What we say
Whatever your view of its owner, there is no denying that Trump International is a wonderful links golf course and one of the best in Scotland.
The driveway that takes you from the A90 down to the clubhouse of Trump International is well over a mile long. This journey along £2million worth of tarmac – that was apparently the staggering cost of constructing the driveway alone – is ample opportunity to dispense with any prejudices and pre-conceived ideas about the links you are about to play.
And clearing one’s mind of subjectivity feels a worthwhile process ahead of a round at Trump Links given the extraordinary nature of the birth of this modern links in north-east Scotland. One might assume any golfer who has arranged a game here is intent on enjoying the links and the experience, but there is also the possibility their journey has been made with less benevolent motivations in mind.
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That is what can happen when Donald Trump is involved; he creates huge publicity for his businesses but his demeanour can also offend. And if ever there was a population likely to be offended by Trump, it is the Scots.
However, at the very least, all golfers of all nationalities should approach the 1st tee of Trump International with an objective mind.
It is often nice to catch glimpse of the course during a drive to the clubhouse; a little appetiser of what is to come. But equally, it is a nice surprise to have seen nothing before boarding the 1st tee. That is the case at Trump International and few will be disappointed by the sight of this opening hole, with huge dunes lining both sides of the fairway. Trump waxed lyrical about “the great dunes” as he constructed the links, and he was not exaggerating; this is awesome terrain, the like of which is not seen elsewhere in Scotland – and especially not on the east coast. Wind and water currents mean the biggest dunes are usually found on west coasts – think of Ballybunion compared to Portmarnock, or Hillside relative to Brancaster – yet only in (east coast) Aberdeenshire are they anywhere near this size in Scotland. Trump Links has the highest, at up to 130ft, and as you gaze down the 1st you cannot believe these dunes are not the site’s largest.
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From its elevated tee – which is a frequent feature and, some would say, its biggest weakness – you thankfully have plenty of room with which to make your first swing of the day a successful one. Only very strong players will have a chance to ‘get up’ to a green that sits higher than the fairway – even off the 491-yard Blue tees. Most will be wedging on with their third but they must take care to try to find the correct tier of the green.
From there you climb onto another elevated tee and while you may well be intoxicated by the view of the beach and sea to the left, you can’t afford to be thoughtless because the stream that cuts across the fairway can only be comfortably flown by long hitters – especially as it plays into the wind. That leaves a solid mid-iron approach to a green with no sand, swales instead providing the interest and difficulty.
The first of a stellar portfolio of short holes is next, where the various tee boxes dotted around the dunes offer very different angles of attack. They all play to a green sited barely 20 yards from the beach, so close in fact that one winter quite a bit of the beach ended up on the green… such is the price to pay for holes with premium locations. The price to pay for missing this upturned saucer green is either a dextrous chip or a hopeful splash out from the evil bunker on the right.
The last hole on an opening run that takes us to the most southerly point on the course is another par 5 littered with bunkers. The danger is initially the Blairton burn that winds down the right but even if you avoid it with a good drive, you must then use your nous and skill to place your lay-up away from the cluster of fairway pots.
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They feel a little too random and anyone unable to fly them – all but the very best, given we are still into the wind – receives no value for a good drive. Against which, designer Martin Hawtree might reasonably argue, this is stroke one and a proper three-shotter even in the fast conditions Trump Links are seeking.
Of all the early judgements on Trump’s links, possibly the most ill-advised were on its set-up and conditioning. Money and expertise can take a new course a long way, but ultimately there is no short cut, no substitute for time. This is the north east of Scotland, remember, where the growing season does not kick in until mid May.
In fact, these factors considered, it was in remarkable condition in its early years, with the fescues in the fairway and greens knitting and playing nicely.
There is much to like at Trump Links. The 5th, for example, is a sporty par 4 of 353 yards off the Blues (just 386 off the tips) – and, like the 7th, even shorter at only 281 yards off the tips, puts paid to any notion this is a slog. It is monstrous 7,430 yards off the Black tees but even within that parameter are cute holes such as those two, made exacting by the humps and bumps around the greens.
With the magnificent par-3 6th – played from dune top to dune top – sandwiched in between, this is a three-hole run of rare calibre. The lower-octane 8th and 9th are also admirable, offering a more nuanced 20 minutes with which to lower our heart rate before walking past the clubhouse and entering what is – ludicrously, given what we have just enjoyed – the more explosive half.
It begins with an uphill par 5 into a horseshoe of dunes where a right-sided drive avoids a blind approach. It continues with a drive from what feels like the highest point on the links on a robust par 4. And then it maintains momentum with a downhill tee shot framed by the North Sea and a very busy green complex.
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Feeling pleased with the world, you then play across the site when the 13th comes into view. Walking off the back of its sloping green, you pass between a little gap between the dunes and emerge to a dramatic scene. It feels as if you have passed through an archway to the Secret Garden; ahead of you a strip of fairway wriggles between flanks of dunes the size of which raises the eyebrows. It is not difficult to understand why Trump rates it as his favourite hole, because if you enjoy the spectacular, you’ll love the 14th.
You know the towering dunes make the fairway appear more narrow than it really is, but you are still tentative. Once down on the fairway, their height and density is demonstrated by the total lack of wind.
Turning to head for home, the classy 16th has a row of bunkers in the front bank of another angled green – a more cerebral addition to the par-3 collection.
Little will probably be heard about the 17th but, played out of the dunes and at the mercy of the prevailing wind, it is a tremendous, heavily-bunkered hole that culminates on a long narrow green beyond the gully that runs up the left.
It is a better hole than the 18th for this golfer, although few will forget the climax, played from an elevated tee down to a fairway littered with traps.
It is a long way into the wind and seemed the greenest, least linksy of the fairways when we last visited.
As this this new links increasingly gets that bouncy, running nature, it is difficult to imagine most not being utterly seduced by her.
- Costs -
- TG Rating
- Players Rating
- Address Menie Park Lodge , Menie Estate , Balmedie
- Tel 01358 74 33 00
- Website www.trumpgolfscotland.com
|Course Length||7,428 yards (6,792 metres)|
- Course has: Bar
- Course has: Buggy Hire
- Course has: Driving Range
- Course has: Practice Green
- Course has: Pro Shop
- Course has: Restaurant
- Course has: Trolley Hire
- Course does not have: Dress Code
- Course has: Club Hire
- Course does not have: Handicap
Trump is difficult to like but it's impossible not to love this course. The 18 bunkers on the 18th hole were a little contrived but for such a new course this place feels natural. Not quite playing hard and fast like a true links yet but every hole is challenging, interesting and fun. The course is routed through Ballybunion sized sandhills and almost every hole is isolated. I've played all of the top 60 and I would put Trump in my top 8 - pick any order but the Big 8 are: St Andrews Old, Royal Dornoch, Muirfield, Turnberry, Trump, Royal County Down, Royal Portrush and Ballybunion Old.