Last week me and lads got to see two of Donald Trump’s gleaming golf playpens in Scotland. Turnberry first, and then his own signature course about 4 hours to the north in Aberdeen, Trump International Scotland. Both are spectacular. Both are, I’m certain, losing money hand over fist.
So what’s the plan? Will they ever turn the corner? Is Trump going to watch these real estate investments go belly up like many of his other swing-and-miss projects (even before he became president, Trump was well known as a hi-risk developer, with lots of bankruptcies and lawsuits to follow).
I recently came across this article in The New Yorker that described how Trump had abruptly shifted his basic real-estate strategy of doing things with “OPM” (other people’s money) and instead has poured a huge amount of his own cash into this particular project. The authors stopped short of calling it fishy, but they did make the point that it’s not how he usually does business.
As a golfer, all I really care about is great courses thriving and staying open to play. And better yet, I care about great courses being made even better when somebody with a lot of money comes in and puts a shine to them. And I’m not alone in agreeing to such a cold-eyed, non-partisan, faustian bargain. Trump did that and more at Turnberry. When we played it in 2012, it was already one of my all-time favorites. A brawny, sort of Scottish-Pebble-Beach… on steroids.
But then when Trump hired architect Martin Ebert- and told him to re-route the portion of the course that kisses the ocean – the course went from being a soap opera star, to a bonafide supermodel. Don’t believe me? Read the reviews here, here, and here.
My only regret to our visit to Turnberry, is that the sun didn’t shine for more than maybe 5 holes at best (out of 36). On a clear day, when the late evening sun washes over the entire property from the lighthouse on up to the hotel, it is so stunning you will feel like you are in a dream.
Meanwhile, we ended at Trump’s most controversial project up north in Aberdeen. I had heard about, and read about this course for years. The entire project is a shitshow. You can’t sugar coat it.
But…. the photos of the place looked spectacular, and terrifying. There are holes that wind through massive valleys of sand, clogged with 2 foot high ball-gobbling rough, and I understood that a place even further north would be colder and windier than the usual Scottish elements. I simply had to see it. And after our round on Sunday in blistering 30 mph winds (a distinct CROSS-wind no less, that made essentially every hole that runs up and down the coast uncomfortable) I can say without doubt, it’s insane. Amazing. Brutal.
It’s also a bit odd, in that the two nines are so mis-matched. The front nine features holes that are almost constantly un-realistic for the average player, even bordering on sadistic. A par-5 that has marshy hazard right off the tee, a pot bunker pinching the fairway left, more pot-bunkers eliminating a safe lay-up spot, then a green that climbs 80 feet up the hillside and features a TRIPLE tier surface. I mean….. really?
The back nine, however, is far more generous off the tee, has reasonable green complexes, and plays firm and fast. It also veers away from the ocean to take advantage of the sandy high ground that loops around a wide valley – where supposedly, another 18 could be fit. As a golfer, I prefer courses in which both nines are at least roughly matched in character. It’s a nit to pick, but we’re grading on a scale of near perfection here.
We played 18 from the tippy-top tee box, which is probably a good 150 feet above the fairway right alongside the ocean. It’s a 654 yard par-5. I hit: driver (250), 3-wood (220) and then hybrid (190) to about 18 feet and made par. Suck it, Donald!
And yes, the windmills Trump un-successfully fought do indeed ruin the views. It’s a pity, because without them, you would be talking about a truly magical setting. Which great golf courses are all about. Instead, you can’t help but look out at them, and wonder: geezus, of all the ocean in Scotland, they just HAD to put them right here?
Politics aside, the two venues are both incredible, and worth a visit if you are planning a trip (Turnberry is a must, Trump International a mere option). I have no idea where they will be in 10 years, and in whose hands financially. Trump has poured in a lot of his own cash, and made lots of Scottish enemies along the way. Good luck to him. But for now, the good luck is ours as golfers, who want to experience something unique and amazing.