It is not easy, given all the strong
opinions that surround Donald Trump's new course near Aberdeen, to
offer a review that is not prejudiced in one direction
Perhaps the most stark assessment has
come from (unsurprisingly) the man himself, who describes it as “the
greatest course in the world” in the matter-of-fact manner of somebody verifying
the number of an approaching bus.
So it is fair to say that the Trump
International Golf Links has quite a lot to live up to, especially
when teeing off a matter of hours after Trump, Colin Montgomerie,
Sandy Jones (of the PGA) and James Finnegan (of the European Tour)
have been bagpiped on to the 1st tee and declared one
after the other that this is a golfing experience unlike any other.
Also present on the 1st tee
was the architect, Martin Hawtree, a much-respected figure with an
academic, donnish presence. He could hardly present a greater
contrast with his employer on this project, yet here he was in a
eulogy every bit as epic as that of Trump's.
He described the course as five per
cent his work and 95 that of Mother Nature.
Now try following a build up like that
by playing and evaluating the course as you would any other you are
experiencing for the first time.
On what the Scots would describe as a
'dreich' July afternoon, conditions were grey, moist yet mercifully
calm – at least by the standards of this exposed coastline.
The course did not play much like a
links – but then we had played down the road at Murcar the evening
before and neither did that. Normally as traditional a seaside test
as you would find, after recent weather Murcar was soft, green and
It is too early to say when, and
whether, the Trump course will ever acquire the kind of pale,
washed-out sheen that I have previously seen at Murcar and the like
but I can only report that it was a long way from offering a
links-style test on the opening day.
All who visit talk about the size and
scale of the dunes and they are not exaggerating (much). That
combined with the green fairways made me feel like I was playing not
on the east coast of Scotland but rather on the west of Ireland,
where you expect to see dramatic coastlines and there is so much more rain and consequently growth.
Yet if there was one course that Trump
most reminded me of – and there are shades of several at various
points – it was The European.
Pat Ruddy's design in County Wicklow on
Ireland's east coast has the same feel to me of golf on a grand
scale, pure theatre and a certain ambition of design. The same
determination to make each and every hole the best it could possibly
be. And the same result of just about every hole being testing, the
absence of respite.
Rightly or wrongly, we played off the
tips. Partly just because we could; partly because by now we were
pretty much the only group on the links; and partly because we knew
the most dramatic set of tees would be the Blacks.
At 7,428 yards, it would be tedious and
stating the obvious to say that nearly all the holes were long so I
won't. That was our choice and we could just as easily have chosen
the Golds at 7,025, the Blues at 6,602, the Whites at 6,329 or even
the Greens at 5,845. In short – you can choose the length to suit.
Much has already been said about the
difficulty of the course and it is broadly true that if you miss the
fairway then your ball is most likely lost.
But then again, the same is pretty much
the case at every course in Britain at the moment.
I suspect that, in time, when the
fescues are established, the penalty for missing will become less
But even now, the course is very rarely
tight. Especially on the back nine, the fairways are pretty generous,
especially if you are content to play conservatively to the widest
Like any championship course, if you
are not skilled then you will find it difficult but I am not sure it
is any more true here than at many other courses of a similar
In terms of routing, there are shades
of Western Gailes, in that you play from a clubhouse standing halfway
down the links and play to one end before coming back to the
clubhouse after nine then continuing to the opposite end all the way
until the final turn for home.
On first visit, this gigantic canvas is almost too much to assess, an assault to the senses.
There are many highlights – so many
that it can be hard to take in. On first visit, this gigantic canvas
is almost too much to assess, an assault to the senses.
To name but two, the first of the short
holes, the 3rd, is magnificent, the tee shot framed by
dunes yet the green open and thrillingly close to the sand and the
I also enjoyed the 15th
greatly, a risk-and-reward hole that comes just at the right stage of
the round. After arguably the hardest stretch, you have the chance to
get a wedge in your hands and play to a relatively open green but
only if your tee shot is bold and true, flying some bunkers to cut
It would be fascinating to know just
how much input Trump really had in the design, and how much, if any,
pressure he put on Hawtree to be bold with his routing.
Largely, it felt to me like Hawtree's
views were respected. Just a couple of holes come close to crossing
the line, for me, between being exciting and excessive.
I will be branded a misery for saying
so, but I am not a fan of hugely elevated tee shots and especially
not on a links where the wind will almost always be blowing to at
least some degree.
So while the views from the 14th
and 18th tees are undeniably stunning, that is not the
same thing as saying they are great holes. And at the former,
especially, I simply do not see how any golfer could stand there
playing into a strong wind and have any control over where his drive
And while we are being picky, I was
surprised to stand on the 16th tee and find it exactly the
same length on the day as the 3rd, a hole played in the
In truth, there is nothing close to a
poor hole, and that is where Trump International will certainly score
Over time, surely, the course will
receive nips and tucks, just like all new courses do. This is right
and proper – though hopefully always with the architect's
involvement and approval.
The greens will get quicker and truer.
The fairways will hopefully get faster and firmer.
Is it already the greatest course in
the world? Certainly not. In fact, it's not even close. But then how
could it be, in its current embryonic state.
Will it one day become regarded as as
the greatest in the world? Possibly, but not for several years.
All that can be offered for now is a
first impression. If I am lucky enough to play again, then my views
will certainly change, as they do at every course.
You just can't judge a course by
playing it once – and this is no exception.
What, perhaps, can be agreed on now is
that the final judgment will come not from the owner, understandable
though his enthusiasm is, but from golfers all over the world.
They will surely come in great numbers to the north east of Scotland to
see it for themselves and make up their own minds – and hopefully also call in at the likes of
nearby Royal Aberdeen, Cruden Bay and Murcar while they are here to bring benefit to the region as a whole and not just this billionaire's playground.