Does Trump International Golf Links Live Up to It’s Lofty Expectations?
Of all the courses I played in Scotland, there’s one that didn’t quite fit in: Trump International Golf Links.
And I think that’s one of the reasons I insisted that we make the effort to play it.
Unlike just about every other course we played (save for Kingsbarns), Trump wasn’t built over a hundred years ago – it wasn’t even around a decade ago.
In a country where there’s so much emphasis on history, it’s pretty shocking to see a new course (a Trump one nonetheless) come in with such high praise.
Everything I’d read before traveling was that the course was actually really good, yet once we got on the road and were traveling around – hardly anyone we talked to was playing it on their rotation.
This intrigued me even more. You’ve got a course that by all accounts should be one of the best in the world, yet, in the dozens of people we met, only one had played it.
Was it the high price (greens fees are a pretty steep £215 during peak season for 2015)? Was it the fact it’s Trump? Was it the lack of history?
I wasn’t sure, but I was excited to go and find out.
First Impressions of Trump International Scotland
Trump already had a lot to live up to, as the two days previous we played what would become may two favorite Scotland courses (Royal Dornoch and Cruden Bay, respectively).
The drive down from Kilmarnock Arms in Cruden Bay where we stayed was easy and only took about twenty minutes.
Upon pulling up to the course, you could already tell things were a little bit different there.
The giant hay bales we’d been used to seeing around the countryside were there, but they were all wrapped up in black that certainly made the surrounding property look a little more high brow.
As we turned in, we were met with a long winding road through a beautiful stretch of property. We passed the onsite hotel, the Macleod House (named for Trump’s mother), on the right, and debated whether or not it was really old – or just made to look that way.
Turns out it was a historic mansion, with many millions spent on a full restoration.
We pulled into the lot, and I was kind of surprised with how, I suppose, unimpressive things were.
Don’t get me wrong, it was nice, with ornate lamp posts and a very quaint, small clubhouse. But this is Trump we’re talking about. I was expecting over the top – so frankly I was pretty happy to see such a modest setup that seemed to blend in well with the dunescape.
We were running a little late for our tee time, so we hit a couple balls and then prayed that the rain wouldn’t come down. The driving range was nice in the fact that there was one, but it was little more than an open field to hit to.
Our hope for no rain lasted about half of the walk to the first tee, as the skies opened up and proceeded to release their wet fury – almost as payback for the relatively benign weather we’d experienced so far.
Just the Facts
- Built in: 2012
- Designer: Martin Hawtree
- Rank: #56 in the world (Golf Digest), #50 in the world (Golf)
- Location: Aberdeenshire, Scotland
- Fees: £165-210 depending on time of year
- Website: http://www.trumpgolfscotland.com/
- Slope: 149, Rating: 77.4 (133 and 72.3 from the white tees we played)
- Distance: 7,428 from blacks, 6329 from whites.
Note: It was a dark day with lots of rain, so excuse some of the photos that reflect that!
As I mentioned, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Would the other golf writers that had spoken so highly of the course win out, and I’d fall in love? Or were the golfers I talked to who seemed to purposefully stay away from the property, be onto a trap that I unwittingly fell for?
Well if the first tee was any indication, we were going to be in for a treat.
Upon wandering through the dunes and up to the tee, the first hole, a par 5, stretched out in front of us, nestled in some of the most spectacular dunes I’ve ever seen on a golf course.
The extremely long marram grass was everywhere, and while making the course the most difficult I’ve ever played (more on that later), it also made for an absolutely beautiful course that rivals if not exceeds other destinations like Bandon Dunes, or it’s neighbor Cruden Bay for sheer beauty.
While the sea views are minimal (especially in pouring rain), that’s not what makes Trump unique. Some of the Dunes hear tower 100 feet above the fairways, and each hole doesn’t reveal itself until you’re standing on the tee waiting to attack it.
Looking at the scorecard, you might be fooled into thinking you’ve got an easy start ahead of you, with a short par 5.
Until you realize just how much the conditions and the elevation matter here. The hole is more uphill than it seems, and there’s much more danger on the right than you would initially believe.
The tee shot on two then immediately forces you to make a decision, as there’s a creek sitting 223 yards out from the white tees (farther the more right you go). Do you go for it and risk penalty or layup leaving yourself a brutal approach?
Questions like this would be facing us all day, and as the weather got worse, we quickly learned the answer would almost always be to layup.
The third could probably claim the rights for the signature hole of the course. It’s the closest you get to the sea, and on a clear day I’m sure it would be breathtaking.
In the end, this would prove to be the most frustrating hole of my entire trip.
Because I dropped the ball two feet from the pin, proceeded to talk a lot of crap to my buddy Dan, and then missed the putt. Lesson learned.
The fourth introduced a design element that was unique to Trump (at least in my experience), in that he would use excessive amounts of pot bunkers to really force the golfer to make a decision on where they wanted to go.
Now obviously I’ve played courses with lots of bunkers before, but this just visually looked different to me. We see the same thing on #16 and 18 as well.
It actually made for a very interesting hole. An even shorter par 5 than the previous one at 460 yards, it dares you to go for it. If you don’t you have to hit a precise layup shot, navigating the center fairway bunkers, as well as the water on the right.
The 6th is a completely different par 3 from the previous, as the green is tucked into small dunes, and if you don’t hit it, you’re pretty much screwed.
By this point in the round, the weather could not be worse, but what is making it even more difficult is just how difficult of a walk Trump International is.
It’s hands down the most difficult walk I’ve ever had on a course before. There are some relatively significant green to tee transfers, they’re and their almost always uphill.
What’s interesting, is that although the fairways are fescue, they use a much thicker more American style grass for all of the transfers. It’s actually quite beautiful, and helps make the course that much more visually appealing.
The 7th was one of my absolute favorite holes in Scotland – it’s also one of the most diabolical.
It’s a very short par 4 – only 230 yards from the white tees. So obviously most people aren’t going to layup.
However, if you don’t hit the green, God help you.
The green is perched is 6 feet above everything surrounding it, and anything less than a shot dropped in the center of the green will surely roll off.
From there, the lie is so tight that any chip will be difficult, and it’s so steep that a putter isn’t much easier. I hit the green and rolled off, and I still made a double on the hole. Extremely fun, extremely rewarding if you hit a couple good shots, but it will also drive you mad if you’re short game isn’t on point.
The 8th and 9th were long par 4s that felt like they should have been par 6s. Usually playing downwind, we had a stiff 25-30 mph wind in our face – and it took 3 solid shots to get anywhere close to the green.
Making the Turn
As we made the turn and headed to the 10th, you notice that just when you think things can’t get anymore dramatic – they do.
The dunes on the 10th are massive, and you feel like you’re on an adventure walking through the meadows, uphill, to a hidden green that’s so deep there could be a 3 club difference depending on the pin placement.
At this point, I really believe that Trump International is the most difficult course I’ve played to date – weather aside.
Yes the fairways are generous, but anything in the fescue is most likely gone, and if you do find it, probably an unplayable.
They can give this course enough teeth to host even the most demanding of tournaments.
It’s because of all of this the 11th was such a welcome change. They’d cut down much of the fescue (which of course we still hit it in), but it made finding the ball and punching it out much easier.
While the 13th wasn’t necessarily my favorite par 3 on the course (6 probably gets that distinction), it did give me one of my favorite photographs from the trip.
There’s something about this course that just lends itself to some incredible photos, even in the miserable weather.
At the 14th, the sign directing us to our tees lied to us. It said to go right, up one of the tallest dunes on the course – when it should have been a short walk left.
This took us to the back tees, which while I was pissed an exhausted after the hike – it did make for a pretty good photo.
One thing I really enjoyed about Trump was the collection of short par 4s. Not only are they each very unique, but they’re different lengths and lend themselves to different strategies. #5, 7 and 15 are some of my favorite holes on the course.
I’d even be willing to say Trump International has the best collection of short par 4s I’ve ever played.
With a slight dogleg left, and very strategically placed fairway bunkers, you’ve gotta hit your spot on this one.
The finishing hole on the course should be titled “landmine,” as the extremely long (586 yard) par 5 is full of them. There are no less than 18 pot bunkers peppered all over the fairway and greenside areas of the hole. With two small lakes on the left being two of the only water hazards on the course, and bunkers everywhere else – 18 is not easy.
Luckily the weather had died down at this point, and I was able to make one of my few pars of the day to finish out with an extremely solid….98.
Trying to explain my final thoughts about Trump International Golf Links, is very difficult – as there are things I absolutely loved about the course (good variety of holes and unique dunescape views), and things I hated (very tiring walk and overly thick fescue).
The weather didn’t help much either.
However, now after having some time to reflect on the round, the experience, and in looking at the course design a bit more – I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t recommend you play the course on a trip to Scotland.
Sure, while it might not have the history of St. Andrews, the sheer fun of Cruden Bay, or the spectacular water views of Kingsbarns – it does have an incredible variety of holes, beautiful scenery, and an experience that’s pretty unique to anywhere else I’ve played.
The cost is definitely steep, and if that’s a factor, then I’d say go play another round at Cruden Bay for less than half the price at £100 – but if you want to play a new course that really is worthy of the hype and the world rating – then look no further than Trump International.
Another great write up Sean. Thanks.
Man that was a brutal round! I loved it though, even if I did crumble on the last 5 holes to lose the match 🙂 I remember that tee shot on 8. I swung out of my shoes and hit what might be the best drive of my life and barely cleared that mound!
I love how you seemed stunned as to why no on in Scotland plays this course.
…”hardly anyone we talked to was playing it on their rotation.
This intrigued me even more. You’ve got a course that by all accounts should be one of the best in the world, yet, in the dozens of people we met, only one had played it.”
Have you not seen the documentary “You’ve been Trumped?”
That might explain a few things for you!
All the best.