When Donald Trump proclaimed his new links – of course it’s named Trump International Golf Links, Scotland – would be the greatest course in the world even before it had opened, it was easy to roll your eyes.
Trump is a master of both bluster and selling his brand and when you get Trump, you get both.
In this case, The Donald delivered.
I’m not saying Trump Scotland is the greatest course in the world but it’s a spectacular creation, set among magnificent dunes that look and feel more like mountains. Like Trump’s personality, the Martin Hawtree-designed course is big and bold and it’s as dramatic a setting as you’ll find anywhere.
More than once, my playing partner/editor Mike Purkey and I scaled a path to one of the many elevated tees, looked out at what lay before us and said, “Wow.”
It’s that kind of place, a course whose look is almost overwhelming. If you believe golf is about more than the shots you hit, Trump Scotland is an exceptional experience.
The green on the par-3 third sits on the edge of the beach.
The 10th green is tucked atop a hill, hidden behind a dune.
When you’re walking the 14th fairway, surrounded on your right and left by dunes that feel like a Scottish skyline, you find yourself thinking of the people you’d like to share it with because it’s so dramatic.
Cruden Bay, one of Scotland’s classic and most rugged links, is a few miles up the North Sea beach from Trump Scotland. Cruden Bay’s dunes would fight for sunlight amid the grass-covered peaks at Trump Scotland.
Given the setting and the famous changing weather conditions, it would have been easy to have created a course that’s essentially unplayable for the average player, the very person Trump asks to pay approximately $350 to play his course. Hawtree, though, succeeded in making it playable, though it’s important to select the right tees among the six sets offered.
It helped, no doubt, that we caught Trump Scotland on a beautiful summer day, the wind up enough to cause you pause in selecting a club but not strong enough to turn the game into a survival test. It’s a stern test from any tees and the only reason for going to the tips (7,428 yards) would be to enjoy the views. If you’re not accustomed to walking, you’ll feel it on the back nine when you climb another hill to another tee but once you get there, you won’t be disappointed.
Hawtree built wide, relatively flat fairways and speckled them with a sinister collection of deep bunkers that lurk in many of the preferred landing areas. On the par-5 first hole, three pot bunkers lay across the fairway, forcing players to make a decision with their second shots, a hint of what’s to come.
The greens have plenty of contour but they don’t have silly slopes. Hit good shots and you get rewarded. It’s not quirky. It’s straightforward, strong and stunning.
Trump’s course didn’t come without controversy. Locals charged him with building illegally on protected lands. Trump has fought to stop a proposed wind farm to be located less than two kilometers from the course. The bickering began long before the course opened in July 2012, and it continues.
There can be no argument, though, that what Trump created doesn’t disappoint.