Trump International Golf Links
Aberdeenshire, Scotland, United Kingdom

Thirteenth hole, 230/180 yards; Played from high point to high point, this one shotter stood out during the routing process and it became the first hole built. While a fair amount of dirt work occurred to make the hole good for golf, the golfer would never guess so based on how well all the tie-ins are. Marram was then planted to stabilize the land forms. According to Bambury, you take a donor site (mature area) and harvest the sprigs by hand, which are then individually hand planted. This was a painstaking process that took place during the fist winter. Due to short daylight hours during that period, floodlights were utilized to ensure that the job was done right.

The vast spaciousness of both the dunes and the course is acutely felt from the thirteenth tee. Note how the marram grass was planted to stabilize the dune system.

The vastness of both the dunes and the course is acutely felt from the thirteenth tee. Note how well the marram grass has come in. The team enjoyed a 95% success rate with their plantings.

Fourteenth hole, 445/375 yards; Here we are high on the tee, surrounded by nothing but massive dunes, the North Sea and the ever-present wind. The spirit soars and creates one of those inedible moments that cause golfers to travel great distances. All great links along large bodies of water have a standout moment – the third tee at Royal County Down, the fifth tee at Royal Portrush, the eleventh tee at Ballybunion, the tenth tee at Turnberry with the lighthouse nearby – and this is Trump International’s.

If this view from the intermediate tee doesn’t make you itch to play, give up the sport! It isn’t going to get better than this. One less obvious reason as to why the hole works so well is the height of the tee. Twenty to forty dunes line the fairway and usually the golfer is tucked low beneath the dune line out of sight of the water. That’s not true here (!) where the long view from the tee is as distinctive as it is mesmerizing.

 

Here is the view from the back markers, which are behind and to the right of the intermediate ones from which the prior photograph was taken. The net effect is to straighten the hole. The author prefers the intermediate tee location because of the fine playing angle. The idea of 112 tee boxes, the number found here, might make you roll your eyes – until you appreciate how well so many of them play.

 

Don’t ask how this perspective from the right dunes came to be taken!

Don’t ask how this perspective from the right dunes came to be taken!

 

Fifteenth hole, 390/325 yards; The famous Redan at North Berwick and the Road Hole at St. Andrews made great impressions on C.B. Macdonald (known as the Father of American golf course architecture) and both became template holes for his work in America and Bermuda. His protégé Seth Raynor went on to build many angled greens as well. After being exposed to Raynor’s work at Camargo, Pete Dye also found this design ploy of situating a long green 45 degrees to the line of play much to his satisfaction. Quirky angled greens exist at shorter links throughout the United Kingdom but they curiously are rarely encountered on the 7,000 yard Open courses save The Old Course. It’s nice to see this design tactic utilized throughout this course particularly at this long slender green.

Sixteenth hole, 195/180 yards; Splashy first impressions sometimes give way to something less enduring. For instance, the bathtub fourteenth green at Cruden Bay about thirty minutes away wowed the author the first time he played it. Yet, each subsequent visit saw its charms diminish as the same result is seemingly meted out time and again regardless of the quality of the strike. The opposite may hold true for this hole. Relatively straightforward in appearance, the more you play it, the more you will appreciate it. The 7,000 square foot putting surface enables an array of hole locations that dramatically alter the type of shot required with the prospect of hitting a low draw to skip to a back left hole location is as enticing as a soft fade to a front right hole. There can be as much as a four club difference depending on the day’s hole location. Time will tell but the solid golf asked by this hole should stand it in good stead with the other three more spectacular one shotters.

At almost 40 yards yards from right to left, numerous hole locations exist and shot type can vary greatly from day to day. The green keeping staff is cognizant of where the holes are set at each of the par threes because the intermediate tees measure 165, 170, 180, and 180 yards. Yes, they go in several different directions but care needs to be given that a range of clubs is asked of the golfer. The broad dimensions of this target facilitate that objective nicely. Hawtree used seven bunkers to liven up the proceedings at the sixteenth. In fact, it has more bunkers than the first three par threes combined.

Seventeenth hole, 465/400 yards; Murderously difficult into the prevailing wind, this is one of the hardest pars on the course. Like The Old Course it is nice to see the penultimate hole being more difficult than the Home hole. The challenge is severe, especially into the wind, but the architect has provided an ample fairway that feeds into an angled green. The golfer that can’t hit the shot that is available can only blame himself. His thoughts might turn to how much fun it would be to watch professionals tackle this hole and the last into a stiff breeze. Of course, they have the requisite skill but can they perform in the crucible of pressure?

A deep depression hugs the left of the seventeenth fairway. Can the golfer manufacture a low draw through the wind that avoids the two bunkers 40 yards short of the green in the foreground and scats past the single greenside bunker onto the long angled putting surface?

Eighteenth hole, 650/585 yards; The most controversial hole on the course is in truth a fine and distinctive closer, reminiscent of no other Home hole. Nothing is gimmicky or tricked up. Played into a two club wind, it is certainly a strenuous examination late in the round. Under pressure, the hardest shot to hit may well be the straight ball and that is what is required here.

The sight of a well struck tee ball soaring into the distance and over a pair of central fairway bunkers is one of the day’s most memorable moments.

The sight of a well-struck tee ball soaring into the distance and over a pair of central fairway bunkers is one of the day’s most memorable moments.

Trump18a

As captured 150 yards from the green, the smooth lines of the bunkers and architecture presents an appealingly clean, frank challenge. Often played into the wind, is the golfer and his swing up to the task at this late stage?

Trumpbunker

John Bambury and crew do an outstanding job of having fairway height grasses feed into the bunkers. Though revetted pot bunkers are generally smaller than typical bunkers, the ones here play large as balls are gathered from well away.

 

That’s what the course has. What doesn’t it have? An uphill tee shot for one. Few golfers will lament that fact but old school fans of links golf will feel a tinge of regret that this tumbling landscape didn’t cough up one such tee ball. Indeed, there are only three significantly uphill shots on the course and they are found on the approaches to the fourth, tenth and fourteenth greens. The vistas obtained from the numerous elevated tees are largely derived from uphill green to tee walks. The goods news: the golfer is amply rewarded for such walks.

No judgment can be made while the course is in its infancy but one wonders if the owner will strive to get the course brown and crusty, fast and firm once it matures? To do so will require a change in the mix of rye grass and blended fescues that is presently utilized tee to green. Though rye provides a shade of green that contrasts beautifully against the dunes, its playing characteristics are a bit too sticky to provide the bouncy-bounce playing conditions that makes links golf its thought-provoking best.

Save time for the short game area. May is a particularly good time to be there as the gorse is in full bloom.

Save time for the short game area. May is a particularly good time to be there as the gorse is in full bloom. Also, the 29,700 square foot putting green at the base of the dunes is the idyllic place to perfect a silky stroke.

A second course has been routed by Hawtree. It will compliment but not compete with the first because its landforms are so different. Its mix of heathland holes that give way to holes in a big blow-out sandy area will assuredly find a devoted following.

Trumphouse

This Neo-Jacobean mansion c. 1835 is in the middle of the 2,000 acre estate. A major restoration has just been completed and the MacLeod House (so named after the owner’s Scottish born mother) now provides lux accommodations approximately one mile from the first tee.

As one might expect, this is a big scale operation with everything done at top levels including publicity. Not a single person will accidentally stumble onto this course as Herbert Warren Wind once did at Royal Dornoch, for instance; rather, every player will come here with formed expectations of one sort or the other. Rare for a course that created heightened expectations, many will leave thoroughly exhilarated by their walk beside, around, up and down the great dunes of Scotland and will be anxious for a return visit.

The End