factor.
What would have added to the fun factor was a truly engaging short par-4 and a comparable short par-3 where control is stressed. Neither is present and when you have a 7,300 yards layout it's less likely they will be. As I said at the outset, having difficult holes is not the main anchor around the course's neck solely. However, being able to provide a broader array of change of pace holes would have showcased a more lasting memory than simply counting the number of lost balls one endured.
M. James Ward